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Three truths about integrated HR systems IT and HR should know

CIOs and their IT teams are often tasked with integrating HR systems, such as incorporating talent management with core HR. Here's advice on making that a successful endeavor.

HR leaders and their companies' IT teams face a variety of technical challenges when integrating new software with core HR software systems. Integrated HR systems are the goal of strategic companies and can help improve talent management, but getting to that goal can be difficult. Good strategies for addressing these challenges include creating an HR platform, focusing on data uniformity and staying open to manual intervention to enable flexibility.

Three factors that may drive the need for integrating other services into core HR systems include disparate systems that do not communicate seamlessly, disruptive software upgrades and limited reporting capabilities, said Hila Bazar, VP of global HR at Glassbox, a customer experience service. Many HR managers must deal with targeted, stand-alone applications or services for payroll, time tracking and employee benefits management and need integration to create a more strategic HR department. In addition, new software upgrades may break existing integrations and require new methods of integration. And lastly, many HR managers today wish to add new reporting tools to better understand HR processes and how to improve them, tools that need integration into existing systems to work at their best.

One way to overcome these challenges is for IT to work with HR leaders to identify the most effective and efficient platforms. Not only must these be intuitive, they also must be easy to integrate into even legacy systems. Select technologies that are scalable and can be easily deployed and adopted. Think about how the systems will enable employee engagement and address sentiment and transparency in performance assessments. "By demonstrating the value of these tools to stakeholders and employees, everyone is more likely to [use the new] HR systems," Bazar said.

Understand the value of unifying HR data into a platform

By demonstrating the value of these tools to stakeholders and employees, everyone is more likely to [use the new] HR systems.
Hila BazarVP of global HR, Glassbox

Data is often stored in multiple, disparate systems. One of Accenture's biggest challenges is the question of how to get more insight out of its avalanches of data -- a problem with which many companies are familiar. But the company is working on this issue. "Unifying data into a platform ... increases agility to make better business decisions," said Chris Schaaf, managing director of HR portfolio at Accenture. In turn, that enables organizations to get one step closer to blurring the lines between people and technology, tearing down functional silos and creating end-to-end employee experiences. HR holds a staggering amount of data about the workforce and can use this platform to create common services that enable employees to manage themselves and their organizations anytime, anywhere, Schaaf said.

Achieving the goal of integrated HR systems requires first creating a defined strategy. Accenture addresses this by focusing on people first, innovating where possible and scaling with agility. "Tying [actions] back to these strategies helps drive the technology adjustments ... and [drives] a holistic approach to address any permanent, temporary and situational circumstances," Schaaf said.

Know that integrated HR systems require data uniformity

Achieving integrated HR systems, such as incorporating talent management software into an HR information system (HRIS), requires addressing the issue of disparate data sources. The merging and exporting of data are becoming more important than ever as data becomes an even more critical part of every modern business. When working with a large amount of employee data, it is important to have a holistic view to make sure all the right information is there. "However, integrating HR systems complicates this process, as the data lives in multiple places and needs to be uniform in each one," said Corey Berkey, director of HR at JazzHR, a hiring management service provider.

Berkey said that keeping things as simple as possible is key. "Integrations are meant to benefit internal customers overall, so it's important that HR departments don't get lost in the challenges of needing to understand multiple systems," Berkey said. Figure out the best way to integrate systems based on how it will most benefit the employees and their HR team. One strategy is to work with integration partners to create documentation and guided walk-throughs that make it easier for HR managers and employees to use the services provided through the integrations. They are less likely to get confused or frustrated by changes, and it will make their job easier as well.

As part of the integration strategy, HR and IT must also determine the best strategies for managing authentication across platforms. As enterprise HR managers look for ways to enhance their core HR systems, they often take advantage of a variety of new cloud services. These all bring their own authentication and sign-on infrastructure, which means that HR managers and employees must juggle multiple passwords for the separate systems. "When this is the case, HR processes get more complicated, and HR professionals aren't able to work as efficiently as they should," Berkey explained. Addressing ways to simplify this issue is crucial.

Realize that perfectly integrated HR systems may not be possible

In a perfect world, IT departments should be able to integrate talent management into core HR systems via an API once to create a fully automated process. But this is not always as straightforward as HR would like would like to imagine since the landscape of APIs is messy, said Sten Tamkivi, chief product officer at Topia, an employee mobility management service. Integration is further complicated by the custom fields HR managers create to accomplish their jobs.

Take the issue of employees' locations and how they are accounted for in the organizational structure. Most of the leading HR software packages were created in the day and age where employees were employed by one legal entity and usually had one office address. But things grow more complicated as employees move around, change visa statuses frequently and get paid through a complex web of global payrolls, which trigger tax compliance needs in several countries per year.

Enterprises typically have employee demographic data and organizational structure, such as org charts, stored in the HRIS, and they need to automatically pull this data into another software system, such as Topia, to avoid double entry of the basics and reduce the number of apps HR managers juggle. Integrations are required to receive initiations and data and also send status updates to other systems. They can help streamline the execution of processes such as relocating candidates that sign a job offer or employees accepting a new assignment.

One of the challenges lies in deciding which system becomes the authoritative source of what's the truth at any given moment. Most modern HR packages do have APIs for third-party access but are not very open by product culture and philosophy. Also, any large organization probably has added several custom fields and workflows when they implemented Workday, SAP or their favorite applicant tracking system. "Having one integration to an adjacent platform to rule them all is a pipe dream," Tamkivi said. In other words, it would be ideal to use the integration capabilities built into an existing HRIS, but this is often not practical because of each enterprise's unique customizations to support its HR processes.

Setting up the integrations becomes more of a custom implementation problem, rather than part of the out-of-the-box product. "Very often, we fall back from real-time APIs to using daily or even more infrequent file export-import integrations that allow for looser coupling and a more asynchronous relationship between systems trying to work on the same HR data sets," Tamkivi said.

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