Buying Strategies

How to Integrate Your HR Software Tools

April 26, 2023
Brett Ungashick

Every buyer wants to have their HR software systems more integrated, but creating an integration between systems is never easy. In this article learn how to talk about integrations, when they are useful and how they can be built.

What is an HR software integration

Before we dive deep into this conversation, it's important to clarify what we mean by an HR software integration.

An HR software integration is an automated method of passing data from one HR software platform to a separate HR software platform.

There are a variety of ways to automate this data transfer process:


Application Programming Interface (API) is the most common tool for connecting different applications. API's are built by the software provider and are essentially instructions for accessing the platform's data.

Nowadays, almost all modern software platforms have APIs, so they are commonly available. However, APIs are code-based and maintained by the vendor, so they are subject to change and require a working knowledge of programming languages.


Webhooks are similar to APIs in that they connect two web-based platforms. However, webhooks are event-based, meaning as soon as an event happens in one application, the corresponding change is made in the other application.

Because of this model, webhooks are more instantaneous than APIs. On the otherhand, they offer less control over what data is transferred over.

Blog: The 10 Best HRIS Systems for Mid-Sized Companies

SFTP (Automated File Transfer)

SFTP transfers are essentially secure, automated file transfers. During implementation, you will determine which fields you want to 'download' out of one system. Simultaneously, you will determine how those fields will 'upload' to the other system.

Once the fields are mapped, an automated and secure file transfer will take place according to a regular schedule.

While SFTP transfers are very flexible and secure, they are more manual to build and any changes to one platform can affect the ability to import/export data to the other platform.

Blog: The Software Buyer's Guide to Integrations

Why do you want an HR software integration

Buyers want to have their systems integrated for a variety of reasons:

Less Manual Re-Entry

One of the most compelling reasons for building an HR software integration is to reduce the amount of manual data entry that an HR administrator has to be responsible for.

Typically an integration will exist between your HRIS, or your HR system of record, and a point solution such as an applicant tracking system (ATS). When an employee is hired in an ATS, their profile and demographic data needs to be populated in the HR system of record.

Rather than having an HR team member re-enter that new hire's data in the system of record, an integration can automatically enter the data into the system of record, saving that team member valuable time and ensuring data accuracy.

More Real-Time Data

One of the pain points of having disparate systems is having outdated data.

To give an example, imagine a company that uses two separate systems for payroll and benefits. When an employee leaves the company, that employee may be terminated in one system before the other. By having a delay between when employees are terminated in different systems, the data in one system will end up inaccurate and could lead to expensive compliance mistakes

An integration between those two systems would allow a termination in one system to create an immediate termination in the other system

Blog: The Best Payroll Systems to Integrate with NetSuite

Better Reporting

The final reason companies seek HR software integrations is to improve their reporting.

Each HR software tool that you use will have different employee data in it. But as an HR leader, you want to have all of your employee data in one place so you can slice and dice the information.

Creating an integration will help you bring all relevant employee data into one single system of record creating a comprehensive look at each employee

Ways of integrating HR software

There are a number of ways to achieve an integration between your HR software systems

All-in-one system

The first route is a bit of a cop out, but there are HR systems that can provide end-to-end functionality that cover the employee lifecycle from hire-to-retire.

By going with an all-in-one system, you can reduce the need for HR software integrations because the software should already be integrated internally. Many HRIS systems aren't internally integrated, however, so you'll want to better understand the HRIS system's product architecture.

If you want to know which HRIS systems are internally integrated and which aren't, reach out to OutSail and request a vendor report

Blog: All-in-one HRIS versus Best-in-class HRIS

Marketplace integrations

Another way of achieving an HR software integration is by finding two technologies that build and maintain their own integration.

Most vendors have pre-built integrations with a variety of popular partners, so that they don't have to rebuild the same integration over and over again. To find out if two vendors maintain an integration, you can ask either party directly, or visit their websites, as most will list their integration partners publicly.

The advantage of a marketplace integration is that your IT team does not need to build the integration, which can save your team valuable team. The disadvantage, however, is that your team won't have final control over which data is passed through, because that is pre-determined by the two software companies.

Blog: The 8 Best Modern HRIS Systems for Small Businesses

Custom built integrations

If a marketplace integration doesn't exist between two HR software systems, then the most common approach is to build a custom integration.

In some cases, the software vendor will take responsibility for building the required integration as part of their implementation scope. This will typically be an extra cost that is added to the scope of work for the implementation and the vendor's professional services team will be the one to build the integration.

In other cases, the software vendor will not have the team or resources to build the integration for you, so you will have two options: 1.) To have your internal team build the integration or 2.) To hire a 3rd party integration company to build the integration.

If you need help finding a 3rd party to build an integration, OutSail can help match you to a consultant

File Uploads

The least automated way an HR software integration can be achieved is by utilizing a bulk file upload/download workflow.

This approach isn't technically 'automated' as someone from your HR team will be responsible for manually downloading information from one system and uploading it to a new system. However, this does allow for the ability to complete bulk actions.

One thing to note about the file upload approach is that it can often require some reformatting of data after downloading to prepare the data for an upload to a new system.

Integration Disclaimers

Although we've talked a lot about integrations and their benefits, it is important to know that integrations are not always what they seem to be.

As a buyer, when you hear that two platforms have an integration, your mind is going to automatically assume a few things:

  1. This integration will be no-cost
  2. This integration will not require any set-up work since it already exists
  3. This integration will be bi-directional
  4. This integration will automatically pull/send the exact data fields you want

Although there are some integrations that work just like you hoped, the truth is that those four criteria are often an ideal integration that doesn't exist in practice.

Instead, what tends to happen with integrations is far different, especially integrations between large, complex software platforms

The truth is that:

1. Integrations often need to be built

In the majority of cases, building an integration requires an IT resource that can set it up, test it and ensure the right data is delivering. Sometimes that IT resource is provided by your new vendor, other times your team needs to provide that resource or hire a consultant.

Make sure to ask: "How is the integration turned on during implementation? Do we need to work with your IT team or Vendor X's IT team to create the integration? Will there be a cost to our team to build or utilize this integration?"

2. Once built, integrations can 'break'

An integration that works on Day 1 of Go-Live is not guaranteed to stay effective forever. The majority of software integrations today are done by API (more on this later). API's are lines of code that instruct the two systems on how to transfer data. However, since both software platforms are dynamic and constantly updating, those lines of code can become outdated and ineffective.

Make sure to ask: "Who is responsible for maintaining the integration? What happens when you push out product updates that could alter the data fields involved in the integration? What happens when integrations go down?"

3. Data flow isn't always precise

Oftentimes an integration will pass over too much information and make your employee database messy. In other cases, the challenges can go the other way. Some providers claim to have open API's but will put restrictions on what fields can be exported/imported. Oftentimes you won't find out about these limitations until it's too late and you realize that one of the key data fields you wanted to import is inaccessible

Make sure to ask: "Will our team have control over which data fields are included in the integration? What happens if duplicate data is involved in the integration? Are there certain fields that we are unable to include in the integration?

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Brett Ungashick
Brett is the founder of OutSail. He spent the early part of his career selling HR software before switching sides and going to work for the people buying the software.

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