Supplementing the Zone: Musings on an Open Community Approach to Addressing the Strategic Challenges Facing HRIS

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  Supplementing the Zone: Musings on an Open Community Approach to Addressing the Strategic Challenges Facing HRIS
  By Bennie Reddin, Tilting Windmills  

The case for an open source HRIS may be compelling, but such a platform cannot be realized without deep technical roots to facilitate broad functional capabilities. Technical maturity and depth are realized in the rich assemblies of components that are currently available in Open Source products.

Business reporting & analytics, for instance, is represented in a number of product offerings from companies like JasperSoft and Pentaho. They offer both fully open source and “enterprise” versions of reporting products that are built on a “stack” of open source technology, extended with their own proprietary features. Assembled in this fashion, they can leverage decades of development by tens of thousands of contributors while then concentrating on functionality relating to their core business need, reporting & analytics in this case.

The Rest of the Stack
Systems architects have traditionally referred to a “Tech Stack” of components on which an application is engineered. These layers of functionality have formed a framework addressing fundamental commodity needs of Internet application developers. Tech stacks have primarily referenced the operating system, web server, database, and programming language used for development. The sophisticated requirements of modern HR force us to extend the boundaries of the tech stack in order to further commoditize functionality needed to address the complex and interesting problems we face. Such a “Cognitive Stack” is beyond the scope of this article, but is under considerable consideration. Such a stack would include:

Integration Services -will include low-level connections to partner systems, and visual construction of the data & consolidation of information for stakeholder consumption. (Currently available through a number of open source providers, including Apache and Pentaho.)

Web Services-will allow cross-application access to functionality for both vendors and creators of HR functionality. (Currently represented in the open source Apache Axis2 processes.)

Business Process Services-accompanied by graphical construction tools, will allow stakeholders to graph out a business process reflecting company policy, with the resulting graph running without programming intervention. (Currently represented in open source ODE and BPEL creation tools.)

Reporting & Analytic Services- will support both compliance reporting and business analytics. Rich tools with libraries of rendering are available through open source provisions by JasperSoft and Pentaho.

UI Services - Mashups to combine data from disparate systems into a single view and into consolidated business process control will overcome the ongoing problems of our core HR systems that rely on silo adjuncts in the talent management functionality. (Currently available in open source from Apache’s Shindig and LifeRay’s Portal Management, among others.)

A high-level rendering of such an assembly (Figure 1) illustrates an “ecology” of technical services made available to legacy and modern systems on the one hand, as well as a variety of delivery channels to the end user, on the other.

With open source solutions available for all of the technical requirements stacked from Connectivity through to Rendering for the end user, coupled with the governance solutions to control access in security through a common repository, we have a fairly complete picture of a modern HRIS platform.

Many of the “interesting problems” on the technical side have been addressed in open source provisions of these varying services. There are a few more that remain, challenging us on the technical side to overcome them. There seems to be a tipping point in access for HR stakeholders to begin reflecting their needs in system execution though, given that the technical services can be assembled for ease of access and execution.

With all of this available today, the prospects of a community-driven, collaboratively-delivered HRIS are quite promising indeed.

Figure 1. Cognitive Stack Illustration.


About the Author
Bennie Reddin is founder and chief technologist of TiltingWindmills, applying his HRIS expertise extending over 25 years from early PC-based HR systems to current service-oriented architectures. Alternating between development and implementation, he has designed several HR and Payroll architectures for service bureaus and ERP vendors, then deployed those systems, improving toolsets and practices for implementation in the process. In the role of systems architect for consulting and software vendors, Reddin is designing HRIS to meet the needs of the 21st century enterprise. Consulting directly to these enterprises, he is helping them lay the strategic and technology foundations for emerging innovation in HRIS. Frequently contributing to HR strategy and technology publications, he can be contacted at

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