In this Glossary, we aim to make it as easy as possible for our clients to navigate around the rather IT-derived expressions that they will encounter in their quest for the perfect HRIS, HR software, Payroll Software or Time and Attendance solution.

Absence Module

A part of the HRIS that collects and aggregates information on attendance, holidays and sickness. The main ways in which the module can be populated are by direct input from paper records, via an Employee Self Service system or by upload from a Data Importer or Time and Attendance application.

Some Absence modules facilitate use of the Bradford Factor method of evaluating sickness absence.


- see Employee Relations

Audit Trail

Part of any main HRIS is the Audit Trail, usually accessed through the System Admin area.

This will detail every transaction through the application, date and by whom generated. Regular checks of this are essential to verify the integrity of the data, and to trace the origin of errors translated on to the system.

Auto Number Generation

This is the function where, once set up (usually in HR software), unique employee numbers are generated as soon as a new employee is entered onto the application.

Existing sequences are loaded into the application (usually via System Administration). In some cases, existing organisational sequences cannot be accommodated by the HR software. It is good practice for employees to have only one number, irrespective of the number of posts or roles they may hold, particularly if there is a Payroll software involvement.

Automated Events

– see Triggered Events

Big Data

Big Data can be defined as a data mass consisting of structured (and unstructured) data elements that are difficult to process using conventional database methodology. It is a challenge to collate as data is captured by a range of devices of varying sophistication, e.g. video cameras, supermarket terminals, loyalty cards, transport tickets, official records, phone records and press cuttings, etc.

This data is of interest as it can be mined or analysed for the extraction of trends and patterns of behaviour such as travel patterns, buying preferences, and personal tendencies in certain situations.

The term “Big” is relative, and what is considered “Big” today, could be pretty Average tomorrow.

Information contained on HRIS can be considered as a part of Big Data, but it is subject to considerable data protection.

Bradford Factor

The Bradford factor is a way of illustrating how disruptive frequent short-term absence – around weekends for example – can be, relative to occasional longer spells of absence. Bradford scores are a way of identifying individuals with serious absence and patterns of absence worthy of further investigation. It helps highlight causes for concern and often is one of the first steps in an attendance procedure. (IDS definition)

The Bradford Factor score is calculated as S x S x D

S=the number of absences in the last 52 weeks, D=total number of days’ absence during the same period.


One absence of 7 days = 1 x 1 x 7 = 7

2 absences of 2 days, 1 of 3 days = 3 x 3 x 7 = 63

Seven absences of 1 day each = 7 x 7 x 7 = 343

The higher the score, the more disruption.

This can of course be reflected over varying rolling periods of time.

Some HR software include Bradford Factor statistics in their Absence Modules.

Business Intelligence Application

A piece of software that enables the user to report, analyse and present data that is held either in other modules of the same system, or in other discrete systems. The software typically straddles other applications e.g. HR software, Payroll software, Time and Attendance or Finance ssytems and is set up to draw data from them.


The Catalogue within an HRIS is the array of fields used in the database application that are reflected in the Report Writer, e.g. Job Title, Surname, Grade and Salary.

It is essential that every new field that is added by the user organisation (via the System Administration module for Change control consistency) is automatically added into the Catalogue, otherwise it cannot appear in the reports.

The places in HR software where the Database meets the Report Writer are commonly known as “Joins”. Up to a few years ago, it wasn’t unusual for software to be supplied with some joins incomplete, that caused a lot of head-scratching in HR departments trying out their new-found Report Writing skills, but nowadays most HRIS will automatically update their Catalogues with new fields.

Cloud Computing

Cloud computing is a model for enabling convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g., networks, servers, storage, applications, and services) that can be rapidly configured and released with minimal intervention from either party. This reduces the costs to individuals and organisations alike.The principle is that any computer connected to the internet is connected to a common pool resource, in terms of computing power and software options. The cloud model promotes availability and features five main characteristics:

-On-demand self-service

-'Broad network access

-Pooling of resource

-Fast flexibility to expand or contract

-A measurable service

Comma Separated Values

Generally referred to as a .csv file, this is used, amongst other things, to transfer data between applications. Typically used when importing / exporting data between old and new HR and Payroll systems or bulk uploading data such as Absence records via a Data Importer.


