8 Crucial Questions Every CIO Should Ask When Evaluating HRIS/HCM Systems

A CIO must ensure their next HRIS offers advanced technology capabilities and robust security features. Key questions focus on system scalability, integration with existing tools, compliance documentation, data encryption, access controls, user activity monitoring, and internal security teams. For more advanced HRIS Evaluation Tools, utilize OutSail's free application

Brett Ungashick
OutSail HRIS Advisor
June 11, 2024

When evaluating HRIS (Human Resource Information System) or HCM (Human Capital Management) systems, a CIO's strategic role is paramount in ensuring the integrity and security of such platforms. Asking the right questions can make the difference between a seamless integration and a costly failure. These questions focus on both technological capabilities and security features, ensuring that the system will not only meet current needs but also scale with the organization.

One of the most pressing questions a CIO should ask is whether the system supports future growth. Will the HRIS grow with your organization? This is crucial for avoiding incremental costs and disruptions down the line. Additionally, ensuring that the system has robust security measures is non-negotiable. How does this HRIS safeguard sensitive employee information?

Technological considerations are equally critical. Does the system integrate well with existing tools? Requesting references from customers who have completed similar integrations can provide valuable insights.

Can You Provide Documentation of Compliance with Industry Standards?

When evaluating HRIS/HCM systems, it is crucial to ensure that the system meets industry standards for security and data protection. Verifying compliance with certifications such as SOC I, SOC II, and ISO is essential for safeguarding sensitive information.

SOC I and SOC II Certifications: These certifications focus on managing customer data with a strong emphasis on controls relevant to financial reporting and data security. Requesting documentation for these certifications helps verify the provider’s commitment to protecting your data.

ISO Certifications: ISO 9001 and ISO 27001 are key standards. ISO 9001 focuses on quality management systems, while ISO 27001 addresses information security management. Ensuring the vendor holds these certifications demonstrates a comprehensive approach to maintaining high-quality and secure processes.

Current Documentation: CIOs should ask providers for recent compliance documentation. This request ensures the HRIS/HCM systems are up-to-date with industry standards and regulatory requirements, mitigating potential risks.

By verifying compliance documentation, CIOs can confidently choose an HRIS/HCM system that aligns with their organization’s security and quality standards.

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What is your Infrastructure and Data Hosting Strategy?

Evaluating an HRIS/HCM system requires a careful examination of the vendor’s infrastructure and data hosting strategy. Determining which cloud service providers or data centers are used by the HRIS vendor is critical.

A reputable cloud service provider can significantly enhance HRIS system security. Vendors often partner with providers like AWS, Google Cloud, or Azure, known for their rigorous security standards.

Security standards and compliance certifications (e.g., ISO, SOC 2) must be a priority. These certifications ensure data is handled according to industry best practices.

Geographical location of data hosting impacts data sovereignty. Regulations often require data to be stored within specific jurisdictions. Consider the geographical location of data centers to comply with local laws.

It's essential to ask about the HRIS data hosting facilities, including redundancy and disaster recovery plans. Vendors should have strategies to ensure data availability and integrity during unforeseen events.

Always examine any partnerships or third-party services involved in data storage. The reputation of these partners can affect overall trust and reliability in the HRIS system.

Free Tool: Utilize OutSail's HRIS Evaluation Tools - at no cost - to be more effective in your HRIS selection process

What are your Data Encryption Protocols?

Data encryption is essential for protecting sensitive information within Human Resource Information Systems (HRIS), encompassing both data in transit and at rest.

Data in Transit: Encryption protocols ensure that data moving across networks remains secure from interception. This is crucial when transferring employee information between different modules or external systems.

Data at Rest: Data stored in databases, servers, and backup locations must also be encrypted to prevent unauthorized access. Even if physical security measures fail, encrypted data remains unreadable to intruders.

Industry-Standard Encryption Protocols:

  1. Advanced Encryption Standard (AES): Widely adopted and trusted, AES provides strong encryption vital for HRIS security. More details available on common methods of encryption.

  2. Transport Layer Security (TLS): Ensures that data in transit is secured during transmission over networks. It facilitates secure communication channels between HRIS and users' browsers.

