HR System Integration vs. Application Interfaces – A Tutorial
Literally (not virtually) 100% of LBi HR Help Desk clients require connectivity to their internal HR system (or application), and often to other systems as well, such as Payroll, Talent Management, data analytics systems and others. These connections may range from real or near-real time, to hourly, daily, or even less frequently.
Connectivity (we will discuss integration vs. interface shortly) can be one directional or bidirectional, depending on the client requirements. Therefore, it is critical for HR to carefully plan which systems need to be connected, and to what level.
Vendors will primarily use the term “integration” generically when discussing data connectivity; but what is the difference between integration and interface? And why should you care? You should care because different connectivity methods require differing skill sets and timeframes. If your IT staff is short-handed you may run past deadlines and deployment goals, not to mention presenting ongoing support concerns.
Integration implies a real-time connection between 2 or more systems — meaning as data is entered or modified in one system, it is simultaneously duplicated in the other system. This usually is marshalled via APIs (Application Programming Interface) built into the applications, or by commands set directly within the database (using something called triggers and stored procedures). And often, integration implies a bidirectional connection, though not always. As the name API suggests, IT must have available qualified personnel to perform the actual programming, if not completed by the vendor. Two advantages of true integration are — real-time data updating and usually a single-step process handled by a service built into the application or database.
Interfacing multiple systems provides a similar result but uses a different set of tools and technology. A simple example of an interface is downloading employee data (i.e., name, ID#, department, phone, etc.) from the HR system to the Help Desk system. This is a one-way feed that does not necessarily need to be instantly updated from one system to another. Commonly, the interface is achieved by creating a database view (a snapshot of selected data fields) that is made available for the receiving system to read. That “view” can be updated as frequently as necessary depending on HR’s requirements. Two advantages of this method are — less drain on computing resources (vs. always live updating) and simplicity (less time to configure and setup). Testing time is also typically shorter.
The difference between both methods essentially compares to a live phone conversation vs. a text message. Both means of communication accomplish the same task, but one is instant and the other is delayed, albeit slightly. As long as either method is configured properly, HR users will never notice the difference in processes. It will simply function in the background.
Also, the security concerns are about equal.
IT will certainly know the difference in setup and support requirements. They will know the best method to use based on the system capabilities and their available resources. The point here is to take the mystery and confusion out of two semi-technical terms HR will hear often while selecting and implementing new systems, and allaying any concerns about the perceived benefits of one vs. the other.
HR and the system vendors determine exactly what data is shared, but let IT select the most feasible connectivity method. In conjunction with the application vendor, they will know the most practical method to use, delivering the best performance and supportability possible.