Tech success: Now hiring

Avue helps INS use Web to fill job vacancies

IT solutions in action

Project: Web-based human resources system

Agency: Immigration and Naturalization Service

Partner: Avue Technologies Corp., Tacoma, Wash.

Goal

Improve the INS' hiring process and stem the loss of the agency's human resources staff with a tool that allows personnel to move beyond paper-pushing tasks to advising program managers on staffing issues.

Obstacle

The INS needed to comply with the Office of Management and Budget's spending freeze on new information technology systems for agencies slated to join the Department of Homeland Security.

Solution

INS officials chose Avue's fully hosted service, which did not require the purchase or maintenance of any hardware or software.

Payoff

Retention of human resources staff has improved, up to a month has been cut out of the hiring process and an average of 350 applications are received per position.

From left, George Bohlinger, executive associate commissioner for management, INS; Jim Miller and Linda Rix, co-CEOs of Avue; and Rick Hastings, assistant commissioner for HR management, INS.

Olivier Douliery

The Immigration and Naturalization Service human resources operation was struggling with poor service and staff defections when the agency in July turned to a Web-based HR service provided by Avue Technologies Corp. of Tacoma, Wash.

Since purchasing Avue's service, the INS has cut up to a month from its hiring process, and HR personnel now have more time to advise program managers on hiring and job performance issues, rather than focusing on paper-based processes, said Rick Hastings, INS assistant commissioner for HR management.

As a result, "I will be able to do more with less," he said.

Program managers and HR staff members at 35 agencies use Avue. They need only a Web browser and Internet access to use the service at their desks or on their laptops.

"It's fabulous. It's almost a paperless process," Hastings said.

The INS job Web site, powered by Avue, was up two days after contract award in July. Within 30 days, every agency human resources operation was using it, said Linda Rix, founder and co-chief executive officer of Avue.

The company focuses solely on the federal marketplace. Unlike other HR information technology offerings, this one doesn't need to be tweaked to meet agency needs, Hastings said.

Avue posts its clients' job openings on 775 Web sites free of charge, including sites of professional associations and special interest groups. Avue also posts on its site, www.avuecentral.com, all jobs from www.usajobs.com, the federal job portal.

Rix said the INS averages 350 applications per position with Avue. Previously, five to 25 applicants might respond to each opening, Hastings said. A wider applicant pool means better qualified candidates, he said.

Applicants can sign up for e-mail notification of new job listings, e-mail listings to friends and save their application online. They can also check their application status 24 hours a day, eliminating time-consuming calls to the agency hiring office.

Although Avue doesn't require a systems integrator to implement its solution or connect with back-office systems such as payroll -- its XML interface allows for that -- integrators can help agency employees plan for and get used to a different way of working.

The company has worked with Booz Allen Hamilton Inc. and Electronic Data Systems Corp. and a couple of other organizations where the integrator is "helping the agency understand adjustments to the business process," Rix said.

INS contracted for the Avue service last summer despite a freeze on IT spending for agencies joining the Department of Homeland Security. That's because the agency has purchased a 15-month service, not hardware or software, said George Bohlinger, INS executive associate commissioner for management.

And unlike a software product that gets upgraded annually, Avue adds new data to its service weekly, said Jim Miller, co-chief executive officer.

"It's a real-time system," Bohlinger said. "Applicants can find out at any moment where their application is. People putting an application out can find where their best responses are coming from."

Avue's occupational database covers every federal job, Rix said. With it, agency users can create a job listing in a few mouse clicks instead of a few hours or days. The service then generates a position description and an interview guide that matches the skills required for the job. When applications come in, complete with responses to a detailed questionnaire about the applicants' skills, the system assesses their qualifications and produces a referral list for the hiring manager within days of the job closing.

Because the evaluation process is electronic, it is consistent and defensible, Rix said.

"Using job boards such as Monster, somebody has got to evaluate that resume. You can have hundreds of people do that, and you can have extraordinarily inconsistent decisions. We have a single gateway," she said.

"Our job is to evaluate the applicants so only the top 3 percent to 4 percent make it through the process," Rix said. "Otherwise, it's like trying to take a sip through a fire hose."

The service also collects personnel data from recruitment through on-the-job performance.

"We can pick their best performing border patrol folks and be able to say this is what they look like as applicants," Rix said. "If INS wants to do more recruiting, these are the most effective sources and recruiting strategies."

Previously, INS used a collection of HR solutions, including specialized products, homegrown products and contractor support. INS had considered USA Staffing, the Office of Personnel Management's HR service, and Resumix Inc., Hastings said, but their solutions were labor intensive and didn't get the caliber of candidates the agency sought.

With Avue, agencies sign up for a five-year, unlimited use subscription with one base year and four option years. They pay an annual subscription fee, initiation fee and extranet annual fee, but no software license fees or maintenance fees, Miller said. Costs are based on the number of full-time agency employees. INS officials did not disclose their costs.

Miller said one agency ended all its HR contractor services after moving to Avue at a cost of $500,000 a year -- half what it had spent with a contractor. *

Staff Writer Gail Repsher Emery can be reached at gemery@postnewsweektech.com.

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