For the September issue, CWS 30 features Jon Kesman, global category director, professional services and labor at Reed Elsevier, a world leading provider of professional information solutions in the science, medical, legal, risk and business sectors. The company's content enables customers to advance science, improve medical outcomes, enable better legal decisions, evaluate risk, forge business relationships and gain business insight. Reed Elsevier's contingent workforce currently comprises $60 million and 1,000 temporary workers across a range of skill sets from administrative and accounting to IT. The company has been steadily expanding their program -- branded as REflex Reed Elsevier Flexible Labor Exchange -- which is administered with the help of an MSP and VMS. One of the goals of Kesman's team is to expand REflex across all business divisions in the United States, before moving abroad. Read what his challenges are and his views on establishing close relationships with suppliers.
A: Reed Elsevier is a professional and business information provider. Our divisions' products range from providing information in the legal industry to medical and scientific publications to publishing magazines and putting on trade shows. We are a diverse, global business.
Q: Describe your company's contingent workforce program?
A: We rolled out our program in the U.S. four years ago, and we're right now in the midst of continuing to expand that across the divisions. Because we're so diverse, we're also pretty decentralized. So, part of our efforts are replicating some of the successes that we've had with the program to date. We are rolling our program across all of the divisions within the U.S. and then looking to expand that into the U.K. and the Netherlands next year. The main skill set that we deploy involves IT roles, such as developers, testers and project managers. These workers account for the highest volume of spend. We are also planning to incorporate independent contractors into the program as well.
Q: Do you use them right now?
A: We do use independent contractors today, yes.
Q: How long have you been in the contingent workforce space?
A: I have been in the space since about 1998, and to a certain extent even back to '94.
Q: So what do you think about the space when you first entered it and now?
A: The whole space has matured. When I first started there was still a lot of faxing of resumes and the staffing process was very manual. It's been very interesting to see the evolution of the processes and efficiencies. This space now is regarded as a strategic area of spend management from a procurement side. It's been interesting being able to put it under a program like an MSP and really manage it, delivering all the value that can come from it, from savings, efficiencies, risk mitigation -- all those things that weren't even on anyone's radar when I first got started in this area.
Q: What do you think is behind the evolution?
A: That's a good question. Part of it is really just the visibility that we're now able to provide around this whole extended workforce. And I think the momentum has just built over time where groups like HR and legal to an extent have seen that. Earlier, they may have only seen it on a segmented level. We're able to now present that visibility in a much more collective way, to show the total spend and some of the details behind the process. This gets a lot more buy-in from some of the other supporting functions within the company.
As has been evidenced by events such as the CWS Summit over the past several years, it's an area that many people are starting to pay attention to. It's one of those areas of services spend that has typically kind of been left alone, but it is an area that's proven to be relatively manageable and fairly easy to report on.
Q: What is your opinion of contingent workforce management as a profession, and would you recommend someone to enter it?
A: I think it's great. I would certainly recommend it as an area of opportunity. I can only speak from procurement side, but it is one of those areas of spend that is usually pretty significant within a company and it is an area that is challenging enough to really give people -- those who are up for a challenge -- the opportunity to really try to implement a program where a lack of structure may exist.
Plenty of tools, resources and people with the skill sets have developed over the last six to 10 years that can help push the area forward and gain ideas and utilize those in your own experience.
Q: What skills do you think you need to be a good contingent workforce manager?
A: I think some of the typical procurement skills are beneficial. So negotiation and supplier management and understanding the sourcing processes are probably core. But in terms of selling a program in the change management aspect, I really think it's important to be able to communicate well at the executive level, to be able to build and present business cases. You are often facing very resistant people, so you need to have that influential skill to be able to get people to understand why doing something around this is important.
Q: What do you like most about your job?
A: I really like the challenge, and the opportunity that's out there to make an impact. We're able to take some of the success that we've had over the past few years and use that as a foundation to present to the rest of the business how we can provide even greater return and benefit. My job is a nice mixture of challenges as well as successes along the way. That's what's keeping me going.
