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OnForce, the online service that matches solution providers with technicians for temporary work, on Sept. 22 will launch a new, improved version of its Web site that the company vows will make the matchmaking process much easier.

The improvements come at a time when activity at the OnForce Web service is on the rise, presumably as a result of the slumping economy. As budgets tighten, it becomes more common to rely on contract workers, as opposed to staffing up.

With OnForce’s Version 5.0, solution providers seeking contract technicians gain the ability to send out RFPs (requests for proposal) and to get more specific in their searches. In addition, says Paul Nadjarian, OnForce senior vice president of marketing and product management, the user experience has been vastly improved.

"In the past 90 days, we’ve spent a tremendous amount of time talking with the community," Nadjarian says. "By community, I mean OnForce members and members of the channel who are not OnForce members."

Click here to read about how OnForce and the Computing Technology Industry Association are collaborating on programs to bring training and certification opportunities to IT technicians.

The feedback from all that talking, according to Nadjarian, came down to this: People liked the OnForce service but found it a bit cumbersome. Starting a search for a technician was more difficult than it needed to be.

It used to be that solution providers seeking contract technicians had to deposit money into an OnForce account to pay the technician before starting the search. In addition, the buyer had to name a price in advance.

"Those hurdles were significant," says Nadjarian.

The ability to send out RFPs changes the process. Now the buyer logs on, enters the relevant information in dropdown boxes, pings a number of potential contractors and waits for a response.

"The average response time is between 10 and 15 minutes," Nadjarian says, pointing out that the same process by phone would take far longer.

The contractors get a chance to ask questions about the project and name their price, after which the buyer makes a decision on whom to hire. Then the money goes into the account, to be paid after the project has been completed successfully, says Nadjarian.

To ensure quality, OnForce uses a feedback system modeled on eBay’s. As a result of the feedback, each contract technician gets a rating based on a complex algorithm that takes into account such factors as skills, history and how much work the contractor has done for the buyer in the past.

With the new ability for contractors to name their price, the question emerges as to whether the temptation will be too great for buyers to go with the lowest bid.

"The feedback we got was that lowest isn’t best," Nadjarian says. "They made it clear to us that it’s not all about price. It’s about quality and price."

Founded in 2003, OnForce has seen its membership grow to 5,000 buyers and more than 40,000 contractors, though the number of active contractors is closer to 13,000.

Nadjarian says the number of buyers increased 30 percent from the first to the second quarter of 2008, and the number of contract technicians went up 35 percent in the same period. This is an acceleration from previous quarters, he says, and attributes it to the slowing economy.

It makes sense, he says, because when the economy slows down, buyers and contractors are looking for efficiency. Contractors want to fill open time slots and buyers would rather go with temporary help for projects for which using staff might prove more costly.