Information Exchange Using Message Text Formats
All Message Text Format standards have two dimensions: one dimension describes the rules governing the structure and contents of messages, e.g. how fields are delimited, how the message is identified and how business rules correlating different parts of the message are formulated. The other dimension of a standard contains a catalogue of messages and a detailed description of the contents allowed in them. The message catalogue is derived from a set of information exchange requirements identified with the parties using the standard.
Automated Updates using Formatted Messages
Formatted messages were originated at a time when most of the information exchange was conducted in a non-automated environment. From this background it can be understood that it was based on the requirements to be man readable. However, in today's command and control systems, messages are often used for machine to machine processing, directly updating graphical maps, spreadsheets, databases etc. Therefore it is crucial that messages conform to the rules of the template when sent to such a system. With the complex rule that are specified for most message, often stretching to several hundred pages, the probability of a manually created message being fully valid if prepared without software is unlikely. When manually drafting a message, busy operational users can quickly and easily create valid messages with the assistance of a computer-based system which supports the task allowing them to concentrate on the content. MTF preparation software guides the user by providing only the information needed by the user for the specific information they are working on at the time and validating the message as it is written. Some messages are also generated automatically from databases and sent to other systems. Although generated by a system, it is important to ensure that the message is fully valid before transmission, preserving valuable bandwidth by preventing the need for retransmission of corrections.
Since 2008, the underlying technical structure of Message Text Format standards have been updated to introduce XML-MTF. This work capitalises on over 20 years of operations Information Exchange Requirement capture and maintenance providing a Network Enabled Capability ready solutions for loosely coupled systems while maintaining backward compatibility with legacy systems. No other military information standard provides this broad spectrum of use.
Ensuring Unambiguous Data Exchange
Formatted messages offer significant advantages over free-text messages. They are compact and unambiguous, understood more clearly and can help to overcome language differences. The logical structure of MTFs lead operators and applicators logically though the required information when completing a messages, as incomplete messages often violate validation rules. Formatted messages differ from free-text messages in that the structure, the sequence and the allowable contents of a formatted message can be exactly defined, thereby removing ambiguity. A formatted message consists of Fields, Sets and Segments, in much the same way that a letter is formed with words, sentences and paragraphs. The conclusion is that it is of great importance that message preparation is assisted and that validation can be performed – whether carried out by a human or computer.