Platforms that manage work and workers are proliferating
By Andrew Karpie
There’s no doubt — online staffing platforms have arrived in full force (and more are showing up over time). On the face of it, they may appear alike, but they are really emerging in diﬀerent forms.
Take oDesk, a leader among the global online work platforms that was founded in 2006. It reports a phenomenally steep growth curve of contractor hours worked (and billed) via the platform in the past few years, with well over 8 million hours worked during the second quarter of 2012, up from just over 1 million hours worked during the second quarter of 2009.
Organic growth of this sort on such a scale and across a vast global geography would be unthinkable for a traditional staffing ﬁrm. But oDesk has done this with a kind of “platform in the cloud” that efficiently brings together all the elements needed to get the work done.
Our research has found that there are now at least 50 diﬀerent platforms that support diﬀerent kinds of “contingent” work or “freelance” activities of speciﬁc identiﬁable individual workers (so not counting the rapidly growing numbers of “crowdsourcing” platforms). Those contractor/freelancer platforms bring buyers and workers together in speciﬁc contingent work arrangements and facilitate the accomplishment of and payment for the work completed.
Many of these platforms are similar in basic ways, while varying with diﬀerent breadth of capabilities and scope/depth of talent oﬀered. Most are focused on work that can be performed remotely or virtually. However, we are seeing considerable diversity and innovation among these ﬁrms, some in ways that cross over into the traditional staffing agency business.
One of these ﬁrms is a company called Key Administrative Associates (KAA): a provider of “on demand virtual administrative support and medical billing." Most of the work assignments performed by KAA contractors are performed remotely by workers who are all U.S.-based and are required to have certain qualifications specified by KAA. Launched in 2008, KAA has chosen to focus specifically on segments of work that can be performed remotely, and it has begun to service those specific market segments with "basic technology support," but without developing a sophisticated, self-service technology platform (at least, not yet).
An even more recent entrant to this workforce platform (online staffing) space is Staff.com. It has just recently launched a beta version of its platform that sources talent globally to perform remote work. But Staff.com’s business model turns away from sporadic contractor assignments or projects. According to Liam Martin, one of the company’s founders, Staff .com brings a different twist: “Our main mission is to connect great remote employees with great employers. Most 'outsourcing' websites concentrate on contract work i.e. getting a website built, but on Staff.com we concentrate on long term remote working relationships i.e. getting a web designer," Martin explains. “We provide a platform where top quality workers can get long-term committed employers. Employers must apply to get into Staﬀ.com, as most of our workers are long-term contractors that lower their rates in exchange for top-quality jobs.”
So what’s the buzz here? Firms are looking at and experimenting with ways to slice up the staffing market into diﬀerent segments of work and worker sources, supported in diﬀerent ways, using diﬀerent technologies, etc. Clearly the world of work is changing, and some ﬁrms are taking the initiatives and risks to try to proﬁt from those changes.
Andrew Karpie is a research analyst at Staffing Industry Analysts. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.