Ex-IT execs change online recruitment's face

Online IT recruiter Best People International (BPI) claims to be ahead of the hiring game with a number of initiatives that let job seekers communicate directly with its consultants in real time.

Using BPI Connect, a messaging and document-sharing feature based on Lotus Sametime, BPI has targeted curious surfers on its site with instant customer service.

"With BPI Connect, all our employees can become ‘receptionists' with a Web browser and login authority," said Tony Nash, founder and managing director of BPI.

Nash cited an example where BPI Connect helped the company net a valuable candidate from a large Australian telco, who was simply "browsing the site and became curious about the invitation to chat with us". He said the prospective job seeker clicked through to BPI's reception and was asked "How can we help you?"

"The guy said he didn't know, so the receptionist chatted with him, discovered he would be a valuable candidate and immediately notified one of our job consultants he was online. Still chatting to him, the receptionist was able to click him through to the consultant, who then lined him up for a job opportunity perfect for his experience."

"This is not a gimmick - we are using Sametime to conduct our business," Nash stressed.

And by using Sametime to conduct business, BPI has managed to attract more than 24,000 talented candidates - including 5000 overseas job seekers -since it started three years ago. Nash compared this to the days he worked at another IT recruitment company.

"We had only 8000 candidates built up over 10 years," he said.

Nash said he believes BPI Connect and other technology initiatives the company has developed gives it an edge over competitors. He said BPI has developed a recruitment package it calls Personnel Best, which "maps technology to the recruitment process".

"Where traditional database-driven recruitment business model promotes islands of knowledge, BPI has modelled Personnel Best around a tetrahedral structure, with management, business development, recruitment consultants and operational support all interconnected using the technology."

"Personnel Best allows us to work in a distributed environment, which is non-location specific. It also encourages knowledge sharing."

Nash said the next step for the company is adding the video and audio capabilities to BPI Connect that are already built into Sametime.

And over the next four to six weeks, the recruiter is also looking to add private logins for its contractors, giving them instant access to their consultants. Nash believes his company was able to deliver both Personnel Best and BPI Connect in record time on a shoestring budget - half a million dollars in development costs - because the company's principal executives all have solid IT backgrounds. Nash himself was a computer programmer before his 13 years at a previous recruitment agency.

For example, to develop BPI Connect, he said the company took three months to adapt the vanilla Sametime product using in-house expertise. The company used Java and HTML programmers as well as systems, Unix and Web performance specialists to adapt the product to its front-end.

However, he said other companies looking to emulate BPI's success with the product should take heed of the company's careful evaluation of the product from the end users point of view.

For example, to access the chat facilities on BPI's Web site, an Internet browser must be Java-enabled."We developed the applet as small as possible to allow the home browser acceptable speeds," said Antony Guarino, network administrator at BPI.

Additional considerations included "adding progress bars and status reports on the chat window to keep end users updated that something was shappening to keep them logged on," Guarino said.

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