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HR System Integrations and APIs – What You Need to Know

What integrations does your HR system have? Do you have an open API? These are questions we’re asked a lot by new customers.

Having your HR software talk to other systems your business uses seems to make sense. In theory. But is it really that simple, realistic or affordable?

Most prospects we talk to in people management functions are not technical and don’t have a budget or the ability to request heavy work from IT. Most have not thought through what data they want exactly to collect and integrate – and usually don’t have a clear idea of how much their investment will need to return to pay off.

The most commonly requested integration is with payroll. And a lot of providers will advertise integrations. But you need to look at these closely and make sure that the outcomes you have in mind exist.

A lot of ‘integrations‘ offered are not really ‘seamless‘. Often these are merely compatibilities of data that can be used, and exported from one to another but transferred ‘manually‘. (Not even ‘programmatically‘.) If that’s not done manually other options could include flat file access.

Any HR software worth its salt will have reporting functionality to extract that data. But that’s not an integration, is it? (This kind of integration is commonly called a ‘User Integration‘.) First, let’s clarify some definitions.


APIs (Application Programming Interface)

What on earth is an API?  In short, APIs, on request, pull data from one source into your system, send information to another system, or sync between two systems.

These kinds of linkups can be on a 1-way or 2-way basis can be synced in real-time, or pushed/pulled at a defined interval. (You could be subject to lag times too, depending on the systems involved.)

If you want to utilise an API you’ll need technical know-how or access to time from your IT team and a clear plan on what you want to have in place. Good luck with that.


Out-of-the-box connectors

This would be the ideal scenario. But … you guessed it, nothing’s straightforward…, especially in systems that cross-departmental functions.

Apps connecting to other apps are common in many sectors. (For example, the CRM that your sales team use talks to your finance system to issue quotations and invoices based on ‘deals’ created in the CRM.)

However, as you may have already found, HR system providers can be either slow on the uptake – or truly direct integrations don’t really exist. Especially for small businesses.

Enterprise-level HR software vendors are notorious for having closed APIs. That is, they have integrations – but want to charge significant fees for customisation. Or prevent customers from using alternative tools to offerings they have in their wider suite already. (Also expensive.)


Many organisations use tools such as Zapier to connect systems. Especially for sales and marketing activity. Zapier’s really useful and we’re big fans of it for automating internal tasks. There are possible solutions with Zapier using ‘webhooks‘. Again though, you might need some IT backup with that one.

If you do find a good, straight-out-of-the-box integration, you’ve still got some work (probably customising fields etc.) to do to make sure all the fields of data you want to be extracted exactly match up and that vital information required isn’t limited. Again, that level of technical expertise is likely to exist in IT and not HR.

That’ll be part of the work involved when planning your ideal integration setup.


HR System Integration Checklist

  • What data do you want to be shared or synced? How often?
  • How much time will this integration ideally save? Are these admin tasks or does the data still need judgement calls made with it – where it could be assessed in its original form and location? Is it just one or two regular tasks that a potentially large IT project is saving? So get a clear idea of the returns you’ll be wanting from an integration. This can vary wildly from one side or type of business to another.
  • What’s the desired End User Experience and process? Maybe sketch that out. These types of processes need a certain element of ‘design‘. What happens if you have a change of personnel? Will they need to be trained on how to deal with common bugs and fixes required? You’ll need to have your team document what they did for the next person picking up that job.
  • What’s your budget? Is this budget in line with the returns you’ll expect?
  • Is this a show-stopper if it’s not possible to integrate to the level you’re expecting at the budget you have? We talk to loads of people who spend a tonne of time (and therefore resources) only to find they can’t achieve what they want. They usually only end up with nothing – except maybe a headache. (We call this Analysis Paralysis.) Or a large bill for something that’s not 100% workable or future-proof.
  • What time is IT willing to give to this? Do they have the right expertise? If not, can you feasibly manage subcontractors to carry this out? Will you need a consultant if you don’t have in-house IT support? What ongoing maintenance will be required? Are you at the mercy of the system pushing data out or the incoming ‘receptor‘ system changing what data calls can be made? And, perhaps most crucially – will this request for integration be like opening a can of worms for wider IT and integrations across the business?
  • Will the integrations and suppliers meet GDPR compliance or required Information Security standards for the data stored and transferred in each system that’s linked?


Separate Systems or All in One?

Of course, one way around many of these issues – that HR systems that offer a ‘full suite‘ will argue – is to use a wider solution that is all in one box already.

We’d certainly be in that bracket at this time. (Our HIRE recruitment software can integrate with HRLocker for example.)

Yet we’re open-minded and ultimately just want to deliver workable solutions. This thinking will define what we do and don’t offer going forward.

For the payroll issues we most commonly encounter, the best workaround is that the relevant personnel in finance that needs data from hours worked and have the right permissions to pull the reports they need, this is called a payroll export. Customers use those CSV export files to upload into their payroll software each payroll cycle.

HR System Integrations and APIs – What You Need to Know was last modified: March 4th, 2024 by Adam Coleman

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