In recent years mask data preparation (MDP) has been complicated by a number of factors, including the introduction of resolution enhancement technologies such as optical proximity correction (OPC) and phase shift masks. These complications not only have led to significant increases in file sizes and computer runtimes, but they have also created an urgent need for data management tools -- MDP automation. Current practices rely on point solutions to specific problems, such as OPC; use outdated, proprietary, non-standard, informal or inefficient data formats; and just barely manage portions of the data flow via low-level scripting. Without automation, MDP requires human intervention, which leads to longer cycle times and more errors. Without adequate data interchange formats, automation cannot succeed. This paper examines MDP processes and data formats, and suggests opportunities for improvement. Within the context of existing data formats, we examine the effect of inadequate (e.g., proprietary) data formats on MDP flow. We also examine the closest thing to an open, formal, standard data format--GDSII--and suggest improvements and even a replacement based on the extensible markup language (XML).