The March on the Enterprise Continues: oDesk Advances

September has been a notable month for online staffing platforms pivoting their focus beyond SMBs and toward enterprise users of contingent workforce. MBO Partners and Work Market announced a partnership to meet enterprise needs for more efficient and compliant engagement of on-site contract workers and consultants – something they are calling Managed Contractor Cloud. Shortly thereafter came Elance’s announcement of its enterprise offering, Private Talent Cloud, which it says it has been developing and piloting for more than 18 months. OnForce also came onto the scene a few weeks ago with its Workforce-as-a-Service platform-based solution/service offerings targeted at enterprises.

Late last week, oDesk announced its entry into the field: an offering, targeted at enterprises, called Private Workplace.

Back in April, I covered another enterprise offering by oDesk. However, that was less of a new product or service offering announcement, rather more of a progress report about how oDesk had begun organizing its resources to better serve enterprise clients. At that time, I wrote:

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According to my recent discussion with Paul Sibley, Director of Enterprise Sales, oDesk is introducing two tiers of service offerings designed for enterprises (businesses that use these enhanced tiers of service will pay additional fees for the additional services delivered). According to Sibley, the lower tier is being termed an “unmanaged enterprise service,” and it consists of some special platform features and tools (i.e., comprehensive enterprise billing) and best practices/advisory content (online) to support the development, scaling, and management of online/virtual work resources via the oDesk platform. The upper tier, termed a “managed service,” will actually entail oDesk personnel developing, scaling, and managing the online/virtual work resources sourced and executing work through the oDesk platform. In upper tier, part of the workforce management function is being outsourced to ODesk, which in effect acts as a kind of “managed services provider.”

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oDesk’s Private Workplace offers businesses these benefits:

  • A private online workplace, in which freelancers are brought together in the cloud
  • An at-a-glance picture of the company’s team, so that management can rapidly identify available skills and effectively tap into their talent
  • Robust reporting on staffing utilization, costs and activities for their contingent team (by individuals and overall)
  • Eliminated paperwork in order to act faster and be responsive to project needs
  • More accurate billing leading to lower staffing costs

This recent move seems to suggest that oDesk is going to be adapting to real enterprise requirements (not just those of small businesses). It also marks another data point in what seems to be an emerging trend of more and more online work-arrangement platform providers reading signals that it is time to make more serious efforts to address and start to penetrate the vast enterprise market segment (now serviced by more traditional supply chain models, including MSP solutions and VMS systems, neither of which are geared toward supporting virtual, remote contingent workers, supplied as on demand or variable talent-as-service). Many large businesses are strapped to engage a sufficient capacity of talent to fill high-skilled, knowledge worker roles (many of which can be handled by virtual, remote contingent workers).

Contingent workforce management procurement programs in large businesses have been very focused in recent years on mastering the contingent workforce supply chain (managing suppliers with VMS and MSP) to control spend and drive efficiency, but it may be that, as critical talent shortages grow more severe, line organizations may begin pressing for new efficient standardized solutions that can broaden access to and management of a more extended workforce to fill talent gaps.

The SIA 2013 Buyer Survey found that Familiarity with online staffing among CW managers has increased since 2012. In 2012, 32 percent of respondents indicated they were familiar with online staffing services, compared with 41 percent this year, effectively, more than 30 percent increase in awareness in one year.

Clearly something is going on in 2013 as we return to economic growth and talent shortages intensify. It appears contingent workforce buyers are for one reason or another becoming more aware of online platform alternatives, while more providers of those alternatives are starting to engage with larger enterprises. All of these developments will be very interesting to watch as we move into 2014. What larger enterprises will open up to more adoption of online work platforms, and what offerings will distinguish themselves — how and in what business areas?

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