Getting software to communicate

The lack of standardization is one of the main pitfalls

Communication, in any arena, is a challenge in the best of times. But when you take two software programs that speak different languages and try to get them to work together, it can become a nightmare.

The lack of standardization is one of the main pitfalls. Most organizations are faced with the challenge of finding applications that share data effectively.

It is no different in the recruiting and staffing arena. Recruiting and staffing professionals deal with multiple ways of delivering information, including job boards, various electronic formats and even paper. Information within these formats is not structured or standardized, making it difficult to automate processes.

XML: What is it?

XML is a set of rules for designing text formats that allow for the structuring of data. Structured data includes things like spreadsheets, address books, configuration parameters, financial transactions and technical drawings.

It makes it easier for a computer to generate data, read data and ensure the data structure is unambiguous. XML avoids common pitfalls in language design and supports internationalization and localization. Development started in 1996 and since 1998 it has been an official recommendation of W3C, the World Wide Web Consortium, which is dedicated to the development of interoperable technologies to improve the Web as a form for information, commerce and communication. The non-profit HR-XML Consortium was set up to standardize HR transactions.

For more information about XML and the HR-XML Consortium, click on the "Related Articles" link below.

But new technology is emerging that tackles this problem. The Internet has evolved from a simple publishing vehicle to a more robust compilation of programming utilities, notably XML, an evolved form of the HTML Internet language. XML information can now be structured in a standard format and messages can be composed to facilitate conversations between various Web applications and services.

This new technology allows recruiting and staffing professionals to extract data in the form of resumes and other candidate information from various sources and directly update this data into an organization’s human resources management system (HRMS).

As a means of developing and promoting XML technology standardization, the HR-XML Consortium, an independent non-profit organization, was set up. Through this consortium standard XML documents have been defined for both job posting and candidate information.

For human resources, this is important because it means data can be transmitted between a job board, for example, and an organization’s HRMS easily and efficiently. HR departments no longer have to scan in or type in applicant information into an applicant tracking system.

Despite the efficiencies this technology has created with the exchange of data between software products, resume and candidate information must still be transformed from its original format into a standard format that can be imported into an organization’s HRMS.

There are now examples of both Web-hosted and in-house solutions designed to address the problem of transforming electronic documents into standard XML documents. Using parsing techniques — the act of taking unstructured data from a resume, for example, and breaking it down into components such as contact information, job titles and education — data can be extracted from multiple electronic storage forms and put into a standard XML document. Once this is done, fields within these standard XML resumes can be mapped to the co-ordinating fields within an organization’s HRMS.

There is a more difficult task for these new products and services though, related to extracting the education and skills information from resumes and mapping it to an organization’s HRMS. A resume from one high-tech candidate may contain information about HPUX experience, for example, while a different candidate has Sun Solaris experience. The HRMS may generically refer to both of these skills as UNIX. This challenge will necessitate an intermediary mapping table.

Another concern has arisen from resume-parsing Web services, although it needs to be noted this may simply be a cause of the immaturity of this technology. Web services currently simply wait for requests from another solution. The problem lies in expecting these two applications using Web services to communicate with each other if both solutions are waiting for instructions. This appears to be a hurdle for early adaptors of this technology.

Although there are still challenges, the footprints have been created to effectively manage and use the data collected by recruiting and staffing professionals. There are a number of commercially viable services and solutions available on the market today.

HRMS and applicant tracking system vendors are using this technology to create better solutions for HR departments, including providing resume parsing purely on a Web services basis. The best example of this is the ability to forward a document to a hosted resume parsing service and to receive, in turn, a fully parsed and standardized XML document. This approach to delivered software components is exciting for enterprises and software developers alike. The recruiting and staffing arena has been an early beneficiary of this new and promising technology.

Jeff Koven is executive vice-president of Cyborg Systems Canada, a provider of strategic human resource management solutions. For more information contact [email protected] or visit His column appears regularly in Canadian HR Reporter’s Guide series. Look for the Guide to Pensions and Benefits in the June 2 issue.

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