PaaS offers some relief for HCM software integration woes

Alan Joch

There's no shortage of innovative Software as a Service (SaaS) systems that use gamification and other tools to better engage end users with human capital management (HCM) software. However, before HR managers adopt the latest and greatest talent management technology, they should realize there might be a catch: difficult integration.

"SaaS does not necessarily play well with incumbent systems," said Kashyap Kompella, an analyst with The Real Story Group, an IT advisory firm based in Olney, Md. "And there is not a lot of enthusiasm to undertake" the complex development process of writing the necessary custom interfaces, he said.

But now, organizations might have a better option than choosing between limited legacy solutions and the latest HCM software innovations. Cloud-based Platform as a Service (PaaS) can mitigate the challenges of creating custom interfaces required for old and new applications to share data and work together effectively, according to experts.

PaaS-enabled HCM software integration lightens the load for IT

PaaS, which provides complete cloud-based environments for programmers and developers, are giving systems integrators and vendors of HCM software the ability to create pre-built integrations between products in key HCM categories, such as talent management. PaaS-enabled integration can reduce the time and costs associated with getting applications to "play well," which is good news for HR managers and chief information officers alike, according to Skip Marshall, vice president and chief technology officer at Intelladon, a Tribridge company, a systems integrator that focuses on HCM technology.

One example is Intelladon's Intellasync, a PaaS environment that can connect modules from talent management vendor Cornerstone OnDemand with third-party systems for compensation and payroll, among other HR functions.

"One of the [main] problems in the HCM space is that building around one core stack is not the norm," Marshall said. "We see a lot of application silos without easy connectivity. As a result, companies have relied on custom integrations."

Intelladon created Intellasync to relieve the strain of creating one-off customer integrations for Cornerstone users. The PaaS offering comes with pre-written code and scripts for select applications, which significantly reduces the work to connect the talent management product with standalone systems, Marshall said.

"From an integration standpoint, there may be hundreds of data mappings to account for, and an organization could easily spend hundreds of hours building them out," he explained. Thanks to Intellasync's pre-built connectors, additional programming is required mainly for any unique requirements a customer might have, which he claimed can cut integration time significantly.

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In addition, because Intelladon automatically updates the integrations, a customer's IT department isn't forced to tweak code whenever revisions or new features come to Cornerstone OnDemand, according to Marshall.

Inside Intellasync is a development environment, which Marshall declined to identify, plus proprietary Web services and application programming interfaces that enable Cornerstone and other applications to transfer data with each other.

But Intellasync also comes with trade-offs. It only supports Cornerstone OnDemand in the talent management market, and customers typically subscribe separately to SaaS-based Cornerstone and Intellasync services, which means HR and IT managers must fund two cloud subscriptions.

PaaS isn't a panacea for HCM software integration

But while dedicated PaaS platforms for HCM may potentially overcome integration hurdles, they primarily serve software vendors and systems integrators, not enterprise IT and HCM departments directly. So if an HCM manager wants to connect various point solutions for data sharing, he can't rely on PaaS to jumpstart the integrations, according to Katherine Jones.

"If that's the position you're in, the most sophisticated solution is for the IT department to integrate the applications at the level of the data models," said Jones, lead analyst for HCM technology at Bersin by Deloitte, a consulting firm based in Oakland, Calif. "That would be nirvana, because it gives you seamless integration; so for example, at the point you get a new hire, all the information that was gathered in the talent management program flows into the performance profile as a starting point."

According to Jones, the best way for HR managers to avoid HCM software integration hassles is to buy a unified suite from a single vendor that comes with all the desired modules. "Our research shows that one of the main drivers for sales today in HCM -- and one of the main buying criteria -- is for integrated suites from one vendor rather than … a collection of point products," she said.

But she also cautioned buyers to look beyond a vendor's integration claims, particularly if some modules weren't developed in-house, but were gained through acquisition. "A vendor will struggle in the same way an IT shop would to make sure all the data points are integrated," Jones said.

So whether the suite vendor used PaaS, traditional hard-wired coding or a combination of options to do the integrations, client references and perhaps a pilot project are prudent for assessing the ultimate success, these sources said.

About the author:
Alan Joch is a New Hampshire-based freelance writer who specializes in enterprise applications and cloud computing.

View the next item in this Essential Guide: Build a winning cloud HCM business case from the CFO's perspective or view the full guide: A guide to SAP HR management

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