The US Army is using customer relationship management software in a pilot program to help it recruit for Uncle Sam.
The Salesforce.com application is being used in conjunction with the Army Experience Centre, a special facility that opened in a Philadelphia shopping mall last spring. It includes simulators, games and interactive career tools in a spacious environment that's a far cry from the drab federal offices where recruiters and prospects once met.
This new interactive and casual approach to recruiting is also changing the military's use of IT through the adoption of software-as-a-service.
"This is a new model for the government to be using SaaS in this way," says US Army major Larry Dillard, who is heading this aspect of the programme. Dillard says SaaS also has potential in other areas for the military.
The Army, in this pilot, is trying hard not to be aggressive in its recruiting effort, Dillard says, and is focusing on offering people a place to learn about the Army and coupling that with effective marketing. "Our hypothesis is that the Army is a great opportunity for a lot of people," he says.
The Army is hoping that the Salesforce.com application will help recruiters work more efficiently by focusing on prospects who are most likely to join the military. People at the centre can register and by doing so they enter some basic demographic and contact information. By knowing a person's age, education and whether the parents of the registering person have ever served in the military, recruiters begin to get an idea of a visitor's interest.
The Army worked with Acumen Solutions in Vienna, Virginia, a company that is involved in SaaS efforts in the federal government, to integrate SaaS to an IT system built around paper processes. One thing that Dillard likes about the SaaS approach is the ease of implementation.
"In about four months, we were able to take an off-the-shelf solution, configure it, and deploy and really had a very robust and very capable system for almost inconsequential cost and almost no time," he says.
The price of the implementation wasn't disclosed.
The federal government is moving slowly to SaaS . Of the US$83.4 billion (NZ$166 billion) the federal government is expected to spend this fiscal year on IT, about US$74 million will be spent on SaaS, a little more than double from last year, according to Input, a government market research firm in Virginia.
Lauren Jones, an Input analyst, says federal spending on SaaS is largely confined to low-level productivity collaboration tools such as email and word processing, and also for CRM. Although use of SaaS is expected to grow, it's forecast to remain a relatively small part of federal IT spending, but that could change depending on how the Obama administration approaches IT.
Dillard says no decision has been made on whether to extend the use of SaaS to other recruiting centers.
Some of the key obstacles to SaaS adoption by the federal government were management resistance and security. Security was an issue for the Army, which is limiting how it uses the SaaS approach. Personally identifiable information, such as Social Security numbers, isn't collected for this system, and if someone decides to move ahead and enlist, the process is handled outside the SaaS application.
The Army is also trying out social networking. A recruiter, for instance, may have a Facebook page, so prospects can learn more about the people already in the service. "What we are trying do is get young folks to interact with Army soldiers," Dillard says.