Wondering what on earth the difference is between an applicant tracking system (ATS) and an HRIS? Trying to figure why your career in human resources now seems mired in technical terms like these?

Don’t fear — we put together the following glossary to help you get a firm grasp on what best-of-breed HR technology vendors are talking about when they start spouting jargon:

1. Integration

Definition: Allowing different technology platforms to work effectively and efficiently together through inter-platform communication.

In layman’s terms: Your ATS speaks to your onboarding software, which speaks to your performance management system, which ties into your payroll system.

Why it matters: Having all your HR data in one place can streamline your department’s workflows, and it can even help protect your company when it comes to compliance issues. Integrated systems give you a comprehensive view of your entire workforce, which helps you identify bottlenecks and inefficiencies and intervene to increase productivity.

2. Application Programming Interface (API)

Definition: A set of documented standards that help programmers build software applications which will communicate with one another.

In layman’s terms: It’s a technology platform’s version of phoning a friend. If one of your systems doesn’t have the information it needs, an API can call out to another system and retrieve it.

Why it matters: Who has time to sign into 31 different systems every day? With APIs connecting all your systems together, you can worry about fewer applications while still getting all the information you need.

Fun fact: Some APIs are more fun than functional — like the Chuck Norris Facts API that can retrieve random Chuck Norris jokes.

3. Comma-Separated Values (CSV) File

Definition: A CSV file is a way to collect the data from a table so that it can be conveyed as input to another table-oriented application, such as Microsoft Excel. A CSV file is sometimes referred to as a “flat file.”

In layman’s terms: For most HR pros, CSV files are mainly used to export employee and candidate data from one system to another.

Why it matters: As HR technology grows progressively more complex — and helpful! — we need ways to ensure the data can move between sophisticated systems.

4. Parser

Definition: A technology that reads and extracts data from resumes.

In layman’s terms: A parser can pull all the information on a resume or candidate profile and enter it into your database for you.

Why it matters: Well, you don’t want to enter manually every piece of a candidate’s resume into its corresponding field in your ATS, do you? Parsers grab relevant information and match it with its appropriate spot in your database.

Fun fact: Parsers have to be very finely tuned to work properly. A parser that is less than 90 percent accurate will be too glitchy to load data into a database without human intervention, according to digital media pro Sampurna Majumder.

4. Software as a Service (SaaS)

Definition: A way of licensing and distributing software in which a company hosts the software on its own servers and provides access on a subscription basis. This is one of the most common licensing and distribution methods in HR tech today.

In layman’s terms: You don’t need to install SaaS software on your own servers. Instead, the vendor hosts the software and you just access it as needed.

Why it matters: SaaS software can be accessed from any device anywhere. Plus, it eliminates the need for massive in-house servers, and updates to the software are generally automated. Choosing between SaaS and on-premises software (see below) is a pretty important piece of the HR technology purchasing process.

5. On-Premises Software

Definition: Where SaaS software is hosted in the cloud and run on the provider’s servers, on-premises software is installed and operated on your company’s own computers.

In layman’s terms: On-premises software is sometimes referred to as “shrink wrap” software. You buy it, install it on your computers, and it’s yours.

Why it matters: Advocates for on-premises software point to increased customization, security, and control as reasons to install software in house instead of purchasing an SaaS solution.

6. Electronic Data Interchange (EDI)

Definition: The computer-to-computer exchange of business documents in a standard electronic format.

In layman’s terms: A process that allows one company to send information to another company electronically. Entities conducting business electronically with one another are called “trading partners.”

Why it matters: EDI is a significant improvement over paper-based systems like faxing, but increasingly more companies are using APIs to sync tech systems. Software with cumbersome EDI requirements can be an obstacle for small businesses, particularly those that conduct most of their operations in the cloud, so be aware of this before purchasing any system with EDI requirements.

7. Core HR Software

Definition: Core HR software systems track the key information and run the key processes pertaining to the employees in the company.

In layman’s terms: Any software that stores employee information in a database, uses employee information to run reports, and allows HR professionals to create employee profiles may be called part of the company’s core HR software. When these programs are linked together, the aggregate is called the “core HR platform.”

Why it matters: Core HR practices and data are critical to HR management functions. If you know your employee headcount, you can plan for hiring needs. If you understand your payroll and production costs, you can account for labor costs. Understanding which employees sit where and what their titles and histories are within the organization makes it easy to create training programs and succession plans.

8. Human Resource Information System (HRIS)

Definition: Software that manages people, policies, and procedures.

In layman’s terms: Recruiting Tech + Core HR + Benefits Admin + Absence Management + Compensation + Training + Workflows + Reporting = HRIS

Why it matters: People, policies, and procedures comprise much of what HR professionals are tasked with managing. An HRIS is integral to these functions.

9. All-in-One

Definition: A single system that has everything needed to run an HR department integrated with the rest of the business. This may include HRIS, payroll, ATS, benefits management, onboarding, performance management, scheduling, engagement tools, workforce planning, and plenty of other functions.

In layman’s terms: Your entire HR tech stack and a bag of chips.

Why it matters: All-in-one HR software offers the simplicity some companies need, although it can lock others into a system that may not scale properly. Whether or not an all-in-one is the way to go will depend heavily on what your company needs.

Fun fact: Do you know the difference between HRIS, human capital management (HCM), and human resource management systems (HRMS)? Now you do:


10. System of Record (SOR)

Definition: Also known as a “source system of record” (SSoR), an SOR is an information storage system that is the authoritative data source for a given data element or piece of information.

In layman’s terms: Databases change a lot, depending on who is accessing them and when. A SOR ensures that a software accessing a given database is accessing the most accurate version of the database.

Why it matters: An SOR provides the level of security, consistency, and reliability required to run multiple employee systems while remaining in compliance.

11. Applicant Tracking System (ATS)

Definition: A key recruitment software that gathers candidate data in one central location.

In layman’s terms: With an ATS, you can organize, collect, and store candidate- and job-related data while tracking candidates through all stages of the hiring process.

Why it matters: An ATS creates a searchable database of talent from a variety of sources, including past applicants, members of your talent network, and your resume database.

A version of this article originally appeared on the ClearCompany blog.

Sara Pollock is head of the marketing department at ClearCompany.

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