Coast Guard turns HR helm over to vendor

The Coast Guard has outsourced the operations of its human resources management system, a move the agency hopes will increase access to current information and enhance the system's security.

With its new role in the Homeland Security Department, the Coast Guard's mission is taking center stage, leaving less room for information technology troubles. Anticipating this change, the agency awarded Corio Inc. a contract in July to host its personnel program.

"Corio's going to pretty much run everything behind the scenes," said Dave Swatloski, chief of the Coast Guard's information resources management office.

The $6 million, seven-month contract, with four option years, will allow the Coast Guard to focus on what it does best. "Just running a very large system is a challenging proposition," said John Ottman, Corio's executive vice president. "Their business is protecting the coastlines, and that's where they want to focus."

The Coast Guard has reached the final stages of deploying a commercial software package from PeopleSoft Inc. — a major modernization effort launched about four years ago to integrate multiple personnel databases.

Even with a centralized system, agency officials realized they were running out of resources. So, they initiated a competitive bidding process and eventually asked Corio to come on board.

The company offered the best value to the Coast Guard, with the ability to meet its security requirements and expanded capacity needs, Swatloski said. "We had [disaster recovery] plans in place, but not the robust type we'd like to have," he said.

Corio, meanwhile, will maintain duplicate systems running at two data centers, handling security and intrusion detection down to the database level, Ottman said.

"Security and disaster recovery are major concerns for them, particularly with their role in homeland security," he said of the Coast Guard. "They were more comfortable having an expert come in."

The Coast Guard has taken a smart path, experts said. "The most successful organizations are those that truly identify their core missions" and acquire other functions as services, said Myra Shiplett, director of the Center for Human Resources Management.

The challenges ofrunning an effective system now belong to Corio.

"Maintaining a robust level of secur-ity will no doubt present the most critical challenge as it does with any system used to collect, store and provide access to confidential personnel data," said Rich D'Adamo, president of Workforce Solutions LLC.

But security isn't the only concern. The Coast Guard also is looking for around-the-clock service.

"We didn't have the resource level and staff to do 24/7 right now," Swatloski said. Under Corio's watch, the system will be Web-based and available to about 45,000 employees anyplace and anywhere, according to Ottman.

Automatic upgrades and updates are another benefit, Shiplett said, although the Coast Guard will keep any customization work in-house. For instance, it has added a capability that enables users to issue orders to military members and move them around.

"In general, the implementation of an automated system should free up agency resources that can be redirected to mission-oriented activities," D'Adamo said. "In the case of the Coast Guard, I would expect that the new system will enhance their ability to accomplish workforce planning goals, which includes recruiting and retaining a high-quality workforce."

That could mean hiring more employees, a possibility Corio is prepared to handle. "If their requirements surpass where they are today, there certainly would be no problem from our perspective to scale," Ottman said.

Flexibility is crucial as the Coast Guard heads into the Homeland Security Department, along with 21 other agencies.

"The need to build in the capability to share information across platforms with other prospective Department of Homeland Security agencies could also be quite demanding," D'Adamo said.

For now, the Coast Guard has Corio's full attention. The agency expects to transition its system to the company in March.

"To this point, they've been very helpful," Swatloski said.

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Setting sail

Under a new contract, Corio Inc. will host and operate the Coast Guard's human resources management system, which is based on a PeopleSoft Inc. application. The job includes:

* Beefing up security and disaster recovery.

* Making the system Web-based and available around the clock to about 45,000 employees.

The company is currently in the planning stages and a migration is expected in March.

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