XML paves way for standards-based HR

Proprietary HR file formats and interchange mechanisms may eventually be rendered obsolete with the emergence of the open HR-XML standard being promoted by not-for-profit skills networking portal OpenSkills.

During a presentation about industry collaboration on the HR-XML standard at the recent Linuxworld conference in Sydney, OpenSkills chairman Bruce Badger said HR-XML is an XML schema that describes how to exchange data about HR matters, like competencies, and review information.

"This is something that cuts across all industries [and] was created because of need," Badger said. "People have to capture resume information and [vendors] are selling not insubstantial systems to support HR information, but there is no established way to do it."

Badger said complaints like "every time I add a new HR service provider, I have to learn another set of conventions for communications", are common among HR software users.

Information like recruiting, assessments, performance management, services procurement, and temporary staffing all touch on HR information. The HR-XML Consortium, which has more than 90 HR vendor member, including big names like Microsoft, Oracle and SAP, was formed to "spare employers and vendors the risk and expense of having to negotiate and agree upon data interchange mechanisms on an ad hoc basis".

By developing and publishing open data exchange standards based on XML, the consortium provides a means for inter-company transactions without the need for "many separate interchange mechanisms".

Badger said HR-XML is favourable for vendors because it can increase software quality while reducing development time.

With HR-XML as an industry-wide standard, a person's resume can be exported from OpenSkills in HR-XML format and then imported into the company's HR database.

"So it's quite a big deal," Badger said.

Sutherland Shire Council IT manager Allan Dawson said a lot of HR software is still quite proprietary and "we put up with it".

Dawson welcomes an open standard like HR-XML which could "clean up things" and make them simpler, particularly with the import and export of data.

The council is using Aurion for HR, which was chosen because a lot of councils use it and many people are familiar with the software.

Independent HR consultant Michael Specht said over the last seven years the HR-XML Consortium has worked to develop standards covering all manner of data exchange scenarios within HR-Payroll.

"Where HR-XML adds value is multiple partners needs to exchange data on ad hoc, near real-time basis, such as job boards," Specht said. "As HR automates more processes that have multiple partners, or a real-time requirement support for HR-XML, the associated Web services will also increase."

Specht said a lack of local vendor support and actual working implementations is limiting HR-XML's support in Australia.

"It can be easy to convince vendors to develop standards, but it is very difficult to get the same vendors to implement these standards in their products [because] self-interest can get in the way," he said. "Once a critical mass has been reached, support for HR-XML will move from being a check box in a tender document to being the dominate method of moving data between systems."

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