Developing the Initial Framework of HRIS
Hilkka Poutanen and
Vesa Puhakka
Department of Information Processing Science, University of Oulu
PL 3000, 90014 Oulun yliopisto, Finland
Department of Management and Entrepreneurship, University of Oulu
90014 Oulun yliopisto, Finland
Abstract. The history of human resource information systems (HRIS) stretch
back to the 1960s when human resource (HR) activities started to increase in
organizations. In the 1980s researchers and practitioners became interested in
HRIS and in the 1990s several studies, articles, user experiences, opinions and
descriptions were published in journals, magazines and internet. Many different
issues have arisen in these discussions. Some researchers have constructed
models and definitions for HRIS. However, there is a lack of a framework
which constructs a description out of the fragmented discipline of HRIS. In this
workshop paper we introduce our initial framework to underline the importance
and need to consolidate the knowledge of HRIS. It bases on the literature and
internet site reviews. The framework does not intend to cover the HRIS field as
whole but to signal that it is time to construct frameworks to support and lead
the research and the theory making in HRIS. Many research questions are stated
in the referenced articles. Now it is time to start finding the answers.
1 Introduction
In the literature different definitions of the human resource information systems
(HRIS) are available. Broderick and Boudreau [7] define HRIS as follows: it is “the
composite of databases, computer applications, and hardware and software that are
used to collect/record, store, manage, deliver, present, and manipulate data for Human
Resources”. Kossek et al [18] use this definition as well. Kavanagh, Gueutal and
Tannenbaum [17] offer another definition: “A human resource information system is
a system used to acquire, store, manipulate, analyze, retrieve, and distribute pertinent
information about an organization’s human resources”. The third definition, from
Walker [36], also used by Kovach and Cathcart Jr. [19], states that “a Human
Resource Information System is a systematic procedure for collecting, storing,
maintaining, retrieving, and validating data needed by an organization about its
human resources, personnel activities, and organization unit characteristics”
The similarity of different HRIS definition could be interpreted as evidence that
the researchers have worked by themselves, not knowing anything or very little about
each others’ work. To some extent, the examination of HRIS articles and papers
confirms this interpretation. Although researchers have later referenced each others
articles, there is no collaboration between the researchers. The issues related in HRIS
are fragmented, and the discipline is waiting to be consolidated.
Poutanen H. and Puhakka V. (2007).
Developing the Initial Framework of HRIS.
In Proceedings of the 1st International Workshop on Human Resource Information Systems, pages 45-54
DOI: 10.5220/0002415200450054
Therefore, it is significant that efforts should focus on the different studies and
research of HRIS, as there are multiple issues and viewpoints which should be
evaluated before the HRIS acquisition and during the HRIS implementation and use.
Many discussions are in their beginnings or are still waiting to be opened in this
discipline. We argue that owing to the lack of the initial general view and framework
on HRIS research, activities are more focused on the researcher’s own interest area
than on the contributions which support the whole HRIS discipline. In our paper we
present one initial framework which contains some of the many relevant issues which
should be studied properly. The framework does not aim to cover the HRIS field as
whole but to signal that it is time to construct frameworks to support and lead the
research and theory making.
2 The Basics of the Initial Framework
Our initial framework of HRIS bases itself on the literature review. We also study
internet sites of HRIS business and practices which have given us an empirical
background to explore our knowledge. When we examine the literature and articles,
we perceive that the issues these articles were mainly discussing can be divided into
four basic categories. The basic categories of our initial framework are presented in
Figure 1.
Fig. 1. The Initial Framework of HRIS with the basic categories; IT/IS, Organizational Use,
Development and Research.
The articles which discuss particularly technological and software design issues are
gathered into the Information Technology/Information Systems (IT/IS) category. The
Organizational Use contains articles which focus mainly on application areas, users,
and discussion of the usage and utility of HRIS. The third category includes the
articles which discuss the historical, current and future development of HRIS. The
articles which propose the theoretical concepts and models of HRIS are situated in the
Research category. The categories overlap with each other, which reveals that the
issues could be discussed in one or several categories. However, the reason for
dividing them underlines the different viewpoints on the HRIS issues. In the
following chapters some issues of the categories are described.