There is often confusion in client’s minds about the difference between Configuration and Customisation, particularly when sourcing HR software.

Configuration is basically the setting up, addition, modification or deletion of parameters and rules within the application, such as Holiday Entitlements, Occupational Sick Pay limits, Posts and Benefits. Consultancy assistance is usually employed at the roll out of an application, and thereafter is performed by system administrators within the user department.


Customisation is modification of the original software, in order to accommodate a client’s requirements, such as new screens and new categories. This entails radical changes, and can be costly. It is often advisable to look into what is driving the need for customisation, as it may be that a straightforward replication of existing processes can be re-worked to advantage.

See also: Configuration

Data Importer

A Data Importer is a software feature that runs a routine to move data from one application to another. This can usually mean that data, e.g. in Excel format, is converted into another format (e.g. csv, comma separated values file) and then drawn into another application to populate it.

Most new or upgraded HRIS are populated by this method as it saves keying in all the data again. An application is populated by data held in several relational spreadsheets set out in a specific format.

This emphasises the need to ensure that all data is clean before migrating it to another application.


(see Employee Relations)

Email Client

E-mail software, such as Microsoft Outlook Express or Lotus Notes.

Also called a mail client (or just client), an email client is a software application that enables you to send, receive, and organize email.

Employee Relations

Employee Relations is the generic term for the part of the HR software that covers Discipline, Grievance and Appeal. The stages of these processes are tracked through the application, and will generate reminders where required. Not the least important of these reminders is the one that can be set up to purge warnings from the system in line with organisational policy.

Employee Self Service (ESS) is a web based application that provides employees with access to their personal records (address, contact, and emergency contact details) and their payroll records (bank account and payslips).

It is usual for employees to have the facility to change or modify certain fields such as Address, Bank Details or Emergency Contact, as well as generate requests for Holidays, Training or report on Sickness Absence.

More advanced iterations of ESS feature the capability of running Appraisal reporting online and connecting it to Objective Setting and Training / Developmental needs, which in turn can be administratively booked and delivered through the ESS application.

Access is usually either via an HR portal on an organisation’s intranet or from a designated external web link.

Layers of security within the ESS application can permit Managers to view records and requests relating to their staff or departments.

ESS can operate as a feature on an organisation’s intranet or via a web enabled proprietary Self Service module appended to an HR system. Logically, it is most effective when deployed across a mainly PC user population.

Entry System

Not to be confused with a Time and Attendance application, this is a system that permits entry by use of an identification tag. Some Entry Systems will collect basic data as to the ID and timings of people effecting entry. Some Time and Attendance applications will enable Entry functioning as part of their capabilities.

Equal Opportunities Monitoring

Note: the categories listed are those commonly used within the UK context for Equal Opportunities Monitoring. You can choose to vary these as monitoring is a configurable feature on HRIS.


Date of Birth

Ethnic Group

White – British

White – Irish

White Scottish

Irish Traveller

Other White background

Black or Black British – Caribbean

Black or Black British – African

Other Black background

Asian or Asian British – Indian

Asian or Asian British – Pakistani

Asian or Asian British – Bangladeshi


Other Asian background

Mixed – White & Black Caribbean

Mixed – White & Black African

Mixed – White & Asian

Other Mixed background

Other ethnic background

Not known

Do not wish to supply

Religion or Belief








Prefer not to say

Other – please specify:

Marital Status



Prefer Not To Say

Disability or Long-Term Illness

 No known disability


Blind/partially sighted

Deaf/have a hearing impairment

Wheelchair user/have mobility difficulties

Personal care support

Mental health difficulties

An unseen disability, eg diabetes, epilepsy, asthma

Multiple disabilities

A disability not listed above

Not known

Do not wish to supply


 e-recruitment (or online recruitment) is part of the Talent Management process, using web technology to attract, recruit and process employees through organisational systems.


