What is HR integration? Here's what you need to know

When we surveyed hundreds of product managers and engineers as part of our 2024 State of Product Integrations report, we learned that nearly 2 in 5 organizations have already integrated their product with 3rd-party HRIS applications. 

While HRIS didn’t top the list of software categories companies integrate with, it came close (respondents could choose from 15 categories). 

Customer-facing HR integrations are popular for a number of reasons. We’ll break down these reasons as well as showcase several impactful use cases to help you leverage HR integrations effectively. And, in case you’re interested in integrating your HRIS with the other applications your organization uses, we’ll also cover a few impactful internal use cases. 

Definition of HR integration

It’s the process of connecting one of your HR applications, typically your HRIS, with either internal applications or the 3rd-party applications your clients use. Once connected, data can move freely between the applications, allowing these apps to easily stay in sync over time.

A visual illustration of how HR integration works
HR integration can apply to one of two scenarios: connecting HR applications with your product or connecting an HR application with another one of the applications you use internally. 

Note: HR integration can be used interchangeably with HR system integration and HR software integration. For the purposes of avoiding confusion, we'll only use the first term.

Examples of HR integration

We’ll start by breaking down a few impactful customer-facing integrations (the first 3 examples) and then go on to share internal use cases (the last 2 examples). 

Streamline gift-giving workflows

Say you offer a platform that allows customers to send gifts to employees—think Sendoso, Snappy, and the like. 

To ensure that customers are able to use your platform to deliver the right set of gifts to the right individuals on time and with ease, you can integrate your product with clients’ HR applications and (based on the gift-giving events your clients care about) sync specific employee fields (e.g. employees’ birthdays). From there, you can build  in-product automations that deliver employees gifts for specific milestone events.

Related: How Snappy automated gift-giving through Merge’s Unified API

Automate user provisioning

Your customers likely can’t afford to onboard and offboard users in your product manually. Doing so is not only time-intensive and tedious but can also lead to costly human errors. For instance, a customer might forget to remove a former employee from your application.

To ensure that all the relevant users are added and removed on time, you can integrate your product with clients’ HRIS applications and allow clients to automate their provisioning processes.

In other words, if a customer adds an employee to their HRIS, that employee can be automatically added as a user in your product. Specific fields can also be synced over from the HRIS, ensuring that they have the appropriate set of permissions in your application (whether that’s based on region, job title, department, etc.). Similarly, if an employee is marked as terminated in the client’s HRIS, they’re automatically removed as a user in your product.

A visual breakdown of automating employee onboarding and offboarding with your product

Moreover, as your clients’ employees’ roles change, the changes can be reflected in your product—and their permissions in your application can be modified accordingly. For example, if an employee moves from a director to a VP-level title, they can be given additional permissions in your product.

Assign employee trainings on time 

Now, imagine you offer a learning management system (LMS) that assigns employees required trainings. This includes any that help employees become comfortable with their employers’ product as well as those required for complying with state and federal laws (e.g. harassment training).

To help customers assign the appropriate trainings to employees on time, you can integrate your product with clients’ HRIS systems and—similar to the previous example—sync employees along with specific employee fields (e.g. start date). 

You can then automatically assign employees a given training(s) in your product once a certain event takes place. For example, as soon as a customer’s employee gets added to your application and has just started working at the client’s company, they’re assigned a product 101 training and a sexual harassment course. 

Add newly-hired employees to your HRIS automatically

As soon as a candidate signs their offer letter, they’ll need to be added to your HRIS as soon as possible to kickstart various pre-boarding tasks (e.g. ordering and shipping a laptop)

To help facilitate this, you can connect your HRIS with your ATS and build an automation where once a candidate is marked as hired in the ATS, they’re automatically added as an employee in the HRIS. You can also sync a variety of fields, such as the new hire’s full name, job title, address, department, etc. so that their profile in your HRIS is comprehensive from the very beginning.

ATS and HRIS sync

Offboard employees comprehensively

As soon as an employee leaves, you’ll need to make sure that they can’t access any of their equipment and applications. Failing to do so opens you up to all kinds of risks that can hurt your business, both in the short and long-term.

