Disclaimer: If you ask your IT manager or CIO about possibility of integrating your core HR system with a new disruptive productivity app, you might face a variety of answers. Those could vary from outright curses to immediate enthusiasm for your idea, primarily depending on that person’s experience with past integration projects. A lot has changed in the world of integration over past 5-10 years, but some scars take longer to heal.
But why should you, a human resource development and management expert (or any other non-IT manager reading this), care about such seemingly IT’ish topic? Because today, he or she, who owns the process, is responsible for picking the best tools for the job. Since you probably employ at least 4 systems for various daily tasks and impact even more, advising IT team, which of those should be integrated is a part of your job. Vast majority of HR managers I’ve worked with simply don’t consider integration as an option for reducing workload and automating tedious processes they and their teams are overloaded with.
This article is meant to give you a brief insight into the topic and inspiration to look for new ways for improving day-to-day work of your colleagues and yourself by connecting various tools. I will leave the techier aspects, like transport, APIs, SSO and security for another article and will try to keep language human, while looking into the following questions:
- What is integration?
- What and why to integrate?
- How do I go ahead and what about costs?
A simplistic explanation for a complex thing
The Webster definition for integration is quite close: “incorporation as equals into society or an organization of individuals of different groups (as races)”
When using this in connection with IT tools, we are mostly interested in incorporating individual available IT tools (and their data and capabilities) into our organization and processes.
You have a core HR solution, Microsoft Dynamics NAV. The system is used as the key point for entering and storing employee data. However, for handling development needs and appraisals of your staff, you use a separate web-based tool, ie. Upsteem.com, Success Factors or Workday. To make things more efficient for your team and middle-management during regular appraisals, you want employee and organizational data from your Dynamics NAV to appear automatically in your Upsteem or other talent management system.
Of course, the systems wouldn’t just start working with each other miraculously, some work will have to be done, likely on both solutions’ sides. In this example, a data exchange protocol from Upsteem would be set into receiving mode for your Dynamics database data traffic. But before you start getting bogged by “how”, which is always scary and frequently used for procrastination, let’s start with “why” and “what”.
Open your mind and get a lot of feedback and ideas
Unsurprisingly, the best ideas for improvements in processes and operations will come from your colleagues in various levels/departments. To get a lot of ideas, you can plainly ask them (or do a survey with Upsteem) a simple question: Which HR data we have could help you in your work, make you more efficient or even eliminate some unnecessary tasks altogether?
that everything is possible and don’t let the seeming impossibility and size of
ideas scare you or your respondents. Just in case though, do inform IT about
this brainstorming exercise beforehand. You could also do such survey together
with finances, operations or other teams to get more angles. The nature of
integrations is frequently “important, but not urgent”. Since most of the tools
you may plan to connect are already in place and functional on their own, there
is no rush to do it. So, look at the various ideas with your colleagues and set
some priorities. After initial review, you could come up with a list like this.
How would you prioritize it?
creation of a new employee contract, a new Active Directory account should
be created, along
with email and access to training portal, Slack and other systems, based on new employee’s position.
system should be connected to time keeping system and attendance data
reports should be available from appraisal interview interface.
and overtime requests should be entered by employees through Intranet
portal and overwrite respective scheduling and HR data, following approval
from employee’s manager.
birthdays, company KPIs and stock price should be visible and updated in
real-time on TV in canteen.
Some ideas bring clear value and add efficiency, others affect the loyalty and awareness of your employees. The question, which IT and board will ask you, if presented with the options is: What is the value of achievable effect VS associated costs?
Which is a complex way of asking “Why do this integration?” So, before bringing your best ideas to the board, let’s do a little more homework on reasons and costs.
There can be many reasons, more or less valuable for your organization and team, but some of the more common examples include:
- We will reduce excess manual data entry by X hours per month
- We will achieve consistency and higher quality of data across systems A, B, C
- We will improve process Y by enriching it with data from system A leading to X % growth in Z
- We will make data more transparent to employees leading to higher retention (proven by performance and survey results)
out the achieved value of certain initiative (cost-benefit analysis) may be a
bit tricky on your own, but as long as you keep it simple, you will get fairly
far on your own. If you do get stuck, a colleague whose department is to
benefit from a possible integration most will surely be happy to help you. IT
team might be your best friend here too, just make sure not to get immediately
discouraged, if some ideas will make for some sour faces. Also, don’t forget
consultants – we love working on creative integration ideas with customers and
solving the cost-benefit analysis puzzle.
A few simple questions will give you and your IT partners a lot of clarity
The second half of the board’s question regarding your potential project’s cost is actually not that tough to work out either. You know the reason for doing such project and also the assumed effect. This is exactly the kind of information, an IT colleague or supplier will need to provide you with some options for “how” and the associated costs. You should provide the following information:
- What is the purpose of this integration?
- Which exact systems need to be connected?
- Which particular data is going to be moved?
- Which way, which data should be moving?
- How often should the data be moved? Is real-time necessary?
- Which system should be considered “source of truth”, if overwrite is required?
- How much time are you or your colleagues ready to allocate for this project?
- What are soft/hard deadlines, if any?
Those might seem like questions for IT project, but are not. These are your tools and you are fully capable of answering associated questions with some thought. There will surely be more questions to be answered later, but for your initial cost estimation request, the above ones should be enough. If we revert to our previous Dynamics NAV and example, you query could be:
We want to reduce amount of work required for updating employee and company data in human resource development system Upsteem.com, which could probably be done by integrating it with our Dynamics NAV database. We will need to move employee name, last name, position, department, email and company structure data from NAV into Upsteem.com. Optimal would be to have a nightly data export, but once a week should be o.k. too. Core data is in Dynamics, so its o.k. for it to overwrite data in Upsteem.com, as long as previous survey and appraisal data is intact. We have quarterly appraisals coming up in a month from now, so if we can make this integration happen before – I would be happy to have my team work with you on testing for a couple of days in a few weeks. If project should take longer, then we can schedule more time, but only after appraisals are over. Could you give me a rough estimation for time and costs associated with such project?
And that is really it. Such simple
question will be enough to get some financial estimations and use them in your
evaluation process. Integrating everything with everything isn’t a very good
purpose, so it’s common to discard ideas with low or negative cost-benefit
ratio. You can always re-visit those later, when associated factors have
You are now ready to do some serious improvements
In my experience, as a human resource manager, you can do plenty of good today by integrating your HR data into various solutions at a very reasonable cost. Just give yourself a chance to be surprised, how much time can be saved and good-will harnessed by taking advantage of your new-found desire to improve your tools.
So, what are you waiting for? It’s time to write down some ideas and make some calls! Naturally, if you would like some more help or inspiration, feel free to contact us and setup a call or a meeting.
About author: After a decade of IT-sales, Vladimir Jelov switched roles and is focusing on helping customers pick the right tools for their job. A few years ago, he even used to claim that a gigantic tightly integrated ERP/HRMS is the best possible solution for most companies. He makes no such claims any more.