3 Investing in Information Technology and Information Systems
Employee data were first automated in the 1960s. Since the 1980s there has been
considerable discussion about HRIS and its role in the organization. Many predictions
have been made as to how soon organizations will implement HRIS. However, the
acquisition of HRIS has often been under critical consideration. Human resources and
HRIS are costs for the organization. Earlier massive information systems and
computers were expensive. Later when personal computers and technology were
developed the price of the computers and systems decreased but the employee costs
increased. The consideration remains. [9,12,17].
When the organization invests in technology and software the main goals are to
gain benefits and to reduce costs. Technology allows it possible to cheaper, easier,
and faster data processing than before. Also, it enhances the accession to more
detailed information and data. [13]. In the introduction we presented three definitions
of HRIS. Definitions of HRM include the activities associated with employees. These
activities typically consist of recruiting, training, promoting, terminating, record-
keeping and meeting various legal requirements. When we compare the definitions of
HRM and HRIS together it is apparent that HRIS is the automation of HRM tasks and
functions. The manual systems have been converted to databases and electronic
In other words, the information technology provides the technical and computer
based solution for HRM. The software solutions support the HR tasks and functions
which have emerged from the development of human resource management (HRM).
The HRIS definitions list those tasks and functions. So, IT provides the developed
electronic base to software, and IS challenges technical solutions through
applications. IT/IS serve people and the tasks they perform.
One relevant research issue is the cost-benefit analysis of HRIS. What would it
means in short and long term organizational planning? Are the investments HR costs
or benefit for good HR work.
3.1 Information Technology Means Changes
Benefits and costs are at the top of the list when we talk about the reasons for
investing in technology. What other reasons there could be? What background factors
lie behind these reasons? Only a few of these background factors are introduced next.
When there are a lot of employees’ data to be stored which data is important for
decision-making? The technology itself is easier to use than a few decades ago but
what knowledge can the users draw from it? Information networks provide more
possibilities to connect different units in the global organization. Can user rights
provide security and limitations to access the data?
If there is an HR staff in the organization, then they usually collect and take care
of the data in the system. [4,9] If managers are responsible for HR functions, they use
the HRIS. Whatever the case, it is obvious that automation and technology bring
changes to the functions and tasks. One relevant question is do the users have
competencies to use the technology? What should be done before implementation?
What should the organization do with the system? What does legislation say about
data privacy?
Although the changes are unavoidable, they do not imply a negative situation.
Technology provides ways to examine the daily HR functions in an organization and
make any necessary renewals. Thus, the research could focus on the changes that
HRIS has made in HR routines and activities.
3.2 Designing Information Systems
When information systems are designed, implemented and used, the basic and simple
issue is to remember for what purposes IS are available. There is a variety of IS on the
market which are advertised as the best solution to run organization’s HR functions.
Therefore, the mangers and HR staff should have the competence and knowledge to
evaluate the IS before making decisions to purchase HRIS.
This leads to the question of who is capable and experienced enough to evaluate
and design HRIS? Managers, HR professionals or IS professionals? We can examine
the question trough the user satisfaction and the system usage as Haines and Petit [12]
did. The need for information is great. However, technology, computerization and
HRIS can lead the management being handled by HR professionals. The managers do
not use HRIS if they are unfamiliar with the system and they would therefore not
obtain the data needed. Furthermore, managers with longer work experience may be
less satisfied with the HRIS than younger managers who are more familiar with the
technology and systems. User satisfaction and system usage have become two
common measures of system success in HR function as well. [12] We may conclude
that to design HRIS it is important to underline that all knowledge is available during
the development process.
In his article, Niederman [24] presents the socio-technical approach to information
systems. According to Niederman, it “requires recognition of the inextricable link
between information technologies and humans as designers and users” [24]. He has
studied global organizations, and constructed five interaction areas for information
technology and human computer designers/users. The areas are as follows: 1) using
information technology to support the human resource strategy of global
organizations, 2) using information technology to support the generation and
distribution of organizational learning, 3) using human resource management
techniques and programs to support the work of information systems professionals, 4)
using human resource management techniques and programs to support the work of
global “end-user” or knowledge workers, and 5) national and regional policies to
support technical and human resource infrastructures. He proposes several research
questions for each of these areas to study the importance of the issues. [24].