To effectively and efficiently offboard every departing employee, you can connect your HRIS with your identity and access management application (IAM application).You can then build an automation where once an employee is officially no longer at your company, they’re instantly removed from their systems via the IAM application.

Related: Examples of ATS integration

Benefits of HR integration

Here are some of the benefits of implementing internal and 3rd-party integrations with HR applications:

Improves product adoption 

Since user provisioning can be automated, your customers are likely to add more users to your product over time. And since product integrations also automate key workflows in your application, your clients are more likely to adopt and use your product. Taken together, it’s clear that customer retention will steadily increase—along with upsell opportunities.

Increases your close rate

By offering the integrations your prospects want, you’re, all else equal, more likely to win them over. Our State of Product Integrations shows just how pervasive this benefit is: Nearly two thirds of companies cite improved close rates as a benefit of offering product integrations.   

The benefits of offering product integrations

Enables you to expand to new markets

Whether you’re looking to move upmarket or into new regions, you’ll likely find that your target market(s) uses a different set of applications for a given software category. For instance, a small company might use Gusto as their HRIS, a mid-size company might use Namely, and an enterprise company might use Workday.

Offering integrations with the applications your target market(s) cares about should, therefore, help you gain traction within that market more easily.

Prevents human errors

By allowing employees to avoid data entry, you’re enabling them to avoid costly mistakes—whether that’s adding the wrong salary in an offer letter, marking the wrong employee as terminated, inputting the wrong job title for an employee, etc.

Improves the employee experience

HR integrations not only save employees from routinely keying in data but also allows them to avoid hopping between applications to find information (which, according to extensive research, is a huge productivity drain). Employees can use their time savings to focus on the projects they enjoy and that drive value for the business, making the outcome a clear win-win.

HR integration challenges

Unfortunately, the process of building and maintaining HR integrations isn’t always straightforward.

Here are some of the top challenges to look out for:

Accessing and using API documentation

Many HR providers offer low-quality documentation on their APIs; information may be hard to find, out of date, missing, or poorly communicated. Moreover, many API providers don’t provide API documentation until you establish a formal partnership with their business (which can come at a high cost).

All of these factors can lead your engineers to look elsewhere for support, such as online forums or their personal network. And they may even be forced to build or troubleshoot HR integrations through brute force, which can be time intensive and create even more issues. 

Managing engineering morale and productivity

HR integrations can break at unpredictable points in time, and when they do, your engineers need to move away from their current projects to focus on the issue. 

This can not only hurt their productivity (as it forces them to context switch and focus less time on critical projects) but also their morale. Fixing integration issues is often thankless work, and can be incredibly stressful, as employees, clients, and executives often voice their frustration on the issue with the engineers (when it wasn’t their fault to begin with) and push them to fix the issue as soon as possible.

Scaling integration builds

Your engineers may be able to build a few customer-facing HR integrations, but as customers and prospects demand more of them as soon as possible, a backlog will likely form. 

This will frustrate everyone involved, from the engineers building them to the sales and customer success teams fielding the requests to the clients and prospects who want and need the HR integrations.

HR integration best practices

To help you reap the benefits of HR integration and manage its challenges effectively, you can adopt the following best practices:

Prioritize your HR integrations thoughtfully

Your engineers can likely only build certain integrations in a given month, quarter, and year.

To ensure that they’re focusing on the most lucrative ones for your business, you should forecast the estimated returns from building them. 

In the case of customer-facing integrations, this can be estimating the additional sales an integration can drive; the incremental lift to customer retention;  the extra upsells and cross-sells, etc. 

For internal integrations, you can forecast time savings for employees, reductions in human errors, outcomes from productivity gains (e.g., increase in sales from helping reps identify and respond to warm leads faster), etc.

Test the HR integrations comprehensively

The HR integrations need to perform well in a wide range of areas in order to be effective—from their security to their sync frequency to their data accuracy. 

To ensure that each integration checks off all the boxes, you should perform a wide range of integration tests. These include load testing (to see if the integration can handle simultaneous requests), scale testing (to see how the integration deals with a significant volume of data), error handling testing (to see if your error handling processes work for different types of integration issues), among others.

