October 30, 2017

Nearly everyone who has any experience with the Web knows programmers use HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) to create the pages we read on the Internet.

Benefits of XML

Here are some of the ways XML can bolster your business:

  • Boosts efficiency by standardizing information transfers.
  • Lowers repetitive modifications and duplications in transforming data to various types of media, such as Internet, CD-ROM or paper.
  • Fewer errors when indexing and locating information.
  • Trims the time and cost of making and marketing changes.

Get the Most from XML

Here are a few ideas to help you get the best out of your investment:

  • Improve as you automate. Review how you link with every customer and supplier and figure out how to make those connections more efficient. Could you use your new system to manage customers’ inventories?
  • Brainstorm. Sit down with your staff and bounce around ideas about how to extend your use of the new technology. Could you use it to boost quality control?
  • Manage just-in-time inventory or establish less error-prone supply chains and less expensive flows of data. You can use XML to avoid labor-intensive paper transactions between just two parties.
  • Merge technologies. Costs will dive and customer relations will strengthen. Is it worth your while to link your system to pagers or cell phones?

Less commonly known or appreciated is its cousin XML (eXtensible Markup Language), a data format that balances the needs of people and computers to read and write data.

XML and HTML draw from the same inspiration, SGML (Standard Generalized Markup Language) and both identify elements on the page using a similar syntax. The big difference is that HTML describes the look, feel and action of a Web page (for example, codes a headline that is displayed in a particular size) while XML describes what the words in a document are.

HTML combines structure and display; XML separates them. So, while HTML lets people read pages, software programs can’t interpret the data. XML resolves this dilemma, making documents more portable and able to be used in different applications.

XML has evolved into other derivations, such as XBRL (eXtensible business reporting language), a standard developed to improve the way in which financial data is communicated and shared, CML (chemical markup language) for chemists and cXML (commerce eXtensible markup language), the engine behind e-commerce applications.

XML can identify individual pieces of information on the page and assign a tag to each of them. As a result:

  • Customers can fill in their own preferences for items ordered online,
  • Orders can be validated and processed immediately,
  • Inventories can be checked for reordering, and
  • Production schedules can be altered to meet demand.

For example, XML lets one company connect what’s visible on a website visitor’s computer to product descriptions, prices and availability. In other words, XML connects the user not just to the company but also to its internal systems that maintain data on inventory, pricing, specials, etc. As a result, the Web user gets the same information as someone calling a toll-free number.

In Canada, XML has been adopted by, among others, the federal government in its B2B procurement processes, and Canada Revenue Agency, for electronic tax form filings.

XML isn’t the first attempt at standardizing e-commerce activity. Several companies still use EDI (Electronic Data Interchange), but that technology is quickly falling by the wayside.

XML is simpler to learn, understand and use so many more programmers have developed proficiency in the language. That makes it easier on business owners who want to add e-commerce capabilities: they don’t need to learn the language themselves and have a larger pool of programmers to choose from.

But, be sure that whoever develops your e-commerce capabilities must understand how you operate. For example, if you want to streamline your supply chain, XML capabilities would do little good if the system didn’t communicate with inventory, customer service, etc. And, because business processes differ from company to company, the XML coding that works for one business may not work for another.

Getting Started: Review your processes to determine which are best suited for adoption of XML. This review is likely to reveal redundant operations, systems that aren’t linked (say sales and inventory) and other inefficiencies. These difficulties should be resolved before you switch to XML technology.

© 2017