Wednesday, 6 March 2013

How RSS news feeds benefit regulatory intelligence

It is crucial to successful regulatory intelligence to be able keep track of the changes which are published, often daily, by the regulatory agencies. The volume of available data published by them is growing day by day as the medium is embraced more and more for the effective dissemination of the latest regulatory requirements and expectations. With recent transparency initiatives, the volume of changing information is increasing further.

In my article last year in TOPRA’s Regulatory Rapporteur, entitled The World Wide Web as the ultimate regulatory intelligence database, I discussed various data formats which are used on the World Wide Web, many of which are useful to regulatory professionals.

One of the data formats discussed was Extensible Markup Language (XML).

XML files contain data organised in a strict hierarchy, with levels of data nested inside each other in a tree-like structure. The contents of an eCTD are described in a closely defined way in the XML files that make up the backbone of the eCTD. XML files in effect comprise text which conforms to the markup tag structure of XML. As such it is extremely flexible and can contain a wide variety of data and structures. To permit tight control and validation of the structure, XML files rely on associated schema, which define limits of what is stored and how it is stored.

To enable efficient monitoring of the numerous changes in the regulatory environment, many regulatory agencies have begun using news feeds. The main format for these news feeds is RDF Site Summary (RSS), sometimes known as Really Simple Syndication, which is essentially an XML format for indexing the news stream. This enables agencies to broadcast the headlines of the changes, with links to the fuller information on the agency websites. Both the EMA and FDA have brief summaries explaining how to use RSS.

Commoncraft has put together a brief video called RSS in Plain English which explains in very simple terms why RSS can save time when needing to keep up to date with changes on web sites. In their example they use a web-based reader called Google Reader to handle news feeds. As you will see from the EMA’s RSS Guide, there are a number of good RSS readers available both on the web, and which can be installed on your desktop. Furthermore, most modern web browsers and e-mail clients (including Outlook) have capabilities to read RSS feeds. This provides a top-level view of the changes and updates as they happen.

In summary, it is clear that reading RSS feeds from multiple relevant regulatory sources, aggregated in an RSS reader, is one way of improving the efficiency with which we are able to maintain the necessary awareness of the changes in the regulatory landscape.

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