HR-XML: The Common Language for HR on the Web

HR-XML is a new development in the application of Internet technologies specific to HR processes. This article explains the basics of HR-XML, what an HR manager or recruiter needs to know about it, and how it will affect HR practices both now and in the future. What is HR-XML? HR-XML is an effort by a group of vendors and service providers (members of the HR-XML Consortium) to formulate a standard for data communication between companies, for adoption by the entire HR community. HR-XML is based on XML (eXtensible Markup Language), a language for data interchange on the Web. It can best be explained by comparing it to a related language, HTML. An HTML Primer HTML stands for HyperText Markup Language; it is the language in which all Web pages are written. Both XML and HTML are markup languages, which means they make use of tags (words bracketed by < and >). A pair of tags (an opening tag and a closing tag) around some text gives it certain characteristics as defined by the tag. For instance, in HTML, you can make a word appear in <i>italics</i>. Style versus Content XML uses tags, not for giving text a particular appearance, but for giving it a particular meaning. XML actually describes the information it formats, while HTML primarily defines the display method of the information it formats. HTML code can specify that everything occurring between two tags displays in for example Helvetica font, 12 point, in bold. XML can designate that everything inside two tags is, for instance, a <zipcode>90210</zipcode>. <*SPONSORMESSAGE*> A Smarter Web To date, HTML has given us lots of pretty Web pages, but it has fallen decidedly short on helping us cope with masses of information. Search the Web for “chip” and you might get pages on chocolate chips, computer chips, and guys named Chip. Being able to specify that you were looking for <firstname>Chip</firstname> could generate much more accurate and useful search results. The Need For Standards The “X” in XML (standing for “extensible”) means that anyone can make up his or her own XML tags. Without XML standards, the Web will resemble the Tower of Babel. For two parties to communicate using XML, both have to agree that <zipcode> means “zipcode.” The tag <phonenum> could be used to state the meaning of a number, but equally, so could <phonenumber>. XML’s strongest point is its ability to exchange data. It is not a standard itself, but a language in which to express a standard. This is why initiatives such as HR-XML are defining a vocabulary of tags and how they are to be used. A Common Language For The Web The power of XML as a business tool lies in the way it can be extended to fit any business need. Because different organizations rarely use the same IT systems, it takes a significant amount of work for two companies to communicate with each other. XML allows companies to define a common language in which to send information to each other, regardless of what their internal systems are like. As more companies adopt a given standard, the easier it becomes for them to communicate, without the need for costly customized data interchanges. What Has XML Got To Do With HR? The HR-XML initiative is working towards an HR-specific vocabulary for use by employers, staffing companies, benefit plan administrators, job boards, recruiters, and others, for the exchange of information between their HRMS, payroll, and Hiring Management systems. So far, the initiative has arrived at a protocol for employers, recruiters, and job boards to exchange information about job postings and candidates. The group is also working on protocols for the exchange of benefits and payroll information. What Does This Mean For Recruiters? How does HR-XML affect Internet recruitment technology? The emphasis in human capital management is shifting towards viewing HR processes as part of a supply-chain, linked together electronically through Web-based applications (ASPs). HR-XML will increase the efficiency of information flow up and down this HR supply-chain. A technology such as HR-XML will have an influence on the development of the most agile applications. Solutions that power enterprise recruiting will be able to integrate more fluidly with the whole corporate HR strategy.

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Alice Snell is vice president of Taleo Research. The specialty research practice analyzes the best practices and economics of talent management. Taleo Research focuses on critical issues and key trends in talent management that impact organizational performance. Taleo Research is the strategic research division of Taleo, which provides on demand talent management solutions for organizations of all sizes, worldwide.

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