As companies seek to automate as many processes as possible in an effort to reduce internal effort and boost profitability and efficiency, XML is becoming an increasingly essential and ubiquitous format – e.g. UBL documents in the context of Peppol. However, for those without a system in place to check and verify XML documents via an integrated XML checker, the exchange of XML documents can be more of a headache than a time-saving process.
In this article we’ll explore the importance of XML document validity and how simple it is to integrate an XML checker into your system to enable you to start experiencing more of the benefits of supply chain document exchange automation.
Why is validity of e-documents so important?
As XML is machine-readable rather than human readable (see the example UBL order below), it is difficult to tell without the aid of a validation tool whether an XML document has been structured and populated correctly.
Those who want to delve deeper into the logic behind XML validation can find a useful tutorial series here.
Without a system for checking that XML documents are valid, the structured documents exchanged with partners may well contain errors.
In turn, these errors can prove both time-consuming and costly to fix. Even if the error is immediately spotted, simply getting hold of the relevant person at the other end can be a challenge, while pinpointing exactly what needs to be amended in order to resubmit the message successfully can also be tricky. Worse still, the error may not initially be spotted if validation systems are not in place, which can lead to more complex issues requiring even longer and labour-intensive resolutions. This can end up costing a business dearly, not only in terms of the resource cost, but also through damaging partner relations.
Further, over the last decade many countries (particularly those in Europe) have begun to introduce strict regulations concerning the exchange of structured business documents. As many of these new regulations concern B2G e-invoicing and the digitisation of tax reporting, the consequences for non-compliance can be significant. For example, in Ireland, companies can be fined over €1,500 for each incorrect invoice, plus an additional personal fine of €950. Meanwhile in Sweden, non-compliance with e-invoicing regulations (deliberate or not) can result in up to two years in prison! Even in countries with less severe penalties, however, simple errors such as the incorrect VAT number on an invoice/invoices can result in massive financial repercussions, as such a mistake will make the recipient ineligible for VAT for the relevant transactions.
So what is validation?
XML validation is a process whereby XML documents can be checked instantly by software to confirm that they have been constructed and populated correctly.
Validity of an XML document means:
- Logical formatting
An XML document is well formed if it adheres to the XML syntax rules. E.g. it only contains valid Unicode characters, elements are property closed, etc.
An XML document is schema-conformant if all rules in the associated XML Schema (e.g, a UBL invoice Schema) are fulfilled.
An XML document is schematron-conformant if all rules of the associated Schemtatron file are fulfilled.
This is particularly useful in two scenarios:
- When connecting to new partners: Without a validation tool, a constant back and forth is required between the two businesses wishing to establish an EDI connection to ensure that messages are coming through correctly during testing. With an integrated XML checker, however, it is possible to remove the dependence on the other party for feedback during the testing phase. Instead, the sender sees instantly if their document is formatted correctly and can make the necessary adjustments straight away, saving both parties time, money and stress.
- During ongoing EDI operation: In addition to proving useful during the testing stage of partner onboarding, validation should ideally be the final step in every XML document creation process. As changes are constantly being made to live IT environments – both systems and processes – it is important to ensure that this doesn’t disrupt the accuracy of the XML documents generated. The only reliable and efficient way to ensure this is by integrating an XML checker as a final internal step. This way you can be sure that you never send an incorrectly formatted document – which as we have explored can have significant consequences.
What does a comprehensive XML checker provide?
While the exact monetary value of integrating an XML validator is hard to quantify, as it is impossible to predict how many errors you would experience without one, and how costly they would be, the benefits an XML checker can provide are clear. ecosio’s XML validation tool, for example, offers the following key advantages:
- Simple error descriptions – Non-technical and easy-to-understand error messages allow issues to be resolved by non-experts, minimising the chance of bottlenecks.
- Shareable test report – For those who wish to share test reports with colleagues etc., ecosio’s validator generates a concise, downloadable report.
- Zero maintenance – As the tool is maintained by ecosio, there is no need to install any updates or adjust the tool in-house. All necessary changes will be made to the tool directly by ecosio, with zero disruption to your business.
- Simplification of message exchange testing – Both parties save valuable time and money during onboarding as the need for bilateral testing is reduced.
- All major XML document types covered – From Cross Industry Invoice (CII) to Universal Business Language (UBL) file formats, ecosio’s tool covers all common XML file types.
- One click for all formats – The validation tool is as easy to use for complex XML file types as for the most basic ones. All that is required is a single click!
- Clear and unambiguous versioning
The full list of the XML document types that ecosio’s validator tool can check is located on the online tool page.
Before and after implementation – a comparison
Let’s look at how the installation of a validation tool can optimise EDI processes in practice by considering the same example with and without an XML checker. Imagine you wish to send an invoice to one of your partners using the European e-Invoice standard EN 16931 (let’s assume that you sent a Universal Business Document file, though a Cross Industry Invoice would also be feasible).
Without an integrated XML checker:
- Invalid characters could “sneak” into the document. This is typically a master data issue, if for example the business copy and pastes something in a header text or an item description.
- A change in one of the generating routines in the ERP could alter the namespace string, leading to an invalid XML.
- A missing master data entry could lead to a VAT-ID being missing in the XML document, which leads to non-VAT-deduction – depending on the invoice amount.
With an integrated XML checker:
- It is still possible for the things above to occur, but at least you will notice them before your business partner does.
How do I implement a validation tool into my system?
As with many software adjustments, there are two main options for companies looking to integrate an XML checker into their system – A) handle integration in-house, or B) outsource to the experts. The second of these options offers the far simpler option, not least because the first is likely to require the construction of the tool itself as well as its integration into your system.
At ecosio (as with our wider EDI solution) we offer integration of our comprehensive tool via an API connection. This way the tool is embedded directly in your existing ERP system. There is no requirement to navigate to another platform etc. Further, with such a connection you do not need to install updates when the tool is adjusted. Instead, the tool is updated centrally, meaning your validator is always up-to-date and reflects the most recent XML rule sets.
For more information on how to integrate ecosio’s XML checker into your system, or to find out more about the benefits this tool could offer your business in particular, contact us today. We are more than happy to answer any questions you have!