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Human resource information systems: a review and model development.


This paper presents a human resource information systems (HRIS) model with a primary objective: To provide a comprehensive framework that advances HRIS research (Kuhn, 1996). This model is based on general systems theory, relevant academic research, and practitioner observations. Our prototype is a necessary and vital step in developing a thorough and systematic strategy for analyzing one of the most dynamic and potentially useful areas in business today. More specifically, our model addresses all major HRIS components and offers information on how these facets interact to support each other and larger organizational outcomes. These model units consist of organizational vision, strategic integration, personnel development, communication and integration, records and compliance, knowledge management, HR analysis, and forecasting and planning.


This paper presents a comprehensive model of human resource information systems (HRIS) functions. Management scholars contend that enhanced theoretical rigor is necessary to bridge the gap between research and practice (Becker, & Gerhart, 1996; Kuhn, 1996; Ulrich, 1997). In response, our model is drawn from over a decade of HRIS studies, organizational learning and general systems theory, human resources development research, and other relevant work in organizational behavior and information systems literature. The model underscores the role of HRIS as the operational link between strategic organizational vision and human resources implementations. Management scholars have long called for stronger and more explicit paths between strategic planning and applications in human resources. Yet implementation guidance for this vital connection has proved elusive (Cascio, 1998; Haines, & Petit, 1997). We contend that HRIS is a powerful tool in forging this link, and increased understanding must be gained to develop its maximum potential.

Unfortunately, relatively few studies have focused specifically on HRIS, and many of these studies have been descriptive, narrowly focused, or anecdotal (Haines, & Petit, 1997; Kovach, & Cathcart, 1999; Richards-Carpenter, 1997; Richards-Carpenter, 1996). To help fill this gap, we have developed a model to serve as an initial step in building the necessary foundation for a more systematic analysis. Our model is based on a review of selected, pertinent research, and a discussion of the major HRIS functions embodied in its design. Finally, we will present the implications of our model for future research and practice.


Human resources operations challenge organizations with a dualistic yet interdependent set of outcomes. One summons organizational change that may be perceived as a threat to the status quo, while the other set of outcomes gives highly valuable potential benefits for organizational performance. This paradox stems from the requirement for U.S. businesses to improve productivity from their skilled workers in order to satisfy the demand shift from manufacturing to technological and intellectual innovations (Cascio, 1998; Robbins, 1998). This transformation means that both organizational productivity gains and competitive advantage depend on high quality worker competence. In other words, increasing productivity through people is now paramount. Consequently, essential human resource functions have recently become even more critical to general organizational well-being.

To achieve these complex objectives, many organizations have turned to information systems technology (Haines, & Petit, 1997; Richards-Carpenter, 1997; Simon, & Werner, 1996). The reliance on technology has deceptively been prompting the false assumption that HRIS is synonymous with computerized human resource information systems. In reality, computer technology is not required for a successful HRIS function, and many HRIS activities still defy computer automation (Grossman, & Magnus, 1988; Haines, & Petit, 1997; Simon, & Werner, 1996). Nevertheless, computer based information technology serves as a tremendous tool for operationalizing HRIS applications. Many related tasks such as rapid information dissemination and feedback would be impractical or impossible without computerized support (Benjamin, & Benson, 1986; DeSanctis, 1986; Haines, & Petit, 1997).

With this major charge, information systems technology has introduced wide spread implementation of human resource information systems that more fully allow organizational members to participate in information sharing and decision-making. Indeed, past studies have shown that over 90 percent of organizations have a formalized and separate HRIS department or an equivalent function (Cholak, & Simon, 1991; Richards-Carpenter, 1997). Nearly all organizations have actually implemented some form of HRIS Anonymous, 1996; Richards-Carpenter, 1997). However, these applications vary widely from organization to organization, and there is equal diversity in the resultant benefits (Cholak, & Simon, 1991; Haines, & Petit, 1997; Richard-Carpenter, 1997).

Preliminary research shows that successful HRIS operations are identified by such outcomes as organizational competence; i.e, meeting strategic goals (Thomas, 2001; Pierce, & Newstrom, 2002). Furthermore, successful HRIS functions support such key processes as executive decision-making, employee training, technology selection, interdepartmental integration, and organizational reporting structures (DeSanctis, 1986; Haines, & Petit, 1997; Richards-Carpenter, 1996). While such studies provide valuable insights into HRIS implementation, their generalizability is limited due to the absence of a comprehensive foundation in which to contextually base these findings (Kovach, & Kathcart, 1999; Kuhn, 1996; Weick, 1979).

Equally important, the development of any such framework should also be practical, applicable t current organizational issues, and flexible enough to address emergent trends. Foremost, and a key pacesetter among these trends, is knowledge management, or the belief that Intellectual capital is the core competitive asset in contemporary organizations.

