There are many different HRIS out there, so how do you begin to choose.  First, some basic choices:-

  1. DIY - create it yourself
  2. Open source (i.e. free software)
  3. Vendor on-site (on your computer server/network)
  4. Cloud-based (on your supplier's server and accessed through the internet)

Then you can buy out-right, pay for an annual license, pay monthly etc.  Pay by number of users, number of records, number of additional modules, etc.

So taking it slowly:-

1. DIY

You don't have to buy any more software than you (probably) already have.  You can create an HRIS with Microsoft (MS) Excel or Microsoft Access - or Open Office (OO) or other equivalents. Excel (MS) and Calc (OO) are spreadsheets which means they are great for numbers and data lists.  They will produce graphs and charts quickly and relatively easily. 

So if you list all your employees you can sort them by name, or by department, or by length of service.  You can track how much holiday leave they have, how much they've taken and (automatically) how much leave they have left.  If you are clever with spreadsheets you can even highlight when sick leave absence becomes worrying by using conditional formatting and different colours.

Alternatively you can use MS Access, OO Base or alternative databases. As the name implies, these programs are designed to record and manipulate data so in some ways they are better suited to create your own HRIS.  Most people tend to find them more difficult to use but with practice they are very powerful tools.  Several purchased HRIS start with MS Access or similar and add more user-friendly front screens.

Advantages: low or zero additional purchase or licence costs

Disadvantages: takes time to set up; no built-in report writing (except simple graphs); above all, not easy to give access to other users

2. Open Source

You may know that there is an army of volunteer programmers who create some very good software and then let other people use it for free - it becomes Open Source.  You have to agree to a licence - a General Public License or GPL - but that only restricts you not to change the source code and not to sell the software on.  For example, this website uses Joomla which is an Open Source website design software.

Orange HRM is one Open Source HRIS.  It's more sophisticated than a spreadsheet or standard database and relatively easy to use.  If you install it on a website or intranet (an internal website) then other people can use it, both in the HR team and if you allow, managers and employees.  There are other systems out there.  For example WaypointHR and SimpleHRM. All three examples offer a fee-paid installation and/or hosting service as well as free versions of their software.

If you don't already have an intranet, you can create your own company website and give all employees access through a login and password, which can be the same for all employees with admin access for the HR team.  There is an even wider choice of website hosting - one example being EUKHost which we use for this website.  Some help you to install some Open Source programs such as Orange HRM through a simple function called Softaculous.

Advantages: no purchase cost; some sophisticated functionality

Disadvantages: time to install and configure; need to upgrade yourself

3.  Vendor on-site

Until fairly recently, a purchased HRIS was an on-site or on-premise solution.  That means the software is installed on your own network server and/or on your own PC.  The cost and sophistication vary a great deal.  In general, these systems will be based on a SQL server which means there are various files and systems that make the screen visible in a more or less user-friendly and intuitive way while the actual data is stored in a database.

The advantages are security - no data is transmitted beyond the cables that run round your office or through your own wireless wi-fi that can only be accessed within your building.  You do not rely on the internet to access the system or data.

However because the system is installed on your own computer server, every time there is an upgrade (which is at least once a year and often far more frequently) you or more likely your IT team or the original vendor has to access the software and perform the upgrade.  That takes time and expense.  It may also cause problems between the HR team and IT team, with differing priorities!

Older 'legacy' systems tend to look old-fashioned and are not very intuitive, especially if you are used to smart phones or tablet PCs.

However there are some good on-site solutions available which do allow remote access by users outside your office and can be upgraded remotely.  For example, iTrent from MHR, SelectHR from the Access Group, Bond HR WorkforceCascade HR and Sage 50 HR.  Implementation time and cost can be high.

Advantages: can be very sophisticated; good security

Disadvantages: tend to be costly, especially in capital cost; potential problems of disruption and expense for upgrades

4.  Cloud-based

Cloud-based means that you access both the system and your data through the 'cloud' or internet.  You only need an internet browser on your PC.  That means that the software provider does all the upgrades directly on their servers - typically more than one in case of a major problem at one data centre.  The software is generally multi-tenant which means that you share the system with others and you are all upgraded together. 

Security ensures you only access your own data and you provide secure logins for users with differing access levels.  For example the systems supervisor has full access; the HR team have administrative access to change most but not everything; managers can see their team members' records; and employees can only see their own records. As the systems are cloud-based, they can be accessed remotely and on most devices including tablet PCs and smart phones.

Prices for cloud-based systems also vary widely.  The market leaders are probably SAPOracle and Workday, with some interesting smaller vendors such as NuView.  Many of the on-site or on-premise providers now also offer a cloud-based solution which they host, e.g. iTrent from MidlandHR. 

They tend to produce highly sophisticated systems with clever user interfaces and a great deal of functionality.  For example, 'workflow' which almost automates some HR processes such as recruitment or appraisal, where emails and/or Word documents are sent to employees and their managers at the right time, with tracking of response and updating of records.  Generally there is an annual or monthly cost.

Advantages: tend to be 'state of the art'; sophisticated functionality; rapid implementation; upgrades by vendor

Disadvantages: on-going cost; dependent on internet connection

How to choose?

If you are thinking about implementing or upgrading an HRIS, it needs time to work through the options.  Start with what you need the system to do, both in terms of HR transactions and to produce reports for the business.  Ensure you talk with your IT support, whether an internal team or out-sourced support - you need them on board to support your decision and solve the inevitable implementation problems.  Make sure you only configure not customise a system - otherwise you will have difficulty or find it impossible to upgrade.

Various companies and agencies offer comparison sites and it is worth checking more than one.  We've included some as links which we find useful (and none are connected as affiliates or associates).

If you do need further help please contact us.