4 The Organizational Use of HRIS
The Organizational Use category has many issues. The organization could invest in
top technique and intelligent systems but the question is how they can be integrated
into the daily tasks and organizational activities. Also, the company size indicates
how HRIS is used, and who uses it. Ball [4] has studied the use of HRIS according to
the number of employees. At the end of the paper she summarizes the survey results.
In brief, HRIS is used more in large organizations than in small ones. Furthermore,
HRIS is still being used administratively although the information and data support
more other HR activities. Ball says that her research provides a platform of future
work in this area, as well as offers several issues to be studied. [4].
Six years later Hussain et al [14] provided results from similar research.
According to their research HR professionals are more familiar than before with
HRIS. HR professionals use it for strategic partnering, and the company size is not as
relevant as in Ball’s research. In fact, although the small companies consider that the
investments in HRIS are high they exploit the system better. [14]
The use and usability of HRIS needs more rigorous research.
4.1 Users of HRIS
When we invoke the organization we also invoke human resources (managers and
employees) with different roles and tasks. Management occurs between mangers and
employees. If the organization has HRIS, the whole staff employs it but for different
reasons and probably with different techniques. “The whole staff” includes HR
people. The history of HR departments comes from personnel departments whose
duty was to handle of the employee issues in the organizations. The work in HRM
departments has broadened, become more relevant and accrued responsibility during
the development in organization. However, HR experts have felt that they have been
locked out of strategic and financial discussions. The existence of HRIS has given
more importance and credibility to HR department and staff.
Primarily, HRIS is seen as a tool for HR staff. [28] However, many studies have
been conducted in the 1980s and 1990s when HR systems evolved strongly, and HR
people were the first to use them in the organization. For example, DeSanctis [9] and
Haines and Petit [12] studied the use and usability of HRIS. In her research,
DeSanctis notes that at that time, in 1986, the HRIS users were mainly HR staff. [9]
The population in Haines’ and Petit’s research was drawn from HR professionals. The
study itself focuses on the system usage and the user satisfaction. [12] Kavanagh et al
[17] stress that there are a variety of potential users of HRIS in the organization. Thus,
we can not make the conclusion that HRIS is only for HR staff but for the whole
Here, the research questions are 1) who are using and 2) who should be using
HRIS in the organization.
4.2 Utility Discussions
A real time HRIS and skilful HR staff could prove a competitive advantage for the
organization. Amit and Belcourt [1] introduce in their article the meaning of the tacit
human resource management which the organization obtains over a long period of
practice. Usually, HRM routines and activities are described as one model or pattern.
However, it is important to acknowledge that organizations have their own practices
and mechanisms to attract, motivate, evaluate and compensate their human resources.
The paper explains “how adapting a ‘process’ perspective of HRM leads to the
conclusion that an organization’s ability to build, deploy and renew its productive
human-capital through transformational routines in ways that cannot be easily
replicated by other organizations generates a competitive advantage in the market”
The advantages, effectiveness, and competitiveness of the system are introduced
when the authors wish to argue for and confirm the use of HRIS. Rapid data access,
information exchange, administrative and strategic advantage are the basic topics
which are discussed. [19,20] All these issues need further study.
5 The Development of HRIS Research
The history of HRIS is short in terms of both practice and research. HR information
systems have developed from the payroll systems and have now their own branch
among other managerial IS in organizations. In the 1960s and 1970s only big
companies could afford to invest in hardware and software for HRIS. Computers were
bulky and the software was difficult to use. At that time, the main task of HRIS was
the record-keeping. Over the years, technology developed and cheaper equipment as
well as and more versatile software for HR activities became available. [2,17,36]
Even HR staff members were at first skeptical. This skepticism and hesitancy
stemmed from the HR staff’s lack of computer and software edication. Jones and
Hoell [16] present in their article the courses available today for HR students. It is a
part of the HR profession to learn and develop technical skills.
