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Semantics is an important part of the interoperability stack.

Data spaces per sector

Over time, different sectors have developed their own ‘language’ to communicate about their activities. This is illustrated by the number of global and local standards. It is expected that data spaces should align with sectors and their standards, creating the need for tools for organizations that participate in multiple data spaces to switch between standards.

A number of standards used worldwide and which also have semantic products are listed.


Global SDO

Global Standards Development Organizations (SDOs) that meet the criteria of the WTO, such as the ISO (International Standards Organization), UN/CEFACT, GS1, IMO (International Maritime Organization), IHO (International Hydrographic Organization), IATA (aviation standards organization), and WCO (World Customs Organization) all provide terms, definitions and descriptions of the relationships between them (semantics).



ISO manages thousands of standards covering a multitude of sub-areas far beyond transport, logistics and supply chain. Other standards organizations, such as UN/CEFACT (Centre for Trade Facilitation and Electronic Business) and GS1, build on the ISO standards (and conversely constantly contribute to them). UN/CEFACT and GS1 explicitly choose specific sub-areas in logistics and supply chain. UN/CEFACT is known for its Buy-Ship-Pay (BSP) Reference Data Model (RDM), which – as the name suggests – focuses on supply chain (or in UN/CEFACT terminology ‘Trade’). This BSP RDM has seen a further elaboration of the ‘Ship’ part in the Multi-Modal Transport (MMT) Reference Data Model. The UN/CEFACT standards form the basis of the data structures for the eCMR.


Overlapping standards

The UN/CEFACT BSP and MMT models are also used by many other standard-setting organizations. GS1 (known for the barcodes on products bought in shops) also focuses on supply chain and transport and logistics. GS1 and UN/CEFACT have both contributed greatly to each other’s standards and continue to do so. The standards of the two organizations partly overlap but they achieve a good level of alignment through the exchanges between the organizations. See this presentation.


More data sharing standards

Both GS1 and UN/CEFACT also offer their standards in (Web) Vocabularies and additionally via GitHub. In GitHub, they also offer them in ‘formal’ formats, such as RDF Turtle and JSON-LD.

IMO, IHO, IATA, and WCO standards support parties in their specific sub-areas (maritime, maritime, aviation, and customs, respectively). IATA, through its ONE Record initiative, also offers a modern approach to data sharing that extends to a large number of users of the ONE Record approach.

ONE Record is a standard for data sharing and creates a single record view of the shipment. This ONE Record standard defines a common data model for the data that is shared via standardized and secured web API.”


Different formats

IATA also offers this standard in ‘formal’ formats, such as Turtle and JSON-LD. In addition, one can also access the ontology online. The other three offer semantics in traditional formats. The IATA ontology also uses elements of the UN/CEFACT data models and ontology.


Promoting standards globally

There are also organizations, such as DCSA (Digital Container Shipping Association) and ICC (International Chamber of Commerce), that work globally to promote standards development. DCSA (a collaboration of global maritime container carriers) focuses exclusively on standards for container transport (Any transport of goods before or after they are transported in containers is not covered by DCSA). This exclusive focus may be viewed as quite valuable to the entire ecosystem of transport, logistics and supply chain. It ensures that the DCSA semantic products overlap as little as possible with those from other areas, which facilitates the alignment of DCSA results with other semantic products. Furthermore, DCSA relies heavily on the standards of the UN/CEFACT MMT RDM, thus further facilitating the alignment.


ICC: overview of standards

ICC (best known for the Incoterms) focuses on promoting trade (Trade) across borders. That is why ICC, together with the World Trade Organization (WTO), published the  Standards toolkit for paperless trade. This toolkit of standards is not in itself a standard. The document contains a good and broad overview of standards from various organizations that should be used in various combinations to enable the ICC goal of paperless trade. ICC is also the manager of the Digital Standards Initiative (DSI), which brings together a wide range of organizations. See this presentation. This initiative aims to “develop a globally harmonized digital environment for international trade to enable dynamic, sustainable, and inclusive growth“.


DSI looks at documents used in international trade and the key data elements in those documents (Key Trade Documents and Data Elements – KTDDE). On that subject, DCI has currently published two reports (describing a total of 21 documents). A third report will describe a further 16 documents.


At the European level, UNECE publishes the standards of UN/CEFACT. UNECE is also active in relation to standards outside logistics and supply chain, but these are beyond the scope of the white paper.


CEN/CENELEC is the official standards organization for 34 countries counted as Europe. CEN also manages standards for transport that may be of relevance to DIL and, for example, those for Intelligent Transport Systems. In addition, mention should also be made of CEN TC331, which deals with standards for mail and parcel transport.


At a time when the transport of parcels is ever-increasing and globally runs into the hundreds of billions of parcels per year, this type of transport should not be missing in the context of DIL and BDI. Especially since these parcels are also increasingly being transported in traditional transport modes for at least part of the supply chain between buyer and seller. CEN TC331 and the Universal Postal Union (UPU) both manage various standards for this sub-area of mail and parcels logistics. UPU does so on a global scale for ‘designated’ postal organizations. There is therefore a formal liaison and ongoing alignment between these two organizations to keep their standards aligned.


Dutch initiatives

Within the Netherlands, there are also several initiatives to improve cooperation and data exchange between organizations in logistics and supply chain, also using semantics. These include the Open Trip Model (OTM), DEFlog (Data Exchange Facility Logistics) and ‘Data voor Logistiek’.


DEFLog and Data voor Logistiek

DEFLog enables data exchange between companies and governments. Companies can also use DEFLog to exchange data between themselves. The standard used for data exchange is the Open Trip Model. Data voor Logistiek unlocks logistics data from all municipalities in the Netherlands on window times, environmental zones, weight, length, width and height restrictions, parking spaces, preferred routes, dangerous goods routes, and loading and unloading bays. Here too, they use OTM. There is probably a relationship between CEN’s Intelligent Transport Systems standards and Data voor Logistiek. The Open Trip Model is not based on any SDO standard. However, it does seem possible to translate the semantics of OTM to those of UN/CEFACT. See also: From EDIFACT to OpenTripModel: analysis, migration and guidelines based on data from real-world logistics companies (

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