Development of a specialized training application - HUD


Each year the U.S. Housing and Urban Development's Training Academy gathers thousands of training requests via paper forms. In previous years, the paper forms took months to sort and catalog, and the data was often incomplete or in need of revision. Final reports were not available until months later. Adapting the paper collection process into a web survey process with a powerful web-based reporting tool looked like a good solution. Raosoft InterForm was specialized in several areas to meet HUD's demanding needs.

The process of developing this web survey application started with a review of the current process. Raosoft, Inc. took two approaches to designing the application. For the first approach, reports from the previous year were the starting point. The second approach focused on the paper forms used historically. The previous reports were used to determine what data would need to be collected. Data has traditionally been collected via three paper forms. Each training course request consumed between one and three sheets of paper. With more than 2000 training needs requests per budget cycle, the amount of paperwork that had to be reviewed and re-typed into a database was enormous. An explanation of the Training Needs Assessment process is included at the end of this article.

Like most new software projects, design was an iterative process that involved many revisions during the development phase. Assumptions were made and revised as information became available. Design revisions at each step were based on daily conference calls between Raosoft and HUD administrators, communication via fax/email and on-site visits to HUD headquarters. Each working day, HUD was sent a new prototype of the HTA application to run on their desktop PC's. This program, rshost.exe, mimics a web server and allows the user to interact with the web form under development, in the same fashion as if it were live in the field.

InterForm extensions developed for HUD:

  • Priority Summary Table, which allows a review of records entered under an ID, by program area. The table can be constructed to show the output of any fields in the form. The priority field in the summary table has a write-in number field for changing priority numbers in the table.
  • SETDATA attribute that automated repetitive data entry.
  • UNIQUE attribute that allows the program to check the data entered into a field and verify that it does not duplicate any data already entered.
  • Report tool with two interfaces and four report formats. All reports are preformatted for printing. See the section below on Web Reports for more details.

Targeted Web-based Reports- including the Priority Summary table

  • Assistant Secretary Report - The primary goal of the Training Needs Assessment Survey is to produce this report, for approval by the Assistant Secretary.
  • Executive Summary - Developed to summarize total training costs across all departments into one page.
  • Training Location Report - Shows all training courses and the location that the training will be held in. This will help administrators combine similar courses into common locations.
  • Headquarters Assistant Secretary Report - Where the standard assistant secretary report shows data from only one department, this report allows comparison between departments and provides information about specific offices requesting the training.

SETDATA and UNIQUE attributes

  • SETDATA was added to simplify the entry of repetitive data. For a given office, much of the demographic data such as office location, contact names and phone numbers were identical for many courses requested. InterForm was modified to carry this "Write-in" type data across records.
  • UNIQUE was added so that users were required to enter a value that was not already in the database. For the Priority ranking question, users could only specify one first priority, second priority, and so on.

HUD use of standard InterForm features

  • Numerical Calculations shown on screen help the user verify accuracy of cost data they have entered.
  • Conditional Jump and Skip logic - throughout form. On average, respondents see only half of the questions in the form, depending on which Training Category they have selected.
  • If Then Show question - If respondents chose Leadership and Management Development Training as their Training Category, an additional question appears on the first cost data page.
  • Response Piping - To remind respondents of answers they gave on a previous page while continuing to enter data about that subject.
  • Password Protection - controls access to the form as well as organizing like data.
  • Pop-up help windows - give access to instructions where they are needed.
  • Save data and exit form - allows respondents to return later to continue entering data.

New features added to InterForm as a result of the experience working on the HTA application:

  • If Then Show Text- developed so that text will appear conditionally. This simplifies development and allows instructions to be more targeted.

Background: Training Needs Assessment

The goal of the Training Needs Survey is to guide budget planning and allocate resources for the next year's training needs. It is the responsibility of each HUD organization to provide HUD's Training Academy with a comprehensive list of training requests for headquarters approval.

Training needs are related to three budget categories, otherwise known as Training Categories. These are Program Technical Training, Leadership and Management training, and General Skills. Descriptions of these Training Categories appear in the form when you are asked to choose one of the three. All reports separate costs based on the Training Category.

The Training Needs data is collected primarily to generate the Assistant Secretary report. This report is submitted to Headquarters for approval and contains information about each course, including a cost breakdown between training fees, travel fees and required materials.

Needs requests are collected from hundreds of offices across the U.S. The HTA application was installed on HUD's intranet to allow agency-wide access. The form can be viewed at

The HTA report can be viewed here. Leave the Program Identifier and ID Code blank.

The Headquarters report can be viewed here. Enter the Program Identifier: HQEFGH and ID Code: HQFY3A for access. Note: this report contains NO DATA but shows the interface and tables.

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