As applications spike, the team behind the agency's volunteer onboarding technology is forging ahead into hybrid cloud and social engagement.
The Peace Corps just broke its 40-year record for applicants, and technology might have been a key enabler in connecting so many potential volunteers to the service.
In contrast to a broader story of painful federal hiring, the Peace Corps has streamlined and simplified its application process in the past few years.
On Oct. 14, the agency announced that it had received close to 23,000 applications in fiscal 2015, a 32 percent jump from the previous year and the highest number since 1975.
"What these application numbers tell us is that Americans today are as passionate about service as they have ever been," Peace Corps Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet said in a statement.
But those "passionate" Americans had to apply somewhere, and the team behind improving the Peace Corps' application technology might deserve some credit.
The firm Kenexa has supported the Peace Corps hiring process since 2010. IBM acquired the firm in 2012, and in July, Kenexa's Peace Corps contract was renewed.
On Oct. 15, the IBM team released the latest plans for improving the Peace Corps' Volunteer Delivery System: moving to a hybrid cloud infrastructure model, expanding the public-facing application to mobile devices and enabling social media engagement.
"Federal agencies are viewing cloud much more strategically than infrastructure alone," said Anne Altman, general manager of U.S. federal government business at IBM. "For the Peace Corps, it's about engaging an audience that wants to actively participate in the volunteer application process and is accustomed to using new tools for such interactions."
IBM officials did not claim direct credit for the Peace Corps' application spike but noted that it seemed reasonable that a smoother process encouraged more people to apply. The Peace Corps did not return requests for comment.
The new capabilities, which IBM officials said they started working on this quarter, should position the Peace Corps to continue its momentum in attracting applicants.
"In the future, they'll be able to engage volunteers not just on a desktop" but on mobile devices and social media, said George Cruser, IBM's vice president of federal cloud. The Peace Corps will even be able to connect new volunteers with one another.
To attract members of a generation who "always seems to have a smartphone in their hands," those capabilities will prove invaluable, he added.