Interface or Integration? Which do you need?

TL:DR; I’m going to make the case that, though integrated systems do have some advantages over interfaces, an interface is the better overall choice for most small to mid-size companies’ timekeeping and payroll operations.


Clockwise provides a customized interface, not integration, with customers' existing payroll and other HR software. We interface, not integrate, with over a dozen different major payroll systems out there. In casual language the words “Integrate” and “interface” are often used interchangeably, but they are substantially different approaches to the same problem.


Integration vs Interface


For any two software tools such as Clockwise and a payroll system that have to share data, you need data synchronization.


There are two main IT approaches to data synchronization: integration and interface. Clockwise provides a file-based, bi-directional interface, not integration, with external software like your payroll or HR system.


When I use the term "interface" I am referring to an asynchronous data bridge between two applications as described in these various sources:

https://www.lbisoftware.com/blog/hr-system-integration/

https://www.isb-global.com/interface-versus-integration/

https://www.cu.net/industrial/blog/integration-interface-interoperability


Clockwise is a stand-alone software application that is not integrated with any external software. This means that Clockwise's file-based interface:

1. Does not provide real-time integrated data synchronization and does not access external databases directly.

2. Provides partial automation of the data synchronization via its interface

3. Does not have any code or software development dependencies on external applications


Clockwise has its reasons for this approach, as you will see below. But first we need to talk about why integration may seem attractive to some but interfaces are the way to go for most.


For many, interface is the better option


Integrated systems have some distinct advantages over file-based interfaces. An integration requires no data bridge, less manual effort to operate, and can be set up to synchronize data in more or less real time. This is great for two systems that exchange high-volume, more or less routine data frequently (e.g. transactions that happen many times per day.)


In fact, Clockwise is integrated directly with its Genus II time clocks for exactly those reasons. Employee punches are exactly the kind of frequent, uniform, and routine data that benefits from an integrated, real-time type of data synchronization.


But, for most of our customers’ payroll and timekeeping operations, our file-based interface is the better choice for several reasons:


1. The benefits of real-time data synchronization are diminished when data is updated infrequently, such as once or twice per payroll period. In those cases, a quick file-based import/works just fine.

2. A file-based interface is less expensive to maintain because changes require less code.

3. It provides an inexpensive means for small to mid-size businesses to more quickly leverage different "best in breed" applications rather than having to purchase all from one company (e.g. ERP systems)

4. An interface is more secure because it does not share code between applications. A large part of the cybersecurity strategy for Clockwise is continued isolation from coupled external application code.

5. Integration works well for synchronizing uniform, predictable data which does not need much human verification and correction. A file-based interface allows operations personnel to verify the contents of the imports and exports before synchronization

.

It is the case that some larger organizations would do better with the kind of integrated data synchronization found with larger, more complex ERP systems. But usually those are customers who have grown to the point that the efficiencies of automated data synchronization make the larger investment and sustaining costs of ERP systems worthwhile.


This file-based interface described above works well for our hundreds of customers. If your organization doesn’t deal with employee status changes every day and runs payroll once or twice per month, integration might be a bit of overkill. A data interface offers flexibility and security at a lower cost than an integrated connection

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