Document each HR integration

The engineers who built a given integration may quickly forget how it works, why it was built a certain way, etc. They also might leave the company—and take all of their knowledge on the HR integrations they implemented with them.

To prevent either scenario from happening, you can task your engineers with documenting the HR integrations they build and manage. The documentation can also be shared in a central, easily-accessible location so that the whole engineering team knows that it exists and where they can find it.

Types of HR integrations

Generally speaking, you can build HR integrations through 1 of 3 methods: APIs, flat files, or screen scraping. 

Here’s a closer look at each along with their respective pros and cons:

Flat file integrations

This method involves using a flat file (e.g., CSV file) to export data from the source system, transform it into the format the destination system supports (if necessary), and import it into the destination system.

A visualization of a flat file integration

Flat file integrations are nearly always an option. They can also work well for scenarios where you don’t need to integrate data quickly and the transformations required aren’t extensive. 

That said, many integrations need to sync data on a frequent cadence in order to be valuable, which renders this method ineffective. Also, building and managing the scripts or middleware tooling for these integrations can be complex and time-intensive for your engineers, which inhibits your team from scaling their integrations.

Screen scraping

This involves the use of custom scripts to integrate data at the UI-level. It’s essentially taking copy from a page (among other elements), performing some predefined actions on it, and then pasting it to another application. 

Like flat file integrations, screen scraping is nearly always an option. However, the method can easily fail, as simple changes to an application’s UI can lead it to break. In addition, it also fails to sync data in, or near, real-time.

API integrations

API integrations involve a client (or requestor) making calls to an endpoint from a server (or provider) and then receiving a response with a status update on the request along with relevant information on the requested resource (if the status is successful and the request method is GET).

A visualization of an API integration

API integrations can typically sync data quickly, making them suitable for a wide range of use cases. They are also, generally speaking, secure, as they require authentication mechanisms like API keys or OAuth, use rate limiting, etc.

However, applications don’t always offer APIs or the endpoints you need, so this method may not always be an option.

HR integration tools

Once you’re set on implementing HR integrations, you'll need to decide how to build them. 

While you can always choose to build and maintain the integrations in-house (i.e. build the integrations natively), this approach requires significant resource investment from your engineers. Integration-related work is also likely not what your engineers want or are uniquely suited to work on.

With that in mind, let’s review a few 3rd-party integration tools for internal and customer-facing use cases.

HR integration tools for internal use cases

You’ll likely decide between an integration platform as a service (iPaaS) and robotic process automation (RPA) software. 

The former allows you to integrate cloud applications and on-prem systems via their APIs, which ensures that the integrations are reliable and high-performing. The platform also provides pre-built connectors and automation templates to help streamline integration and automation development. That said, the platform often can’t connect to systems that don’t offer APIs; moreover, the platform forces you to build one integration at a time, which can prove difficult to scale. 

RPA software uses scripts (i.e. “bots”) to sync data at the UI-level. This allows you to connect to systems regardless of whether they provide APIs. However, the integrations themselves are somewhat fragile. A simple change in an application’s UI, for example, can be all it takes to break an integration.

HR integration tools for customer-facing use cases

Like the previous section, you’ll likely decide between two sets of software: an embedded iPaaS and a unified API solution

An embedded iPaaS, which is simply an iPaaS that an organization can embed into their product (through various approaches), helps accelerate integration development. However, since the platform only lets you build one integration at a time and requires technical expertise to use, its users struggle to integrate quickly and at scale.

A unified API solution neatly addresses the drawbacks of embedded iPaaS. Using the former, you can build to a single API to unlock a whole category of integrations, such as HRIS or ATS. 

Some of the HRIS integrations that Merge supports
A snapshot of just some of the HR integrations you’ll be able to access by building to Merge’s HRIS Unified API.

Also, through Merge, the leading product integration platform, you’ll access a suite of Integrations Management features that allow your customer-facing team to manage integrations independently and with ease. And you'll receive integration maintenance support from our team of partner engineers—all but ensuring that you’re able to offer reliable and high-performing integrations. 

You can learn more about Merge by scheduling a demo with one of our integration experts.