Knowledge management assumes that knowledge and its complement, learning, are the forces that optimize organizational performance (Davenport & Prusak, 1998). Furthermore, organizational knowledge can be more closely observed in its currency, intellectual capital, which has been defined as both "hard" and "soft" assets. Both of these categories are distinct, yet clearly interdependent. "Hard" intellectual capital assets refer to legal documents, software, and databases; while their "soft" counterparts are people-centered organizational strengths including skills, expertise, culture, and commitment (Stewart, 2001).

These two categories can be effectively integrated with human resource information systems that are well designed. In brief, HRIS make vital contributions to knowledge management by advancing organizational learning. For example, HRIS facilitates double loop learning feedback that enables organizational change and discussion, intra organizational communication and decision-making, and shared visions (Argryis, & Schon, 1996). Strategic initiatives and related modifications can also benefit from HRIS pathways. In addition, knowledge management involves relevant training, which can often be delivered in both cost- and time-effective ways with an HRIS. Even total quality management of highly skilled professionals such as physicians can be enriched with a carefully planned HRIS (Davenport, & Glaser, 2002).

Finally, HRIS gives the support to introduce and foster "systems thinking" in an organization, especially when the organization is driven by strategic vision, a mission based road map for future organizational goals. Practices such as holistic problem solving, continuous improvement, and team learning are examples of the processes that accompany these HRIS structures (Senge, 1990).

Systems theory (Weick, 1979; Wilkerson, & Paul, 1985) is a necessary framework for model development because it gives strategic analytical criteria for such dynamic phenomena as HRIS (Cascio, 1998). Systems theory also draws the boundaries for any given system along with definitional criteria that are especially important for preliminary research (Wilkerson, & Paul, 1985). In addition, researchers rely on systems theory to develop hypotheses about which units are required for a properly functioning system, how those units should interact, their strength of influence on overall system effectiveness, and how to optimize unit interactions towards realization of strategic objectives (Weick, 1979; Wilkerson, & Paul, 1985).


This section develops our HRIS model. While previous research has identified HRIS features, these studies have not yet created a comprehensive systems framework that is guided by strategic vision (DeSanctis, 1986; Haines, & Petit, 1997; Simon, & Werner, 1995). According to our earlier working definition of competent, successful goal attainment (Thomas, 2000; Pierce, & Newstrom, 2002), this HRIS model is a meaningful contribution to the development of a generalizable and strategic HRIS design. However, this contribution loses value unless it can be explained with careful identification of major HRIS attributes and their interdependencies. These relationships must also be well grounded in the research literature of all germane disciplines, including human resources, information systems, and organizational behavior.

Based on our literature review of over five-hundred relevant articles, we have identified seven primary components of the HRIS model. These components are strategic integration, personnel development, communication and integration, records and compliance, HR analysis, knowledge management, and forecasting and planning. Furthermore, these seven factors are integrated and linked to organizational outcomes through the influence of strategic organizational vision. Previous robust theoretical and practical research also supports selection of these attributes (Cascio, 1998; Robbins, 1998).

Each of these components serve a pivotal role in a fully functioning HRIS. Strategic integration gives high level decision makers the information that is necessary to make long range plans about organizational operations, as well as providing a feedback loop to integrate HR planning with strategic development. Without these information exchanges, managers would not be able to include expected personnel factors in their decision making processes.

Many of these decision-making activities are based on HR analysis, which is used to determine if current human resource capabilities are congruent with the desired organizational vision. This analysis should include routine HR processes, current personnel data, and a talent inventory of available worker skills. Thus, effective HR analysis measures and sends feedback about how well the organization's current HR practices are meeting organizational goals.

Similarly, the forecasting and planning function transforms input from HRIS analysis and other sources into its predictive feedback estimates about future organizational personnel and skill requirements. This factor is also very closely linked to the personnel development unit of an HRIS. In response to HR forecast communications, personnel development can address any organizational talent deficiencies with such methods as employee training or through recruitment.

In comparison, the records and compliance area is necessary to meet both numerous legal requirements that mandate specific information retention, and to provide a data base that contributes to the proper functioning of the other HRIS areas. This unit is also teamed with the knowledge management function of HRIS. Cooperation is important since the records and compliance area provides vital data for knowledge management. And the knowledge management function is critical to fully utilize the information contained in the records. Also, an effective knowledge management function should capture previously tacit and other undocumented forms of significant organizational knowledge. With these capabilities, the knowledge management unit can preserve the organizational memory that is necessary for high levels of organizational performance, and ensure that appropriate transmission of such knowledge occurs throughout the workforce.

