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Dave Foxall HR Software Maintenance: A Precursor to all Other HRMS Objectives

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 By Dave Foxall

Ensuring Accuracy, Reliability, Security and Trust of HR Data

In 2009, the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) gave a presentation on the subject of the Return on Investment (ROI) of HRMS technology. The presentation emphasized that data management underpins all other returns. No matter how sophisticated HR management system (HRMS) software becomes; regardless of the impact cloud computing, open-source applications, social media and other disruptive technologies; this fact remains: HR management systems are there to manage employee data and all of the many HR software features that can be leveraged are completely dependent on the integrity and security of that data.

While strides have certainly been made in the years that have followed this presentation, it's clear that data quality is a key on-going issue that must be monitored during the lifespan of any HRMS software solution. Indeed, as any HR system is updated and expanded, realizing future benefits requires an active awareness of data quality and management issues. Here's our list of the top 4 issues organizations must be mindful in order to operate accurate, reliable and trusted HR software systems.

HR Management System Data Issue #1: Integration

The HRMS software solutions are often the core system around which other HR applications are then interfaced. Additional HR technology offerings (e.g. talent management, performance management, learning, etc.) may be best-of-breed point solutions or off-the-shelf modules from the HRMS software vendor, but their functionality largely depends on the seamlessness of the data transfer between these points. Sellers of broad or unified suite systems naturally highlight the pitfalls of multiple systems that must interface with each other, claiming that these HR applications "do not typically have this common foundation - and therefore usually require some type of data reconciliation, batch data exchange, or complex programming for report creation [; which] can mean additional costs and major frustrations" (Ultimate Software white paper, 2010).

On the other hand, bespoke solutions from expert vendors can offer a greater degree of specialized functionality and many highlight their smooth and easy interfacing with larger core HR systems. Either way, system integration is incredibly important, and stems from what SHRM (the Society for Human Resource Management) calls "the democratization of HR data". More specifically, from SHRM's global vantage point, this HR technology evolution signals "One of the most significant changes in the practice of HRM…the rapid expansion of access to such data by groups inside and outside the organization." With the ever-rising usage of functions such as Employee and Manager Self-Service options, HR systems must be able to cope with data being input and updated from a greater variety of sources. The HR team are no longer the gatekeepers. Yet, as recent Towers Watson research has discovered, only 16% of respondents had developed a "standard global architecture for HR data" in the last 18 months.

HR Management System Data Issue #2: Access

For HR application data in particular, security is vital due to the nature of the information being stored (e.g. social security numbers, medical coverage, employee evaluations, salary information, etc.). As a 2011 Grant Thornton risk report states, "Every company should know exactly what data it creates, stores and transmits. Further, organizations should know not only what data their transaction partners create, store and transmit, but also how their partners create, store and transmit it. Companies should audit controls such as data segregation." However, while controlling access to HR data is certainly a security fundamental, it must also be balanced with users' information needs. Data security safeguards such as Access Control Lists, encrypted PII (personally identifiable information) and vulnerability assessments must be coordinated with legitimate access requirements. Such is the case for integrated systems; where layered security measures can coexist with a degree of simplicity for users by applying common security rules and access levels, single logins, etc.

HR Management System Data Issue #3: System Deployment Models

There are many reasons to implement HR software on-premise versus an HRMS deployed via SaaS, but part of that decision includes considering some specific data issues. For instance, Towers Watson reports that, "Respondents [who] have not used SaaS, and don't plan to, list inability to customize, lack of data ownership and data security as their perceived concerns". While data ownership should never be a concern (given the fact that HR software vendors explicitly state that the data is always owned by the client organization), when HR information is kept offsite, it is on the care of the HR software supplier. As such, a key issue for organizations is to understand the stability and security of the HRMS supplier. Hence, as early as the pre-selection process, this security issue should be addressed; including such proofs as ISO/IEC 27001:2005 Certification, SAS 70 Type II (now SSAE 16) audits, and potentially even Safe Harbor Compliance. However, these certifications are typically performed at least annually and have expiry dates. Part of monitoring and improving an HR management system is checking that the supplier continues to meet such standards without interruption.

HR Management System Data Issue #4: Maintaining Integrity

Having successfully negotiated all obstacles at the implementation stage and ensuring the accuracy of the basic HR data, it is important not to allow its quality to be eroded over time. As Grant Thornton highlights, "Maintaining data integrity through careful reporting is an essential aspect of managing the risk of data complexity. Reporting tools can be developed in-house on the client or provider side, they can be canned (as in an off-the-shelf application), or they can be a hybrid of the above. In order to verify that data is being manipulated consistently, organizations should create baseline client-side and provider-side reports early in the relationship and provide periodic updates throughout the engagement." Additional methods can include:

  • Comparison and reconciliation reports for multiple databases;
  • Random spot-checking;
  • Manual data-cleansing exercises, checking back with individual employees; and
  • Dummy walkthroughs of specific processes, followed by a check that the new data is appropriately present via access points such as a management dashboard

The Bottom Line for HR Management System Data Management

Quite simply, the quality, security and integrity of the data in any HR Management System determines the utility of its features and also the accuracy of its reporting. One of the main advantages of automating HR processes is the ability to use employee data more effectively – from reducing payroll errors to interfacing with other BI (Business Intelligence) systems to producing complex predictive analytics. As such, keeping that data both safe and accurate is of paramount importance and a precursor to all other downstream objectives. End

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From SHRM's global vantage point, the HR technology evolution signals "One of the most significant changes in the practice of HRM…the rapid expansion of access to such data by groups inside and outside the organization."


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