ERP stands for Enterprise Resource Planning, typically a software application or combination of applications that manages and coordinates information and resources within an organisation. HRIS (Human Resources Information Systems) generally form part of an ERP application.


Software or Source Code escrow is a form of insurance to cover the contingency of your HR software supplier going out of business.

Under the terms, a copy of the source code (which is the programme written by the developer) is lodged with an agreed third party, an escrow agent, who would release the code to you under specifically agreed conditions, enabling you to recruit assistance to keep the programmes running..

There is a cost attached to this, and in most cases purchasers will have satisfied themselves as to the good standing of their chosen vendor. However, due diligence requirements in some sectors tend to the heavily risk-averse, and this is the solution for them.

FTE (Full Time Equivalent)

The basis on which Headcount is calculated, 1.0 FTE is represented by a full-time employee.

If a standard full-time employee works 40 hours per week, an employee working 25 hours per week is expressed as 0.63 FTE. On most systems, you can set up each post with its budgeted FTE, and compare the budgeted FTE to the actual people in post, and highlight the differences (usually expressed as vacancies).

Fat Client

A fat client or rich client is computer architecture which typically provides rich functionality independently of the central server. Originally known as just a 'client' or 'thick client', the name is derived as an opposite to “thin client”, describing a computer which heavily depends on a server's applications.

A fat client still requires at least periodic connection to a network or central server, but is often characterised by the ability to perform many functions without that connection. In contrast, a thin client generally does as little processing as possible and relies on accessing the server each time input data needs to be processed or validated.


- see Employee Relations

Grossed Up Pay

From time to time, employers want to ensure that an employee receives a particular net amount of money, in which case a reverse calculation must be performed to arrive at the gross figure before deductions such as PAYE and National Insurance.

Some payroll providers will enable this computation as a standard feature, which cuts out the arduous manual method.

Hay Job Evaluation

Hay Job Evaluation is one of the most popular business management methodologies devised for the analysis of all the existing roles within an organisation. It can be used to produce an organisation chart enabling the grading and banding of salaries and benefits and ranks jobs at similar or varying levels of responsibility.


Higher Education/Further Education

Hosted service

The software is never downloaded, but rather is provided by a hosted service provider and is generally paid for on a monthly/annual basis; also known as the application service provider (ASP) software model. Some of these services also charge a percentage of sales in addition to the monthly fee. This model often has predefined templates that a user can choose from to customize their look and feel. In this model users typically have less ability to modify or customize the software with the advantage of having the vendor continuously keep the software up to date for security patches as well as adding new features added.


HRIS stands for Human Resources Information System (or Human Resource Information Software) and is a generic term for software elements dealing with the recording and processing of personnel.

Other commonly used terms are HRMS (Human Resource Management System or Human Resource Management Information System) and Human Capital Solutions,

HRIS software can form part of a suite in larger organisations. These applications are commonly referred to as Enterprise Resource Planning applications (ERP)

Integrated Applications

In an HRIS context, these applications share a common database although may perform differing functions, e.g. HR & Payroll or Payroll and Time & Attendance.


In HRIS, a user interface is the part of a program that connects the computer with the user and there are interfaces to connect programs, to connect devices, and to connect programs to devices.

The main feature of interfaces is to connect seamlessly between two applications, and they can be costly to construct. Some HR & Payroll packages are actually two different applications with an interface facilitating their working together (as opposed to integrated applications that share a common database)

They are not to be confused with data importing / exporting, where there is a distinct input or output from one application, which needs to be imported into or exported from another.

Invitation to Tender (ITT)

- see Tendering - various terminologies


In country payroll provider – providing a service that is compliant with legislation in a specific country

Learning Management System (LMS)

This is a more advanced application than the conventional Training Module.

Typically run in conjunction with an Employee Self Service System, an LMS will allow interaction between Employee, Manager and Training Provider.

