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Have you ever asked yourself, “What did we do before electronic data transfer?” because it is impossible for Human Resources (HR) professionals to do our jobs effectively and efficiently without them. Employees don’t get their benefits, paychecks and tax forms unless data transfers are successful.

At some point in time, nearly every HR professional needs data sent from their HR Information Systems (HRIS) to a vendor of some kind -- whether benefits, compensation or a government agency for reporting.

It is the data exchange where the magic happens yet most HR professionals want to stay out of the weeds and let others handle creating these information jewels. Here is some guidance on how to be productive, efficient and on top of data transfer.

1. Make time for your HRIS department: Do not rely solely on your HRIS department and/or vendor to create files. You have an active role in ensuring that data is accurate and complete. HRIS is there to create the actual file, not necessarily ensure that it meet the mark. They aren’t mind readers, and normally they are not HR professionals either, so they need your expertise.

2. Read every single word of your file specifications document: Every vendor has a file layout which is a document that provides the nitty-gritty details on how the vendor wants to receive your data. Become intimately familiar with this document.

Most files ask for the same basic information; however, defining the information isn’t always that simple. Here is guidance for cutting through:

• Date of Hire – Seems easy right? Well, is that Original Date of Hire, Last Date of Hire, Adjusted Date of Hire, Date of Hire in a given business unit or some other Date of Hire that your organization uses? This can be different depending upon the type of file you are programming.

• Effective Date – For many benefits this is straight forward yet what happens when there is a life event? For example, an employee adds benefits on her date of hire, gets married three months later, and adds their new spouse. Which effective date is the vendor really looking for?

• Active Employee Status - What does that mean in your organization? To a vendor and possibly to your HRIS team, this means anyone with an Employee Status Code of “A”. To an HR professional (depending on the program) that can mean any employee who falls into any one of these categories – active, paid leave, unpaid leave or suspended.

• Benefits Termination Date – This may or may not be the same as the termination date. For companies that provide benefits until the end of the month in which an employee terminates, this date is different from their employment termination date. And depending on your system, that date may actually be the day before the date in the system.

For example, your system may display the first date that the benefit was terminated not the last date that the benefit was active. If that is the case, your HRIS team may need to program the file to subtract one day from the Benefits Termination Date listed in the system and display that date on the file.

If this isn’t enough, there are several additional key decisions!

• Full-file or Change-only file - Is this a full-file or a changes-only file? A full-file is always preferred, as this will ensure that nothing is missed. Having a full-file also helps with your error reports. After every file is run, you’ll receive an error report (the data that the vendors systems doesn’t like for one reason or another). By having a full-file, you will see all the errors all the time; with a changes only file, you may or may not.

If your vendor insists on have a changes-only files then you’ll need to discuss the look-back period – files generally will look backwards for an effective date of some kind. Usually vendors will say they “want changes that are effective between x and y dates.”

This may not necessarily capture all the changes that had taken place in your system though, what about those inevitable retroactive changes that occur (e.g., an employee who won his/her position back after a lawsuit). Your best bet is to ask that the file display all the changes that were “entered” since the last time the file was run, regardless of effective date. This will ensure that nothing is missed.

• Run Date/Time – Vendors usually don’t care what day they receive a file, as long as they receive it at the same time each day, week or month. HRIS cares that the file is run when the least number of people need to use the system (e.g., the middle of the night or on a weekend) in order to avoid slowing down the production system.

You need to determine when is the best time for the file to be run so that it provides the most accurate information from your system. For example, should it be run before or after payroll is processed, or does it need to be run several times a day to capture immediate changes?

• Raw Files – Make sure you get a copy of every raw file. No matter what your vendor or your HRIS department says, you want to know that you will have access to the actual file that was sent from your system at all times, you will be able to see exactly what was sent and exactly when. Keep these files in case you need a written history and to avoid being in the dark when troubleshooting an issue.

Once you start handling file interfaces, it can be intricate and overwhelming. There is a cadence in how these work, similar to the geometry proofs we learned in the 10th grade. They are relatively simple and formulaic to create.

In the end you’ll win the hearts of your partners and you’ll have a great product that may not be “auto-magical” but will simplify your busy day!