Elance Moves Closer to the Enterprise with Private Talent Cloud (Continues to Define Itself as a Segment Innovator)

One of the leading online staffing companies, Elance, has announced the introduction of its Private Talent Cloud™ offering targeted to enterprises. This announcement comes right on the heels of the Elance announcement, last week, about its partnerships with Smarterer and Skilled-Up that will allow Elance to extend its platform as an online testing and training platform for freelancers. It also follows an earlier announcement, some weeks ago, about accelerating growth in its core platform transactions during 2013.

Not a lot of details have been released by Elance prior to the Private Talent Cloud announcement, but the company had commented that this initiative has been underway for some time (i.e. not just a few months) and represents a significant platform extension investment. The key components of the Private Talent Cloud service offering seem to be the ability for managers to organize, manage, and tap into their own company, departmental, or individual pool of curated online freelancers, more analytic transparency into the workforce management, and more enterprise-strength compliance and payment options.

According to Rich Pearson, Elance CMO, “Mid-sized and enterprise businesses that hire dozens of contractors can now take advantage of an integrated solution for freelancer hiring, management and payment. Businesses can bring their existing network of contractors into their own Private Talent Cloud. They can also build or add to their existing Talent Cloud by having a team at Elance recruit and vet new freelancers from our existing network of 3 million freelancers on Elance.com. For businesses that are looking to hire new freelancers, Elance now provides a service that provides hands-on assistance to recruit talent custom to a business' specifications, and HR and procurement teams now have complete visibility into freelance and contractor hiring and performance data, ensuring rate optimization and compliance.”

Prior to Private Talent Cloud -- whether it was a sole proprietor or a manager in a larger business who was hiring a freelance -- all Elance users on the labor-demand/buy-side used the same standard Elance process and interface to get the hiring job done. Now Private Talent Cloud users will have a special access portal to new capabilities for building and managing their own private curated talent pools, enterprise-strength functionality. With Private Talent Cloud, Elance appears to be taking a step forward in its penetration of more substantial enterprises (not just small businesses, which can often manage well enough with the standard Elance process and interface).

A year ago, one of the characteristics often cited about online staffing platforms was that they were only suitable for very small businesses. But since then, there has been a clear trend of some online staffing businesses that are designing/developing or ex post tuning their platform businesses to be better adapted to enterprise adoption and use. Online platforms like Work Market and OnForce, et al are clearly designed and squared-off to serve larger enterprises. oDesk provides professional services and support to assist enterprise clients to make better use of the freelance platform. Nesco and Field Nation also began a partnership to provide online staffing services to enterprise by leveraging the Field Nation platform. Even more significant, MBO Partners recently partnered with Work Market precisely to bring enterprise-strength online staffing solutions to the mid-to-large-sized businesses (combining the strengths of MBO’s IC compliance platform and Work Market’s online contractor marketplace platform).

Interestingly, many of the above mentioned examples of online staffing platforms targeted to enterprise use are actually online platforms that would arrange work between businesses and contingent workers who will perform work at the businesses locations (i.e., they have less to do with supporting remote, virtual workers/online freelancers). So another point of significance of the Elance development is that it is very much focused to further penetrating enterprises to support more work arrangements with remote/virtual/online workforce of freelancers (who not be on-premise and may even be in another country).

So Elance’s Private Talent Cloud may be the first substantial extension of a virtual work platform to enable services that promote more enterprise consumption of virtual/fractional talent-as-a-service. How this new channel for labor services will fit into the existing contingent workforce supply chain management landscape will remain to be seen — and that will probably depend upon the rate of enterprise adoption and change in the next year and beyond (a challenge for any enterprise solution provider).

With the Private Talent Cloud, and then the Smarterer/SkilledUp partnership, Elance is looking like it could carry off an Online Staffing Emmy (if there was one) for “Most Innovative Global Freelance Market Platform” in 2013. oDesk, the largest of the top three (in terms of spend on platform), continues to exhibit superior execution discipline as it continues to grow rapidly by focusing on and hewing to its established, core Global Freelance Market Platform model (serving freelancers across the globe working with small businesses in mainly developed economies). And Freelancer.com continues to digest its earlier platform acquisitions and signal its intentions to list on an Asia-Pac stock exchange (or perhaps be acquired by some larger staffing firm? … or not), suggesting that it may be focused on taking the classic route of a serial, industry-segment “consolidator.”

oDesk and Freelancer.com are doing business their way — and there is no faulting them on executing their own strategies. Elance, however, seems to be taking a different path — perhaps a riskier, but higher reward one — of successfully introducing another round of workforce arrangement intermediation innovation in to the global, growing and evolving contingent workforce market/ industry segment.

And now, ladies and gentlemen … The envelope please …

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