A comprehensive LMS will pick up Training and Developmental needs from an employee appraisal (either from within the application or from a connected program) and track the whole process from selection of provider, to delivery and beyond.

With LMS, there is also more scope to record the various strands within Learning & Development, as they can range from Induction, Compliance renewals (e.g. First Aider Certificate), NVQs, and Professional curricula all the way down to Mentoring or Observation.

Licensed software

The software is downloaded and then installed on a Web server. This is most often associated with a one-time fee, although there are many free products available as well. The main advantages of this option are that the merchant owns a license and therefore can host it on any Web server that meets the server requirements, and that the source code can often be accessed and edited to customize the application.

Managed Service

A managed service will involve the management – or part management - of the organisational HR or payroll process. It is more common for payrolls to be provided as a managed service.

Vendors will typically provide access to the client on a real-time online basis. For example, data may be input at a client’s premises, but the payroll could be run and processed by the vendor.

The amount of management required is usually very flexible, with the client determining the level of involvement by the vendor with their processes.


Offshoring is a type of outsourcing which involves having particular business functions performed in another country. The best-known form of offshoring is to have software code and development done in countries where the cost base is much lower. Payroll, in particular, has experienced an upsurge in offshoring, with processing centres based in Eastern Europe.

Organisation Charts

A graphical representation of the organisational structure, these charts is derived from the hierarchy on the database. It is usual for this to be performed by third party software rather than an inbuilt function in the HRIS. The most popular applications are OrgPlus and MS Visio, and they can be configured to connect with the HR IS database.

Modern organisations do not conform to the traditional pyramidical structure, and are complicated by matrix reporting lines and multi-posts; there are occasions when the application has to be manually overridden on the chart itself to reflect a particularly complex arrangement.

Outsourced Service

Outsourcing involves the transfer of the management and/or day-to-day execution of a business function such as Payroll or Human Resources to an external service provider.

The client and the provider enter into a contractual agreement that defines the transferred services. Under the agreement the supplier acquires the means of production in the form of a transfer of people, assets and other resources from the client. The client agrees to procure the services from the supplier for the term of the contract.


Professional Employer Solution.  A PEO becomes the employer of record for tax purposes and handles all the filings under the PEO tax ID number.  A PEO can take on the responsibility of payroll, employee benefits, insurance, risk management, HR services and workers’ compensation


The hardware, operating system and database management or file system

It may also refer to a specific combination of hardware and operating system

Pre-qualification Questionnaire (PQQ)

- see Tendering -various terminologies

Request for Information (RFI)

- see Tendering -various terminologies

Request for Proposal (RFP)

- see Tendering -various terminologies

Self service

- see Employee Self Service

Software as a Service (SaaS)

Software as a Service is a fairly recent expression to describe the supply of software as a variable overhead rather than a fixed cost. In a sense, it is a new iteration of the “bureau” approach, but instead of a third party providing the processing as well as a software environment it is now supplied more flexibly.

Organisations can plug in and subscribe to services built on world-class infrastructure via the Internet. All they need is a basic PC with an Internet Browser and an internet connection.

SaaS also changes the traditional model of user licensing as on-demand licensing enables software to become a variable expense, rather than a fixed cost at the time of purchase. It also enables licensing only the amount of software needed versus traditional licenses per device.

Another upside to SaaS is that it can reduce the up-front expense of software purchases, and may lead eventually to a reduction of investment in server hardware as these costs and functions are shifted to the service provider.

Shared Service

Shared Service is the centralisation of a service that had previously existed in more than one part of an organisation, or, indeed, in more than one organisation.

There has been considerable study made in the public sector (local authorities in particular) to amalgamate some of the generic activities such as HR and payroll to provide more flexibility at a notionally reduced cost. Larger organisations also deploy this model, not only on cost grounds but also for consistency of service.

