Client Sets Up XML Background Checks

I know that Tazworks is frequently posed with the question, “How difficult is it to create your own means of posting an XML backgound check application to InstaScreen?”  Since Alliance 2020 has successfully accomplished this task, I have been asked to provide some insight for other users. 

Let me say upfront that the ability of InstaScreen to integrate custom background check solutions is one of the very most exciting features about the system.  Don’t like the entry screens?  Make your own!  Need to provide a custom background check form for one client or a thousand?  You can do it!  Don’t like the fact that InstaScreen does not support your funky browser of the month?  Build your own interface!

InstaScreen was designed with a flexible background check XML gateway that users can harness if they so desire.  Before you write me off, let me say that I am more like you and the typical screening firm employee than a developer.

  • I knew nothing of the technical aspects of the XML gateway or of XML itself (I know more now, but not much)
  • I am not a programmer, but I did learn basic in the 1980s and have had computers most of my adult life
  • I have a bit better than average knowledge of IT issues
  • My IQ is at least a two digit number
  • I have a basic understanding of HTML and web sites and how e-commerce works

In short I am not a tech whiz kid.  But I was able to self-commission myself to create a custom online rental application for tenant screening to meet the needs of our customers and provide “maximum flexibility” on a customer-by-customer basis.  And for the most part, the backgound check project was a success.

Let me say upfront that I have plenty of discretion and access to a limited amount of company funds.  I take my use of discretion seriously, and use it liberally, and I don’t typically use it for leaving early on Friday or sleeping in.  I am at the office early in the morning, and work most weekends.  If the more “pleasant” side of being able to manage your time for pleasure is how you use your discretion, you probably have no business seeking a romantic affair with InstaScreen’s backgound check XML gateway.  While she’s a temptress and oh, so attractive, she’s also an unforgiving mistress with high-maintenance expectations.

The basic logic of my project was simple.  I wanted to be able to deploy a secure web form that an applicant could fill out and submit to InstaScreen that would supplant the “paper” application.  The form had to gather all of the information needed or wanted by the landlord/property manager, be secure, transmit the data InstaScreen needed for the background check transaction to be successful and the entire “system” had to provide the right information regarding successes and failures of the submission to each relevant party.  Here is a flow diagram of the process.

XML Background Check

To accomplish the project I used the following resources.

  • The InstaScreen XML example guide produced by Tazworks
  • My own knowledge and imagination to design the form and workflow
  • A freelance programmer
  • Tazworks technical staff (who are still outwardly friendly to me despite this undertaking)

Division of Work

There is a lot to do for even a small project like this one.  Ideally, one person could do it all.  My situation is less than ideal, so I divided up the work.

  • I did all of the ladder and flow logic for the project.  In reality, that had to be done twice because of idiots (you know, “applicants”).
  • I wrote all of the specifications, work orders and change orders.  My experience in electrical engineering helped me grasp the importance of this step.  My advice is that you don’t really know what you want until you can write it down on paper.  The less left to the imagination, the less expensive the result and the higher the likelihood you will get what you want.
  • An outside programmer did the custom scripting required (using PHP and Javascript) to bind the XML and submit it to InstaScreen
  • A mock up of the applicant-side form was developed by me and provided to the programmer.
  • Initial testing was handled by the programmer.

Expectations vs. Reality

Things rarely work out as expected or envisioned.  This project underscores that fact.

  • Time Frame — I had no expectations for the time frame for completion, although deep in my evil heart I was sure that one or two evenings and a weekend would suffice.  The reality is that the project took over six months to complete.  The owner of Alliance 2020 told me more than once to abandon the project.
  • Cost — My discretion allowed me to undertake the project without serious thought to cost considerations.  My time, you see is free(?)  The $3000 hardcost (which initially included funding for a week’s vacation) was more than doubled in the end.  I have no ideas the total number of hours I invested, but for the six month duration I spent most of my “spare time” focused on this project.
  • The Perfect Concept — I thought that I had all of the bases covered with respect to design and issues.  Not true.  Ignorance, it seems, is not bliss.  Time and cost were both dramatically (and negatively) affected by unforeseen issues.

Some Additional Considerations

If you do your own application and it breaks (and it will when browsers, code engines, and other variables change) you are responsible.  While Tazworks will be sympathetic, you will need to find your own shoulder to cry on with respect to technical “issues.”

You will need to maintain a server and deal with security issues that you probably are currently unaware even exist.

Your finished background check project may not work, may be unusable, or may not scale to meet your needs.  Incorrect assumptions, faulty design or insurmountable programming barriers may result in your project haunting the codeweaver’s graveyard rather than functioning efficiently to bring home the bacon and put you at the head of the pack.  There are unrecounted projects in this statement, but be assured:  I will never tell.  But I have been there.  And I am probably going back — but not willingly.

“It is impossible to design a system that fully overcomes the ingenuity of compete idiots.”  I close with this statement.

Note: this is a guest post by Bill Whitman of Alliance 2020. In this post, Bill offers valuable insight into integrating your own background screening solution to TazWorks’ background check software.