What is HR import?
  • 05 Jul 2023
  • 6 minutes to read

What is HR import?

Article summary

Enterprise HR systems store and maintain critical information about the people keeping enterprises running. These systems are updated daily as people join the enterprise, change positions, reorganise, leave and return - to name a few of the very large number of key data elements typically collected and tracked.

All people working in an enterprise need training and development regularly, and most of the training and development they need is directly related to information maintained in the enterprise HR system. The way data is stored in an enterprise's HR system depends greatly on both the enterprise HR system being used and the way the system has been configured for the enterprise.

HR import allows the people, position and organisation data in Totara to be regularly and automatically updated with all of the relevant data delivered from enterprise HR systems. HR import is a one-way synchronisation process (from the enterprise HR system to Totara) supporting two types of data exchange:

  • CSV file
  • External database connection

CSV files can be uploaded into Totara, and HR import can then be run on an ad hoc or manual basis. A detailed, searchable and filterable report log provides a record of all previous imports.

Using HR import

The general process for using HR import is outlined in the diagram below.

A diagram showing the process for setting up and running HR import.

If you want to use HR import by uploading a CSV file then you will need to follow these basic steps: 

  1. Configure the default settings.
  2. Configure the element
  3. Configure the source.
  4. Create the file.
  5. Upload the file. 
  6. Run HR import.
  7. Check the HR import logs. 

You can find more detail on each of these steps within this documentation (see Next steps at the end of this page). 

Note that job assignments cannot be updated using HR import unless the setting is enabled for each job assignment. Check that the HR import box is ticked when creating or editing a job assignment on a user's profile page.

Benefits of using HR import

HR import keeps Totara up to date with enterprise HR system data, without the need to manually enter, update and delete data. By adding the latest organisation, position, competency, user, and job assignment data, Totara can reflect an organisation's structure and store current information about users and managers, and the learning they should undertake.

When HR import is used in combination with Totara's audience management functionality, Totara can dynamically provide learners access to targeted learning content, based on the latest HR information.


Audiences can be defined based on rules, where membership (and learning and performance activities assigned to audience members) can be updated regularly. Audience rules can consist of any HR data field found in Totara (i.e. organisation, position, and user data). Audience rules (e.g. 'Organisation name is Corporate Finance') can be combined into rule sets (e.g. 'Organisation name is Corporate Finance AND Position ID is 988 AND User Start Date is less than 12 months ago AND Employment Status is Full-time AND Employee ID is not ADV994'). When Totara has up-to-date HR data (via HR import), audiences will keep membership and assigned learning consistent with the current status of every person in the enterprise.

See the audiences documentation for more information.

Report builder

The report builder allows reports to be created and configured to control which columns of data and filters are shown in a given report, as well as which records are shown to a user viewing the report. Similar to audience rules, a report's columns can comprise any HR data field found in Totara (i.e. organisation, position, and user data). For example, reports can include columns such as User Department, User City, User Country, User Organisation, User Position, User Manager Name, and User Manager ID.

A report's filters can also leverage all of these HR data fields, as well as the hierarchical relationships in the HR data. For example, a report viewer can filter a report by organisational hierarchies. Report builder can also leverage hierarchical data to only show records to report viewers based on their relationship to other users (e.g. direct reports, in the same area of the organisational hierarchy, etc.). When HR import runs daily, every report's available records, columns, and filters are up to date with the latest HR data.

See the reports documentation for more information.


The elements that can be imported via HR import include:

  • Job assignments
  • Organisations
  • Positions
  • Users
  • Competencies


With HR import, sources are where the data is coming from, i.e. a CSV file or an external database. These can be configured individually for each element you have enabled. 

HR import? option

Once HR import is enabled for an element, there will be an HR Import? option that will appear in the settings when creating a new instance of the corresponding enabled element, for example when adding an organisation to an organisational hierarchy or adding or updating a user account.

Selecting the HR Import? option when creating a new job assignment, organisation, position, user or competency enables it to be updated or deleted via HR Import. 

As well as having the HR Import? option enabled, the idnumber field for the new job assignment, organisation, position, competency or user must have a value to enable it to be updated via the HR import.

The HR Import? field can be manually ticked on a user-by-user basis (providing the user record has an ID number field) when editing a user's account. You can also change the HR Import? field for user import by bulk user action (using the toggle HR import option). It is not possible to bulk change the job assignment HR Import? setting.

Circular management job assignment loops

Circular management loops can occur when a manager reports to themselves. This can occur when users are imported that have a manager assigned to them, that they are the manager of further down the management hierarchy.

For example, User A has User B as their manager, User B has User C as their manager, User C has User A as their manager.  It is also possible with multiple job assignments to have a loop as follows. If you have two users, A and B, each with two job assignments, 1 and 2, then you are allowed to have A1 > B1 > A2 > B2, but you couldn't then add > A1 at the end. This can lead to unexpected behaviour for management approvals and management reporting, so needs to be prevented.

If circular management is found when importing a manager with HR import then none of the users forming the circular reference will have their manager assigned, with a notice explaining why.

To import the users identified as having a circular reference, the records of the import file will need to be adjusted so the circular reference no longer exists. In the example above, User C will need to have their manager changed from User A.

HR import logs

After running HR import you may want to check how it went, especially if there were any errors. You can see logs for your HR import runs by going to Quick-access menu > HR Import > HR Import Log as a Site Administrator. 


You can then filter the logs to show only the specific content you are looking for. For example, you may want to use filters to look for a run that took place on a specific date, or a specific log type (e.g. error, warning, info).

Clearing records

Once you have been using the HR import system for a while and have run it multiple times, you may start to get a build-up of old records you no longer require. You can clear records by scrolling to the bottom of the HR import log page and using either the Clear all records button or the Clear all except latest records button. If you choose to Clear all expect latest records this will keep the records from your last HR import run only. 

Next steps

The Totara Academy has a whole course dedicated to Creating users in Totara. Here you can learn more on how to add users, manage their data, see best practice, and give it a go yourself.

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