The Talent Scout Episode 34: Do you need an ATS or a HRIS?
3 minutes | Posted 19 October, 2020

Do you need an Applicant Tracking System or a Human Resources Information System? It’s a very fair question and before we dive into it I’d just like to say that I’ll be using ATS and Applicant Tracking System interchangeably and I’ll do the same for HRIS and Human Resources Information System.


We’ve talked a lot about Applicant Tracking Systems on this podcast, at their core they are an effective piece of technology used to streamline and improve your recruitment efforts by storing your candidates all in one place and allowing you to easily manage those candidates throughout a campaign. But what is an HRIS? An HRIS is a tool that combines multiple HR functions, streams, and systems into one place to ensure the easy management of human resources, business processes, and data.

Often an HRIS will allow you to keep tabs on employee information, carry out payroll, and also act as an applicant tracking system all in one go. Sounds pretty impressive right? I’m sure your gut reaction is why pay for both an ATS and an HRIS when you can have both covered by the right HRIS.

If you can find that HRIS that does everything you need it to, does it well, and most importantly is affordable then I don’t think there’s an argument I can make that might dissuade you from purchasing it. However as the former employee of an organization that spent two years attempting to implement a pricey HRIS that was going to cover payroll, employee data, pension information, and recruitment – I know first hand how often HRIS tools and software are sold by salespeople who promise a phoenix and deliver a chicken. 

Think about size and scale

If you’re a large organization that has a significant headcount then yes, you likely do need a centralized HRIS to store that employee data. You would be surprised how important information around start dates and length of service can be, especially in a recession. But, that doesn’t mean you don’t necessarily need an Applicant Tracking System as well.

Many HRIS tools are sold as a full end to end solution which would include an Applicant Tracking System. Unfortunately, I’ve yet to see this being very true. The problem is, that most HRIS tools do one or two things exceptionally well and then have other functions, such as recruitment and payroll, chucked in as an afterthought and not given a whole lot of love.

These extras, which is often how they’re treated, are usually quite rigid and unable to mold effectively to most organizations. In a past organization, I worked with we had multiple payrolls that occurred on different dates based on different union agreements; it became quickly apparent that the HRIS we were attempting to implement would, at best, struggle to accommodate this unique aspect of our organization.

ATS and Employer Branding

As Employer Branding becomes more of a necessity and Recruitment starts to find itself being pulled from HR and shared between both HR and Marketing, the argument for possessing a highly versatile and separate Applicant Tracking System starts to become a bit more realized. One of the options we offer to our clients with our Applicant Tracking System is that we can integrate its onboarding function with a HRIS. This allows our clients to essentially get the best of both worlds. An excellent applicant tracking system that will fully meet your recruitment needs before successfully transferring the data of hired candidates directly into a centralized HRIS. 

Whether you need an ATS, a HRIS, or a combination of both ultimately comes down to your individual organization and where you plan to be. 

  • Are you a small to medium-sized organization that hires seasonal staff frequently? Well, you could probably use an ATS to manage that recruitment but if your headcount is relatively small and stable then a HRIS is likely a cost not worth paying. 
  • Are you a large organization that is planning on downsizing it’s headcount in the next financial year? A HRIS is going to be highly important for this task, an Applicant Tracking System less so. 
  • Are you a mid-sized organization planning on doubling your headcount in the next financial year? You probably need a combination of an ATS and a HRIS. One to help you rapidly increase your headcount and the other to keep track of all those new hires as they enter your organization. 

Using an ATS, a HRIS, or a combination of both is going to be a nuanced decision based on where your organization is now and where you’re aiming to be.

There aren’t really any wrong answers but there are certainly some choices that can make achieving your goals a lot harder than they need to be. As with everything tech-related, I would recommend reviewing your goals and the areas of improvement you’ll need to shore up in order to reach those goals.

As you review technology and solutions, try to keep those areas of improvement center in your mind and avoid being taken in by flawless end to end solutions. If such a thing existed, we’d all be using it. 

If you’d like to see how Scout Talent’s ATS can help you to achieve the recruitment success that you want, please feel free to reach out to us via email at or by phone at 1 866 474 3140