HRMS vs HRIS vs HCM: what’s the difference?

The short and practical answer is: no. Not least because so many vendors and software developers use them interchangeably. However, there are differences, so let’s explore a little further. First, what do these three acronyms stand for?

  • HRMS (Human Resource Management System)
  • HRIS (Human Resource Information System)
  • HCM (Human Capital Management)

We can immediately see that HRMS and HRIS both refer to software systems (the ‘S’ in both stands for “system”) whereas HCM refers to a discipline or field. In fact, HCM is arguably pretty much a synonym for “Human Resources”, just a somewhat fancier sounding alternate term. Though, as mentioned above, you will find vendors touting their “HCM software” in much the same way that an HRMS or HRIS might be referred to generically as “HR software”.


As to the two “systems”, you might imagine that differences might be found in the functions contained in the systems that these three labels represent, and certainly a bit of googling will reveal various viewpoints.

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However, while most agree that the following functions and modules might be included – recruitment, benefits management, absence management, time and attendance, compensation, payroll, learning, self-service, reporting/analytics, onboarding, performance management, succession planning, analytics – there is little to no agreement at all on which function might be included under which acronym.

HRMS is often a very broad umbrella, having been used to describe anything from a fairly simple spreadsheet replacement database right up to the latest all-singing, all-dancing, fully-integrated systems of today. In principle, a modern HRMS can potentially incorporate any and every kind of HR-related software application.

Historical differences ...contemporary similarities?

One difference in how we define an HRIS used to lie in the type  of data being stored. In the past, an HRIS would hold more static information (names, addresses, social security numbers, payroll figures) as opposed to some of the more ‘dynamic’ data associated with an HRMS, such as time off days, performance management information, and so on.

Really though, these are historical differences; not least because HRIS predates HRMS and as the range of IT solutions has expanded, so HRMS is often taken to indicate greater functionality. But in reality, the two are virtually the same.

And that’s the bottom line to the acronym question: regardless of traditional or historical distinctions between the three, if common usage sees them as interchangeable then for all practical purposes, they are.

The key is not to get too hung up on this area of HR jargon – if you’re in the market for some new HR technology, focus on clearly articulating your requirements and seek out vendors whose systems can meet them. Don’t worry too much about the label on the packaging, it’s what’s in the box that counts!

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Dave Foxall

About the author…

Dave has worked as HR Manager for the Ministry of Justice for a number of years, he now writes on a broad range of topics including jazz music, and, of course, the HRMS software market.

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Dave Foxall

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