Software Licence

The type of Licence that is most usually encountered in HRIS is a Proprietary Licence, meaning that the software vendor gives a licence to use an agreed number of copies of the application, but ownership will always reside with the vendor.

There are a number of subsidiary legal issues attaching to software licences that are not to be gone into here; a well-known example of proprietarily licensed software is Microsoft Windows.

A number of HRIS vendors use a charging model based on the number of user licences.

System Administration

The System Administration module is the part of the application where authorised persons are able to configure Rules (such as Holiday and Occupational Sickness ), add / delete new Posts or modify existing ones (such as amending the FTE), Departments and Divisions and add system Users with their appropriate Security access levels. Additionally to this, the System Events (or Triggered Actions) and Work Flow functions can be formatted and set in motion from here, where available to the application.

System Events

see Triggered Events

Talent Management

Talent management is the current generic name given to the process of recruiting, managing, improving, evaluating and developing the employee base of an organisation.It is the end-to-end process of planning, recruiting, developing, managing, and compensating employees throughout the organization.

Talent management software solutions aim to collect elements of what were hitherto disparate activities (Recruitment, Performance Appraisal and Development) and relate them back to organisational objectives.

Talent management can be handled by any of the following:

a) using a dedicated Talent management module in an integrated HR product

b) using a stand-alone module in association with an integrated product

c) combining existing fields to create Talent management reports

various terminologies

A request for information (RFI) is a standard process used to gather information about the capability or suitability of a series of vendors to supply, in this case HR & payroll software, time & attendance software or other HRIS.

An RFI will follow a standard format, to enable easy comparison and assist the process of selecting a list of vendors who will then be invited to tender by means of a request for proposal (RFP), invitation to tender (ITT), request for tender (RFT) or request for quotation (RFQ).

An RFI can also be known as a pre-qualification questionnaire (PQQ). Typical information required would be financial statements, health & safety policies, equality policies and commentary on the resources available to service the prospective client.

Thin Client

A thin client (sometimes also called a lean or slim client) is a computer network which depends primarily on the central server for processing activities, and mainly focuses on conveying input and output between the user and the remote server. (Contrasting with Fat Client which does as much processing as possible and passes only data for communications and storage to the server)

Many thin client devices run or support web browsers meaning that all major processing is performed on the server.

Time & Attendance Application

Mainly deployed in production or manufacturing locations, a software application that records employee attendance by “clocking” them in and out by a variety of means. It is possible to allocate employees to a set of shift patterns and plan required workforce patterns. These applications provide powerful reporting tools for a range of production statistics.

It is worth bearing in mind that a substantial hardware cost can be incurred per clocking point, and so their deployment should be carefully considered.

Triggered Actions

Also known as System Events, Triggered Events or Automated Events, these are features of many HRIS whereby responses are triggered by changes in specified data fields. These responses are usually embodied in email alerts.

An example would be when a New Employee is entered on the HR database prior to start date, the configured Triggered Action would generate a series of emails to:

  • Advise Security & Switchboard of the arriving newcomer, name, position and department;
  • Advise the IT department to create an ID and login;
  • Advise the relevant departments to provide a car, mobile phone, laptop, where appropriate;
  • Advise the Training co-ordinator to enter the new starter on the next Induction programme.
  • And so on.

A Triggered Action – or series of them – is set up in the System Admin part of the application. They constitute one of the big advantages of HR systems, as they streamline administration and help to suppress errors and oversights.


Upgrade is a term referring to the replacement of a product with a newer version of that same product, typically meaning a replacement of hardware or software to update the system (e.g. annual changes to Payroll) or to improve its features or operating efficiency.

Increasingly, the downloading of upgrades is effected via the internet where “a patch”- containing the parts of the application that will be changed – is introduced into the main application.

Web Browser

A software application used to access information from the World-wide web, well-know examples being Internet Explorer, Mozilla FireFox or Safari.


Able to connect to or run on the web.


The automation of a business process, in whole or part, during which documents, information or tasks are passed from one participant to another for action, according to a set of procedural rules. Usually run through the HR software.