Expectations from an HRIS Provider:

  • Compliance with Regulations: CIOs should verify that HRIS vendors comply with regulatory requirements (e.g., GDPR, CCPA) concerning data encryption.
  • End-to-End Encryption: Providers should offer solutions where both data in transit and at rest are encrypted.
  • Regular Security Audits: Ensure the encryption protocols are maintained and updated regularly to guard against emerging threats.

In conclusion, robust encryption protocols are fundamental to the security architecture of any HRIS, safeguarding the organization’s sensitive employee data effectively.

Does your System Offer Access Controls and User Activity Monitoring?

Robust access controls and user activity monitoring within HRIS system security are essential.

Effective HRIS user access control ensures that only authorized individuals have access to sensitive data. This includes features such as role-based access, which grants permissions based on job responsibilities.

Critical features:

  • Role-Based Access Control (RBAC): Assigns permissions based on job functions to limit access to sensitive information.
  • Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA): Adds an extra layer of security beyond just passwords.
  • Audit Logs: Tracks user activities to identify and address unauthorized actions.

User activity monitoring is vital for maintaining transparency and security. By tracking behaviors, organizations can identify potential security threats and respond promptly.

Key monitoring features:

  1. Real-Time Alerts: Notifies administrators of unusual activities, such as multiple failed login attempts.
  2. Comprehensive Audit Trails: Keeps records of user actions, including login details, changes made to records, and accessed documents.
  3. Anomaly Detection: Identifies patterns that deviate from normal behavior to flag possible security incidents.

The system should support detailed user provisioning to streamline the process of granting and revoking access. Assigning varying levels of access and ensuring each user has the appropriate permissions helps prevent unauthorized access.

User provisioning features:

  • Automated Onboarding/Offboarding: Ensures timely granting and revoking of access rights.
  • Access Reviews: Periodic reviews of user permissions to ensure compliance with security policies.
  • Delegated Administration: Allows specific administration rights to departmental heads without compromising overall system security.

For optimal security, the HRIS should integrate user activity monitoring techniques and robust access controls. By implementing these measures, organizations can improve accountability, prevent data breaches, and ensure compliance with regulatory standards.

Do you have an Internal Security Team?

When evaluating HRIS/HCM systems, asking about an internal security team is essential.

Firstly, a dedicated security team ensures robust HRIS infrastructure security. This team executes ongoing threat assessments and incident responses to protect sensitive employee data.

It's critical to question the HRIS provider about the qualifications of their security team. Experienced and certified professionals (e.g., CISSP, CISM) offer greater assurance of effective security management.

Additionally, a well-trained security team can swiftly handle security breaches, minimizing risks. Ask for details about their training programs and continuous education efforts.

Inquire about the structure of the internal security team. Presence of specialized roles like security analysts, incident responders, and compliance officers indicates a mature security posture.

Understanding the security policies implemented by this team further underscores the provider's commitment. Policies for data encryption, access controls, and regular security audits are fundamental.

Lastly, verify whether the security team collaborates with third-party experts for additional oversight. This adds an extra layer of security checks and balances.

Remember, an effective internal security team is not an option but a necessity for maintaining the integrity and security of your HRIS system.

What InfoSec Training is Required of your Staff?

HRIS systems hold sensitive employee information. Ensuring that the staff of your HRIS provider receives ongoing information security (InfoSec) training is essential.

Regular Assessments: Evaluate the level and frequency of InfoSec training provided to the HRIS provider’s employees. They should be well-versed in identifying and mitigating cyber threats.

Continuous Updates: Cyber threats are constantly evolving. Continuous training ensures that employees stay up-to-date with the latest security protocols and methodologies.

Key Training Components

  • Phishing and Social Engineering: Employees must be trained to recognize phishing and social engineering attacks, which are common vectors for security breaches.
  • Data Handling Best Practices: Proper handling and protection of sensitive data should be a priority.
  • Access Control Measures: Understanding the importance of access control to limit exposure to sensitive information.

Customized Training Plans: The training should be tailored to the specific needs of your organization and the roles within it.

For example, Infosec Self-Paced Training and Infosec Skills offer tailored cybersecurity training that accommodates different schedules and skill levels.

Security Framework Alignment: The training programs should align with recognized security frameworks such as the NIST Cybersecurity Framework.

By ensuring the HRIS provider’s staff undergoes rigorous and continuous InfoSec training, you safeguard your organization’s sensitive information against potential cyber threats.

