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What is XML, and Why It Matters to HR

XML will soon become the industry standard for seamless exchange of data and information.

April 26, 2001
Related Topics: Internet
Imagine a solution to some of your company's most annoying data exchangewoes. XML (Extensible Markup Language) is a new computer standard that is beingtouted as just that. It allows disparate systems to seamlessly exchange data andinformation.

    Many large corporations, such as Cisco, Ford, and Lockheed Martin, havealready made XML a key component of their business strategies. As the next waveof enterprise-wide management, communications, and commerce takes hold, andseamless exchange of data and information become standard operating procedure,more companies are expected to embrace XML.

    And now that Microsoft has launched its XML-supporting "BizTalkServer," that's bound to happen sooner than later. Experts predict that itwon't be long before XML becomes the primary standard for e-commerce and a keye-business enabler.

"The great integrator"
    Yet what exactly does the emergence of XML mean for HR -- and specifically,the HRIS?

    "Standard XML vocabularies for HR will lower integration costs andenable e-business," says Chuck Allen, director of the HR-XMLConsortium, anon-profit standards group for HR data exchange.

    Company HR systems and infrastructures usually hold a great deal ofinformation contained within their boundaries. "XML can be the greatintegrator," says John Matranga, chief technology officer of OmicronConsulting and director of XMLabs, which designs and develops XML solutions forcorporations and independent software developers.

    There are many possibilities of exchange of information with the HR area of acompany, explains Matranga. They include:

  • Organization of information for purchase, expense, and other approvalcycles.

  • Integration of 401(k) information into an employee self-service portal.

  • Integration of personal information and certifications with a securitysystem that allows access to valid certified resources.

  • Integration of payroll applications like Ceridian and ADP with real-timeemployee self-service.

Easier recruiting
    XML should also improve the recruiting process. With XML, barriers to datainterchange are eliminated. "Instead of having to integrate separately witheach job board or recruiting venue, an employer will be able to make a singleconnection via the HR-XML standards," says Allen.

    Resume builder tools that support the XML standard will allow the capture ofrich Meta data about a job candidate's skills and interests. This will make iteasier to search, analyze and compare candidates' qualifications, Allenexplains.

    With a common schema that can be adopted by the industry, the ability toexchange, search and manipulate resumes will be greatly enhanced, says Matranga.

    "One example would be an internal recruiting system that could link to amarketplace, act on local resumes as well as remote resumes at the sametime," he says.

    As a result, recruiters would be able to take advantage of this common schemato help in recruiting in both private and open marketplaces.

More advantages
    One of the best aspects about standard XML vocabularies for HR is that theydo not necessarily require vendors to change how information is stored, saysAllen. "HR-XML provides a neutral message between systems."

    Systems are integrated through "loose coupling." StandardApplication Programming Interface Definitions for processing XML have beenwidely implemented across all major programming environments, including Java,C++ and Visual Basic. "Thus, it should be relatively trivial for most HRvendors to move SML data in and out of their systems," he says.

    More good news is that the XML learning curve is not too steep, according toAllen. "As one developer recently told me, 'XML was frightening at first,but frighteningly easy when it came time to do our first implementation,'"he says.

    It's clear that XML expertise will soon become much in demand in corporate ITdepartments. XML is to data as HTML is to presentation for the Internet, saysMatranga, who has authored several books on XML.

    "If you believe that Internet and intranet technologies will beimportant, then knowledge of XML is just as important as fundamentalunderstanding of HTML," says Matranga.

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