Tech Insights: Being Relevant in HR means You Need to Start Loving APIs

Feb 11, 2014

Before HR, I worked in IT so I have a residual appreciation of Application Programming Interfaces (APIs).

APIs are the little modules that help one program communicate with another. For example, the API could pass employee data from your HRIS to your performance management system.

It might be nice to think that we could ignore such techno-trivia; however, it intrudes on our HR operations.

Integration is a big job

Take benefits, for example. Vendor BenefitFocus sits in a nest of APIs. A big part of their value-add is their integration with many benefit providers, such as Aflac, Liberty Mutual, and the Mayo Clinic. They talk about an “ecosystem,” which is a good metaphor for the complex mix of entities playing various roles in the benefits space.

Gluing it all together is a big job.

Similarly, Cloudmills offers nothing more (and nothing less) than an infrastructure to integrate your many diverse HR applications. Everyone says “we can integrate our product with your product”; however, it is often far from easy. Thankfully, Cloudmills has already wrestled the relevant APIs and other integration tools into a working system.

Integration is not where the glamour is. We want to believe vendors who tell us it will not be a problem. However, we need a certain degree of both expertise and scepticism to properly judge those vendor claims.

What’s interesting

  • HR needs to understand and appreciate technical details like APIs, an issue far from the human sciences of psychology and sociology in which we presume HR is rooted.
  • It is intriguing to think of HR vendors as an ecosystem you integrate with; it is quite different from thinking about “buying an HR tech product.”

Where the real value-add is

  • The HR technology market is working hard to fill in the “behind the scenes” gaps so that our HR applications deliver on their promise. Integration of the ecosystem is not easy, but vendors like BenefitFocus and Cloudmills are making it much easier.
  • We can leave it to IT to fret over the nitty-gritty of integration; however, HR does need to have an appreciation of behind-the-scenes infrastructure so that they end up with a system that does not disappoint.

If you do not love learning new things in new fields, then you will have a tough time remaining relevant in HR. We have to learn to love APIs.

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