The application of electronic human resource management (e-HRM) does rest heavily on underlying information technologies (IT). Up until now, regularly numerous internal “back-end” systems, external data, and services were combined with different “front-end” systems in order to support and network different actors such as HR-professionals, managers, service providers, employees, and applicants (Walker, 2001). Concerning the success of any e-HRM implementation this technological heterogeneity is ambivalent. On the one hand, the merged functions of such heterogeneous application clusters are the essential enablers of e-HRM. On the other hand, such heterogeneous application clusters burden users with numerous incoherent technologies. For some time, portal technology is pledged to overcome this problem by providing a single access point to all specific data, applications, and services any user needs (e.g., Raoi, 2003). Therefore, this article examines whether portal technology is feasible in e-HRM and hence can serve as a measure of integration of heterogeneous HR systems. To do this, first the current status of e-HRM technologies is briefly reported. Subsequently, the technical blueprint (“architecture”) and the general functionality of portal technologies are assessed. Based on this, the applicability of portals is conceptually analyzed by discussing two major application scenarios in e-HRM.
Understanding e-HRM as the application of IT for both networking and supporting of at least two actors in their shared performing of HR activities (Strohmeier, 2007) implies two general functions of IT in e-HRM. First, technology is necessary to connect usually spatially segregated actors and enable interactions between them, that is, technology serves as a medium. Second, technology supports actors by partially—and sometimes even completely—substituting them in executing HR activities. Hence, IT serves additionally as a tool for task fulfillment. To realize both functions, many different applications of IT are combined to often complex IT configurations in HR (e.g., Walker, 2001). A simple way of categorizing all these systems is to distinguish back-end and front-end systems. The back-end segment comprises the numerous HR applications, such as payroll systems, time and attendance-systems, workforce scheduling systems, compensation and benefits-systems, computer-based training applications, and so forth. The front-end segment then refers to integration and presentation systems such as (Web) user interfaces, kiosks, or interactive voice response systems. As a result, HR professionals often are confronted with technological heterogeneity and complexity while fulfilling their tasks. Given that the idea of HR self-service has become ordinary today (CedarCrestone, 2005; Gueutal, 2003; Towers Perrin, 2003), managers and sometimes even employees are burdened by numerous and incoherent HR applications, data, and services.
Since diversity and complexity are common problems of IT, for some time portal technology is suggested as an appropriate technological measure to simplify and unify the access to all kinds of data, services, and applications. Generally, portals (also labeled as enterprise [information] portal, “EIP,” or corporate portal) constitute technological platforms that provide internal and external users with all necessary applications, data, and interactions in an integrated, fitting, and personalized manner (Raoi, 2003).
It hence seems to be obvious to recommend portals also in the area of e-HRM as a convenient measure to improve e-HRM conceptions (e.g Brooks, 2001; Fandray, 2000; Hansen & Deimler, 2001). However, since the history of IT is rife with promises and fads, and since portals are complex and costly applications, HR would be ill-adviced to just add portals to its collection of systems. Rather, the technology in question should be carefully analyzed before deciding upon the usefulness and adoption in e-HRM. This article therefore delineates the technology, derives the general functionality, and discusses the applicability of portals in e-HRM.