Knowledge transfer is also a key role that the communication and integration function fulfils. A properly operating HRIS will include mechanisms, such as an intranet, for communicating necessary information and integrating such communications in a suitable fashion. Overall, this function supports complimentary interdependence with the goal of synergy. A graphical representation of our model is presented in figure 1.


This model suggests three propositions. The first proposition is that each of these components behaves synergistically with all other components. Thus, an absent or ineffective factor negatively impacts all organizational outcomes, not just those outcomes that are directly related. The second proposition assumes that the model is comprehensive, and that all major HRIS functions are incorporated. The third proposition states that factors are moderated by organizational culture, industry, and strategy. As influential moderators, these variables will appreciably strengthen or weaken the impact of HRIS units. Table 1 provides details for each specific component in the model.


Our model illustrates that human resource information systems are an essential factor in a competent, learning organization. However, human resource information systems are often misunderstood and misapplied because of incomplete conceptualizations that do not focus on strategic vision as the central force. There are numerous cases of technological human resource information systems that fail to achieve organizational goals because necessary elements have been overlooked or misused, as demonstrated by unsuccessful team building and training programs. In reality, an HRIS that is driven by strategic vision is an open system, where information technology facilitates communication freely between integrated features. Such information sharing is crucial to learning organizations that view employees as their main competitive advantage.

Hopefully, this model reflects these attributes and helps to clarify the design of human resource information systems that nurture organizational competence. At the same time, this prototype can initiate more steps to promote progress in both HRIS research and practice. First, the model needs to be refined and tested. Surveys and simulations could be applied to a longitudinal research design that assesses the impact of HRIS on key organizational outcomes such as performance, turnover, and absenteeism.

After completion of the first step, results can be translated into benchmarks for HRIS. Concurrently, these insights can be configured to develop improved HRIS evaluation tools. Ideally, these assessment techniques will identify potential HRIS opportunities and problems with early warning messages that maximize financial and performance outcomes.

In conclusion, a comprehensive human resource information system that is driven by organizational vision is synergistic. These technological partnerships enable organizations to realize visions through their most important assets, the people who are their employees.


Functions Major Activities

Strategic Used to aid top management in making long
Integration term HR planning
Personnel Used to enhance worker's skills and abilities.
Development Also includes quality of work life
Communication and Inter-organizational communication support
Integration and coordination of disparate organizational
 activities including change.
Records and Used to manage organizational information and
Compliance ensure governmental compliance.
Human Resources An ongoing means of gathering and diagnosing
Analysis human resource needs.
Knowledge Facilitates development and information
Management retention of beneficial human resource
Forecasting and Used in long range planning to assess future
Planning organizational HR needs.
Organizational Drives and integrates the HRIS factors to
Vision positive organizational outcomes


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Dr. Milton Mayfield is an Associate Professor of Management, and Director of the Center for Business Research, College of Business, at Texas A&M International University. He formerly served as the Co-Chair of the Dept. of Management and Marketing. He has numerous journal publications and has also done national and international consulting work in the areas of leader training, human resources, business communication, strategic decision making, and organizational development. In addition, he is a specialist in research methodology and design, and has authored several behavioral surveys including web based questionnaires.

Dr. Jacqueline Mayfield is an Associate Professor of Management, and Director of Professional Development at Texas A&M International University. She formerly served as the Co-Chair of the Dept. of Management and Marketing. She specializes in the areas of leadership, business communication, workforce planning, and worker development. She has numerous journal publications and has done national and international consulting work in the areas of leader training, business communication, and organizational development. Prior to her academic career, Dr. Mayfield earned an MBA from George Washington University and worked in the health care industry for about 9 years.

Dr. Stephen E. Lunce is a Professor of Information Systems in the Department of MIS and Decision Sciences at Texas A&M International University. He is the Director of Graduate Programs in the College of Business Administration. He is the author of over 60 referred research articles, book chapters and monographs. Dr. Lunce is the Vice President of The Decision Sciences Institute and serves on the Board of Directors of the Institute representing the Southwest United States. He is a Certified Computing Professional and a Certified Disaster Recovery Planner. He was named Texas A&M International University's College of Business Scholar of the Year for 2000. He was UTA's College of Business initial Lawrence Schkade Research Fellow, and his work with colleagues at UTA has been recognized with a Distinguished Professional Publication Award. Dr. Lunce earned a BA from the University of Dallas in History in 1977, an MBA from the University of Dallas in Management Information Systems in 1988, and a Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Arlington in Information Systems, 1994

The authors wish to thank an anonymous reviewer for Advances in Competitiveness Research for the suggestions regarding knowledge management.
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Author:Mayfield, Milton; Mayfield, Jackie; Lunce, Steve
Publication:Advances in Competitiveness Research
Date:Jan 1, 2003
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