Gimme Shelter

Web app finds homes for military recruiters before they arrive

Personnel at 1,400 military recruiting centers sometimes live far from the nearest Army, Navy or Air Force base.

'It lets our recruiters be a part of the community where they are working,' said John Curry, leased housing program manager for the Navy Recruiting Command. But living off-base can make housing difficult to find.

In high-rent areas, the services absorb the extra cost of off-base housing through the Government Leased Housing program. About 450 recruiters with families and another 95 singles'about 10 percent of the Navy's recruiting force'have found housing through the program. Until 2002, it was a time-consuming paper process.

'At best, to get a sailor in a house took a month to three months,' Curry said.

Now a browser application has cut the delay by automating the application and approval process.
'A sailor can apply online, the application will go to all the appropriate links for funding and we can get it to the Corps of Engineers in hours. It's pretty slick,' Curry said.

The Army Corps of Engineers is the leasing agent for the Army and Air Force, and it handles leased housing transactions for all recruiting commands, including the Navy. The corps can have funding approval and a selection of homes ready for inspection by the time a recruiter arrives in town.

No training needed

The system required no recruiter training, said Todd Nevin, president of Momentum Systems Inc. of Arlington, Va., the developer. 'It creates a virtual community' of individual recruiters, their commands and the Corps of Engineers, he said. The corps hosts the application at its Vicksburg, Miss., data center, and Momentum manages it remotely.

The foundation is the LiveLink document management system from Open Text Corp. of Waterloo, Ontario. LiveLink has a browser front end with workflow management and records management at the back end. It can open and manage documents in most formats. When a housing application is submitted online, LiveLink routes it to the appropriate command for approval, then to the appropriate Corps of Engineers district for execution.

The corps began using LiveLink internally in 1998 to support the Joint Recruiting Facilities Committee, which oversees recruiting stations shared by the military services. It also tracked the paper applications for the leased housing program.

'We needed to manage the status of applications with something other than spreadsheets and stubby pencils,' said Darvin Smith, the corps' management oversight specialist in the Government Leased Housing program.

Saving time, money

In 2000 the corps began working on a front end for applying online. It went live in February 2002, cutting significantly the time recruiters and their families had to wait before moving into homes in high-rent areas.

About a year after going online, 'We started to automate the lease renewals and terminations, which saves us millions of dollars,' Curry said.

The Corps requires an entire year's lease money up front. When leases ended early, 'we were getting the money back at the end of the year,' Curry said. Now the accounts are managed day by day, and unused money comes back on a more timely basis. The system also tracks utility costs in near-real time.

'We were able to make business processes notify us if we were having problems' with utilities, Curry said.

The key to usability was collaboration by the military users, who understood the business needs, and the integrators, who understood the technology, Curry said.

'At the end of the day, we got what we needed,' he said. But for it to pay off, everyone must use the system, and money is the motivator.

'Every action is tied to money,' Curry said. From funding a lease to paying utility bills, 'if the information isn't in the system, the money doesn't flow. That enforces.'

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