The previous chapters present some of the many issues related to HRIS in
practice. HRIS research has achieved stronger base during the new millennium. The
empirical studies have more breadth because organizations have gained experience in
using HRIS. In the 1980s studies attempted to establish the nature of HRIS. In the
1990s studies were full of different expectations of how HRIS affects an
organization’s HR activities and business planning. There were studies about who
was using HRIS and for what purpose, and the advantages of using HRIS. The
organization was efficient if it had the technology and IS to supported the HR
activities. Also, the effect of HRIS for the work and development of HR department
and professionals were under discussion. [2,3,6,7,10,11,12,13,18,24,26,29,31,34,35]
Kavanagh et al [17] and Walker [36] have written HRIS handbooks. Kavanagh et
al [17] focus more on the IS site of HRIS. The book analyses the system itself and
what should have been noticed before the implementation. Also, it introduces HRIS
applications. Walker’s [36] book gives a more technical and process oriented
viewpoint to the development and implementation of HRIS. The message plays on the
effectiveness what the system can offer strategic HRM and the whole organization in
the future. Both publications are referenced, although the handbooks do not have a
distinct academic background. Thus far, they are the only books available for HRIS.
Predictions are always difficult. Still, it is important to analyze the development of
research and practice. Opinions and viewpoints offer paths for new ideas and
innovations. Organizations make short and long term plans and strategies to stay in
business. Atwater [2]
wrote in his research review that HRIS is a tool to give HR
information to the business planning process. He designated the process as “the
workforce forecasting” and defined it as follows: “it focuses on predictions about the
size and mix of a pool of workers in the future” [2]. This process challenges the HRIS
to provide valuable information on employees when an organization needs it for
filling job post, or keeping information from available employees.
Today, many HRIS have the information which is important for management. The
new challenge however, is the leadership. Employers need more human information
on employees and their actions in different situations, which, in our research
interviews, leaders have claimed as being very significant. However, legislation and
(at least) moral issues limit access to such information.
The research focuses on theories and making models and patterns. HRIS research
is fragmented in different research papers and results. Already, several models and
conceptions are available. [22] The time has come to collect them, discover the whole
available HRIS picture, and introduce the research areas. There are many research
questions in the referenced articles. Now is the time to find answers.
6 Our Initial Framework for HRIS
In chapter 2 and figure 1 we introduced the basic categories of our initial framework
for HRIS. In chapters 3 to 5 we highlighted some research issues from each category.
We pointed out that there are several areas to be studied. Our intention has not been to
cover all of them but to construct a description which expresses the diversity in the
HRIS discipline. The description became our initial framework of HRIS.
Fig. 2. The Initial Framework of HRIS.
In figure 2, we present the initial framework as a whole. The IT/IS category includes
the issues of the system designing. The specific target groups are the people who are,
or could be, involved in the design and implementation process as well as in the use
and usability testing. Technology has changed HR activities. From different files we
have moved to the databases and web systems. The data security and legislation give
strict orders on how the data should be processed and who has the authority to use the
information. Accessing the individual data is always a sensitive matter.
The Organizational Use includes application areas, end users and different utility
discussions which underline the importance of HRIS in an organization.
Competitiveness, advantages and globalization are commonly discussed. The
application areas describe the functions and activities which are supported by HRIS.
The basic areas of discussion are HRM and management. Managers, HR staff and
employees represent the end users involved in the HRIS. Here, the issue is the
meaning of the information which the system produces.
In the Development category the discussion topics are the history, the present and
the future of HRIS development. The history of the development is quite clear but the
present development is difficult to clarify because of the fast growth of technology
which has impacted on software development. The theory-making and the model
construction are included in the Research category. Modelling is a useful means to
clarify the HRIS processes as well as the activities HRIS serves. This has already
been done by a number of researchers. However, the theories are still waiting for to be
developed and published. We believe that the future will bring interesting discussions
and debates.
7 Conclusion
In our article we have introduced the initial framework to raise discussion about HRIS
and issues related to the discipline. Our contribution consist of the four
conceptions/categories – IT/IS, Organizational Use, Development and Research –
aggregate HRIS research which for the moment is fragmented. We want to encourage
researchers to continue their work and to gather their knowledge together. The topics
and issues of the conceptions summarized in chapter 6 could be the impetus for future
studies. The history of HRIS is well-known, but now it is significant to study practice
and construct theories and models to introduce the discipline and evoke diverse
Renewal capacity to search for new businesses is crucial nowadays. The business
environment is accelerating all the time and thus the supporting role of HRIS to
handle demanding and complicate organizational work is becoming more important
than ever. Therefore, future research on HRIS should take into account the nature of
managerial work in our post-modern digital time. The research in HRIS is young. The
sphere is not developed although it is one of the most important lines of human
resource management. Therefore, to develop knowledge it is needed international
collaboration and research programs to study many sides of this complicated
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