Get ahead with HR systems

by 14 Oct 2008

Q. Im an HR generalist, interested in working on HR systems, but other than our payroll and Excel I do not have much experience. Where and how can I learn more about HR Systems, and what technologies do I need to know to get a job in this area?

A: You might be surprised just how many businesses, some of them quite large, run on “payroll and excel”. So don't underestimate how much experience this may have given you. If you are starting out to learn more about HR Systems, then the internet is the best place to start. I would suggest that you build a good foundation around typical HR data and processes, understand the application of systems and change management, and be aware of the evolving technological landscape.

The foundation for the vast majority of HR Systems is a data model and knowing the basic terminology and structures used is essential. Data, traditionally stored in databases, underlies all HR Information Systems and expert systems (such as applicant tracking, recruitment, induction, talent and performance, compensation, etc). ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) providers continue to form the core of large-enterprise HRIS, and if you are interested in a particular vendor then you can easily pick up a reference guide at most big bookstores. You need to gain an appreciation of the employment life cycle and the building blocks of a system such as people, positions, jobs and job families and competencies.

When applying a new HR technology you will rarely be in a situation that does not involve some people-related change management, optimisation of existing business process, and, of course, configuring the technology. You will need to develop a balanced capability in these areas to be effective. The speed with which the technology can be introduced is one of the decisive factors in a successful change.

We all know technology is constantly changing and evolving. Web 2.0 is only a recent concept, and already people are working on Web 3.0 or “Intelligent Web” applications. Social networking and collaboration dominates the conversation at the moment, but HR technology professionals should also start tracking microformats such as hResume for structuring and presenting HR data, natural language query tools for empowering managers, and Software as a Service (SAAS).

No providers are yet claiming Web 3.0 concepts across the board, but it won’t be long. I’m particularly looking forward to “Actionboards” replacing “Dashboards”, where the graphics won’t just show a picture, but will also suggest suitable corrective or improvement Actions based on intelligent analysis of the data.

Combine this with the capability to be able to present these actions directly to managers from the web application and HR Technology will really be at its prime time. Any technologies that can help to engage, motivate and retain staff will likely find their way into HR products.

A useful starting place is – this group works on standards for exchanging HR data between systems using the eXtensible Markup Language so you can learn more about one of the import technologies (XML) and about data structures. I also suggest reading HR Blogs, because it will keep you on track of current thinking, so have a look at the “top 25 HR Blogs” and see where that takes you.