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HR Technology Column

A Cynic's Six Steps to Application Integration

Vendors are taking various approaches to creating the talent-management suite and integrating all the applications in it. But keep in mind the key to your getting value is whether they are truly integrated -- and definitions vary.

Monday, April 9, 2007
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Attending Vurv's recent user conference, Revolution, reminded me how hard the formerly single application vendors are working to offer the integrated talent-management suite of six or more applications.

Some are writing them all themselves (such as SuccessFactors and Taleo) or have even finished (Softscape and HRsmart), while most are acquiring the applications by buying the companies that have the applications they need (Vurv, Authoria, Stepstone, Plateau, SumTotal plus a list as long as your arm).

There are costs and benefits to each approach. As you might imagine, the single application that vendors start off with is usually pretty good. Most have been developing and selling it successfully for years. The quality of the new ones vary. If acquired, they may be strong (depending on the source), but then they have to be integrated onto the vendor's own technology platform. That can be no small task.

If a vendor builds the new applications internally, they're usually integrated from the start, but they are immature, like a newborn baby. They don't have the years of customer suggestions and complaints, upgrades and new versions that an acquired application might already have that can make it as robust as the vendor's original application. Software is really quite an organic thing. Remember Windows 2.0? Didn't work. Windows XP? Pretty good. Vista? Don't know yet.

Whichever way a vendor goes, the key to your success is the success of the application integration. The whole tsunami of the talent-management suite came from the realization that these applications have traditionally operated in silos (just like the HR departments they were originally designed for) and having them work together like a single application would be enormously beneficial to the enterprise. Probably help your company make more money!

So if you're thinking of buying talent-management applications from a new suite vendor, keep in mind my "Cynic's Six Steps to Application Integration" and determine which step the seller is on:

* Press Release Integration: The vendor issues a press release claiming all its applications are integrated, though they're probably not and maybe one software engineer is working on it in the back room.

* Collateral Integration: The vendor spends some money to print the assertion on heavy, glossy paper that everything is integrated, and distributes it widely.

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* Portal Integration: All the applications appear together on one portal page, can all be accessed from that one place, maybe even with a single sign-on, but look wildly different when you click on them.

* User Interface Integration: Finally, the applications at least look alike, but still operate differently.

* Data Integration: Using various HR-XML definitions, the applications can at least exchange data, but may still use separate databases.

* Interoperability: The applications actually work together, as they say, "seamlessly."

Print out for handy reference. Look under the hood. Be cynical. Caveat emptor.

HR Technology Columnist Bill Kutik is also co-chairman of the 10th Anniversary HR Technology Conference® & Exposition in Chicago from Oct. 10 to 12. The full agenda will be available in early May at http://www.HRTechnologyConference.com. He can be reached at bkutik@earthlink.net

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