Q: Explain your past success.
A: Getting our current program to the point where it's at today, where we have significant compliance where we've rolled out. We've returned savings of 9 to 10 percent on the spend that we have going through the program.
Q: What don't you like about your job?
A: As much as I like the challenge, it's probably one of the things that I don't like as well. In some ways, some things seem so obvious in terms of their potential benefit, and there is also the risk component that you're working to mitigate. It may seem to be easy to make a business case or explain, but it's not really. It's really a struggle between someone's personal desires to use a particular supplier or resistance to accepting a model that seems like it should be such an elementary thing to adopt. It's often difficult getting people to listen to procurement and some of the great things I think we can do.
Q: Outline something to me that helped you on the job.
A: Honestly, for me personally it's really been just the diversity of experience that I've picked up along the way. I've been on the consulting side doing supply chain consulting and sourcing, as well as procurement BPO. I think I draw on that experience quite often, where I'm able to put on my consultant hat and look at it from one angle and figure out how to influence and sell some things like a consultant would. But it also helps being able to put on the practitioner's hat and understand from that perspective why there is some resistance to doing things a certain way.
Q: Any challenges you've faced in the last couple of years if you would like to talk about?
A: Expanding the influence of procurement as a function within the organization. It's difficult to have the voice that you want to have -- that has been a challenge. Where it's a new organization or a restructured organization, there's a huge element of change management involved in trying to get people to acknowledge and understand what you can do as a procurement organization. At the same time, we're expected to deliver significant results. It's a struggle between having something you have to do, but no one's listening to you to allow you to do that.
Q: What advice would you give to other contingent workforce managers trying to do this?
A: I think developing strong relationships with your key account managers is beneficial. I've been lucky in being able to rely on some of our supplier partnerships. And those could involve staffing companies, MSPs as well as technology providers. Those are the folks who are out there and are able to understand the market broadly. On the one hand many people say not to get too close to your suppliers. But I found it to be very helpful to develop those relationships, to lean on those folks who are there to help you. Obviously, you need to keep the lines drawn in terms of how much you can lean on them, but I would say something that's really been helpful in my career is utilizing the people in those roles that are there to help you.
Q: You touched on developing a relationship with your suppliers, despite opinions to the contrary. Why is there this dysfunctional ecosystem around staffing?
A: That's a good question. I think a lot of it is really just an ingrained procurement methodology that says you have to beat your suppliers up. You can't get too close to them; you have to rebid the work every so often. From a traditional procurement perspective, that won't change. But as it relates to areas of spend like staffing or services in general, it is different, because it isn't nuts and bolts that you're buying, and there is a differentiation of service delivery that suppliers can provide. I think that that difference needs to be acknowledged.
To make a program successful, there can't be an adversarial relationship among any of those parties. You need to develop good relationships, because there's continuity that can be gained by having a long-term relationship with your MSP provider, for example, as opposed to just saying, well you guys won the deal and you're going to be safe for maybe two years, but then we're going to go out to bid again. And again, that's the traditional procurement mentality of making sure you're bidding, but you really have to ask yourself what the objectives of doing that are? Is it to make sure you've got the provider that's delivering the quality and the value and all those things that you need? Or are there other ways to determine that?
Having networking relationships with peers within the same kind of roles and tools that you can gain through firms like Staffing Industry Analysts, really can enable you to do a lot of those checks and balances. That is often more effective than having to go out to a bid and making the supplier relationships more adversarial, letting them know that they're just a supplier, you're not a partner.
Q: And what can contingent workforce managers do to change that?
A: I think you really just need to embrace the providers that you choose. You chose them for a reason, and you can learn to leverage the relationships that in most cases those providers want to provide. People need to take a step back from that mentality -- you're just a supplier to me, not a partner. It's a tough mindset to break away from if that's all you've known, but I think it is a key to making a program more successful.