Do you have Infrastructure Redundancies in Place?

Ensuring system uptime and data availability is critical in HRIS/HCM systems. Businesses can achieve this by implementing infrastructure redundancies.

Redundant systems provide a fallback option if a primary system fails. This includes duplicating hardware, software, and network components.

Failover mechanisms are essential. These mechanisms automatically switch to a backup system, minimizing disruption.

Redundancy measures should include:

  • Backup Power Supplies: Uninterruptible Power Supplies (UPS) and generators to maintain power.
  • Data Replication: Regular replication of data across multiple locations.
  • Multiple Network Paths: Diverse network routes to avoid single points of failure.

Data availability is another priority. In case of failure, data should be easily accessible through backup servers and storage systems.

Regular maintenance and monitoring of redundant systems are crucial. They ensure all components are functional and up-to-date.

Businesses should enforce best practices like routine performance checks and automated alerts for potential issues.

For a comprehensive overview of network redundancy, refer to Network Redundancy Best Practices.

By establishing robust infrastructure redundancies, organizations can protect against unexpected disruptions, ensuring continuous HRIS operations.

HRIS infrastructure security relies on these redundancies to deliver reliable and secure services. These practices help mitigate risks and ensure business continuity during unforeseen events.

What Security Protocols Apply to Third-Party Integrations?

Ensuring the security of data exchange and integration with third-party applications is critical for any HRIS system. Vendors must adhere to strict security measures to protect sensitive HR data.

Key Security Protocols and Standards

Encryption: Data must be encrypted both in transit and at rest. This ensures that sensitive information like employee details is protected from unauthorized access.

Authentication and Authorization: Robust authentication protocols such as OAuth and multi-factor authentication must be used. These ensure that only authorized users and applications can access the HRIS system.

API Security: APIs used for integration should be secured with tokens, certificates, and other measures to prevent unauthorized access and data breaches. Learn more about securing APIs from F5's guide on API security.

Due Diligence: Regular assessments of third-party vendors' control environments are essential. This involves security questionnaires and evaluations of their cybersecurity posture, as highlighted by Secureframe's guidelines on third-party security.

Protocols for Integration Partners

Patch Management: Integration partners must have a robust patch management process. This includes periodic checks for software updates and timely application of patches to avoid vulnerabilities, as discussed in this article on secure third-party integrations.

Security Audits: Routine security audits should be conducted to ensure compliance with security standards. These audits help in identifying potential threats and rectifying them promptly.

Compliance: Third-party providers must comply with industry standards and regulations such as GDPR and CCPA. Ensuring compliance helps in maintaining a secure data exchange environment.

By adhering to these security protocols and maintaining stringent standards, CIOs can ensure a secure integration between HRIS systems and third-party applications, thereby safeguarding employee data and maintaining trust.


In the dynamic landscape of HR technology, the CIO's role in selecting the right HRIS/HCM system is pivotal.

Addressing technical and security questions during evaluation can significantly ease this task. Well-documented APIs, for instance, ensure seamless communication between the HRIS and other enterprise systems, as highlighted in the guide to choosing the right HRIS.

Thorough vetting safeguards organizational data. Regular evaluations and updates are essential for maintaining system integrity over time, as noted in best practices for HRIS implementation.

Customizing and managing integrations efficiently helps in creating a resilient HRIS infrastructure. The implementation of HR analytics within HRIS workflows transforms decision-making processes, enhancing the overall system's value, as seen in insights on successful HRIS selection and implementation.

By asking the right questions, CIOs can ensure they select a robust and secure HRIS that supports their organization's long-term HR goals. This meticulous approach not only protects valuable data but also contributes to a more efficient and adaptive HR environment.

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Meet the Author

Brett Ungashick
OutSail HRIS Advisor
Brett Ungashick, the friendly face behind OutSail, started his career at LinkedIn, selling HR software. This experience sparked an idea, leading him to create OutSail in 2018. Based in Denver, OutSail simplifies the HR software selection process, and Brett's hands-on approach has already helped over 1,000 companies, including SalesLoft, Hudl and DoorDash. He's a go-to guy for all things HR Tech, supporting companies in every industry and across 20+ countries. When he's not demystifying HR tech, you'll find Brett enjoying a round of golf or skiing down Colorado's slopes, always happy to chat about work or play.

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