XML: Standards to cut data costs

The
HR-XML Consortium is championing standardisation of data exchange to minimise
costs and cut down on the need for constantly rekeying HR information. Director
of the consortium Chuck Allen explains how it works

In
the current economic and technological climate, HR departments are facing new
and continuing challenges. Human Resource managers are increasingly required to
focus on a strategic vision and show their departments are cost effective.

In
the recent past and indeed, in some existing legacy systems, recruiting was
done through hard copy resumés. Once an applicant was hired, the information
was rekeyed into an employee’s record. Employers were required to file
voluminous paperwork to enrol in stock plans, benefits plans and change
personal information. Employees entered time worked into a project schedule or
punched a time-clock, which was then manually transferred to the payroll
system.

Now,
many positions are filled using job boards and internal web postings. Employers
are offering web-based self-service and benefits enrolment through company
portals. Software interfaces have been built to eliminate the need for
re-entering data – reducing the chance for errors. Payroll is often outsourced
for more efficiency. While each of these accomplishments has benefited the HR
departments, additional actions may realise substantial cost savings.
Standardisation of HR data exchange serves to increase the efficiency and
thereby reduce costs of common HR operations.

An
organisation offering a cafeteria benefits plan – a system where employees get
a choice of benefits from a ‘menu’ of options – may have contracts with several
health insurance agencies, for instance. The employee information sent to each
agency would be the same, but each agency may require the transaction in a
different format, which would require custom programming. Employee names, which
would always be part of the transmitted record, may be required in a different
format for each agency, such as last name then first name in two separate
fields or the full name in a single string. Standardisation of data
transmission presents obvious advantages because it eliminates the need for
reformulating or rekeying data.

Standards
have existed in other areas of business for decades. EDI (Electronic Data
Interchange) has data exchange standards for general ledger, procurement and
many other domains. Human Resource departments need to embrace similar types of
standards, which have proven so beneficial and cost effective in other areas.

The
HR-XML Consortium was established in 1999 to assist the HR industry in
developing and promoting standardisation of XML specifications, enabling the
automation of HR-related data sharing between software.  It is a non-profit, international organisation
of global scope with a broad range membership including human resource
organisations, vendors, consultants, government agencies and individuals. 

The
consortium uses XML, an Extensible Markup Language, to build platform-
independent data exchange standards. XML was designed by the World Wide Web
Consortium (W3C) to streamline data exchange across the internet regardless of
platform or software.

The
following are the major applications among the extensive range of standards
being developed by the HR consortium currently in use or in the process of
adoption.

Stock
Plan

The
most recent standard, completed in September 2002, is the Stock Plan
specification.  “Employee stock purchase
plans and stock option programmes (ESPP) [programmes under which employers
allow staff to purchase share of company stock, usually at a discounted price]
are important motivators and much-cherished component of employee
compensation,” said Daniela Goerke, development manager, SAP, and chair of
HR-XML’s stock programme workgroup. “The standards developed by the HR-XML
Consortium’s stock plan workgroup will provide employers with flexible and
cost-effective options for deploying self-service facilities for employees to
exercise stock options or purchase stock under an ESPP,” according to Goerke.
(An ESPP is an Employee Stock Purchase Plan, programmes where employers allow
employees to purchase shares of company stock usually at a discounted scheme).

Staffing
Industry

The
Staffing Industry Data Exchange Standard (SIDES) is a comprehensive suite of
data exchange standards offering cost savings to all participants in the
staffing supply chain. In May 2002 six major US staffing companies (Adecco,
Kelly Services, Manpower, Vedior, Spherion, and Randstad) endorsed the use of
SIDES and strongly encouraged other organisations to use the standard.
Recently, executives from French Staffing organisations (Adecco TT, Adia,
Groupe Expectra, Kelly Services, Manpower, and VediorBis) also endorsed SIDES
and announced their intent to work within the HR-XML Consortium to develop
extensions reflecting business practices and legal requirements within the
French staffing industry.

Employee
Screening

Background-checking
specifications are designed to support background investigations performed by
third-party screening services – ensuring that legal requirements are met and
privacy of sensitive information maintained.

“The
standardisation in our industry championed by the consortium is great news for
HR professionals,” said Chris Andrews, CEO for American Background Information
Services.

“Important
personnel actions often hinge on the receipt of timely and accurate background
check results.

“Closer
integration between company HR systems and the systems maintained by
third-party background checking services speeds the talent acquisition process.
Today, achieving this level of integration requires proprietary interfaces.
HR-XML’s standard for background check requests provides a flexible and
low-cost way to build these connections between systems,” according to Andrews.

Other
standards being developed by the HR-XML Consortium include:


Payroll Instructions 1.0 streamline the exchange payroll deduction requests and
pre-payroll instructions.  (2003 target
date).


Staffing Exchange Protocol (SEP) 1.1 supports both internal and external
recruiting venues and receipt of matching resumés.  (Approved). SEP 2.0 is currently under development and will
include a more flexible model. (2003 target date).


Competencies 1.0 allows the capture of evidence used to substantiate competency
and ratings and weights that can be used to rank, compare, and otherwise
evaluate the sufficiency or desirability of a competency. (Approved). Work
continues on the Competency specification to provide for a relationship with
existing taxonomies – classifications of occupations or skills – such as O*Net
(Occupational Information Network database). (2003 target date).


Time Card 1.1 provides a simple method of reporting time worked and expenses
incurred.  Time Card Configuration 1.0
allows trading partners to set up initial time-card information. (Approved).


Entity Identifier 1.0 sets out a methodology for managing identifiers for
people, organisations, transactions, or other ‘entities’ that may need to be
referred to across a series of related conversations between trading partners.
(Approved).


Benefits Enrolment 2.0 supports tier-based, rate-based, and flexible spending
account enrolment and maintenance. (Approved).


Resumé 2.0 is a flexible resumé definition, including modules for education,
work experience and military history. (Approved).


Effective Dating 1.1 sets out an approach to require or prohibit the Time Zone
designation for date and time values in a consistent manner. (Approved)


Contact Information 1.0 provides patterns needed to capture postal addresses,
phone numbers, e-mail, and online and wireless messaging. (Approved).


Person Name 1.2 prescribes the form of the Person Name object used in HR-XML
specifications. (Approved)


Postal Address 1.2 prescribes the form of the Postal Address object used in
HR-XML specifications. (Approved).


Work Site and Work Site Environment 1.0 contain information pertaining to the
site or location of a job or position; the environment of a job or position,
dress code and safety equipment. (Approved).


Payroll Defined Contributions 1.0 allows participant contributions information
to be sent to a third party administrator. This specification is designed to
support US payrolls. (Approved).


The enhanced efficiency and resultant cost-effectiveness of streamlined HR data
transmission utilising the HR-XML Consortium standards present substantial
benefits to the entire HR industry. The HR-XML Consortium encourages
involvement by HR professionals and organisations to assist in establishing
standards that are universally accepted in the HR industry.

For
information regarding membership in the HR-XML Consortium, please visit http://www.hr-xml.org/channels/join.cfm

For
enquiries related to particular applications of the consortium’s standards,
please contact Chuck Allen, director, HR-XML Consortium, Inc. chucka@hr-xml.org

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