Work Intermediation Platforms – Transformation Engines of the Modern Labor Procurement Supply Chain (Part I – Introduction)


For decades, procurement in general has had its share of transformational technology inflows (ERP, EDI, SCM, exchanges, etc.). Now the labor category within procurement is heading toward a significant transformation, driven by 21st century technology and a new emerging breed of “exchange-like” platforms. We are therefore presenting a series of 4 posts that will address this extraordinary set of developments in the fast growing – and comparatively young area of enterprise procurement ­– contingent workforce management (CWM).

WIPs Are in Your Future – You Can’t Run and Hide

A number of conditions at this time – the current generation of ICT (information and communications technology), the huge, widening supply gaps/”shortages” of important skilled workforce, the need for businesses to consume labor/talent in “smaller bites” in more dynamic ways (e.g., on-demand, as-a-crowd, etc.) and others key conditions – are making it almost certain that new digitally-based channels and means of sourcing and engaging talent/labor capabilities will increasingly emerge, come into play and form a critical part of contingent workforce management in the next several years – not 5 or 10 years from now.

FREE Research Report: How to Chose Procurement Technology That “Grows With You”

Over the past 15 years, the discipline and practice of contingent workforce management has focused on the development of infrastructure and processes (e.g., VMS, MSP, etc.) to control the consumption of contingent workforce – leveraging standardized, supply chain-based modalities (specifically “temp staffing” and increasingly, in recent years, SOW projects). In the meantime, over the past 10 years, a large number and variety of WIPs have been emerging outside of the established staffing industry supply chain and enabling/supporting radically new ways of organizing and accessing contingent labor (some of which could not be procurable through to-date-established staffing supply chain channels).

While the established staffing supply chain operations scope and depth are being expanded and optimized, new powerful engines of transformation have emerged outside of the heads-down procurement field of vision.

The message for contingent workforce managers: The training period is over – this is not a test. The real challenges – and exciting opportunities – are right outside your program office.

You Don’t Need an Electron Microscope to See It

In fact, much what is developing is already visible to the naked eye, though WIPs (more of new genus than a species) are still at an early stage of development and evolution, with (a) pervasive ongoing experimentation in functional propositions and business models (seemingly leading to speciation) and (b) only seminal linkages to:

  • Necessary service ecosystem partners to make talent/skills legitimately portable
  • Established contingent workforce supply chain infrastructures (VMS, MSP, etc.)
  • The economic tap root of large-scale enterprise demand (versus to-date SMB)

Nonetheless, over just a period 8 years, the number of WIPs has grown from less than 50 to over 250 worldwide (a number growing every month), with some degree of speciation and ecosystem formation clearly taking place, as suggested here:

  • Online-freelancer marketplace platforms (like Elance-oDesk,, Peopleperhour, etc.) have been the most successful aggregators of workforce and have consummated the highest aggregate value of buy-sell transactions than any other type of WIP (in fact more than all of the other WIPs combined).
  • Still other forms of WIPs are emerging and seem to be tipping toward viability as a species: “FMS” platforms like Work Market, Beeline OnForce, and Elance-oDesk Private Talent Cloud; “crowd micro-task” platforms like Crowdflower, LionBridge, Clickworker, et al; “service output” platforms like, PopTent, et al; hard to classify platforms like Mobbr (part bitcoin payment system, part work platform for software developers on Github, Open Stack, etc.).

This really only scratches the surface of the diversity of form and function within the WIP population today. But it does explain the need to start to zero in on these emerging digital aggregators and enablers of talent and skills.

What Do We Need to Know About WIPs to be “In the Know?”

First of all, rest assured: Work Intermediation Platforms or WIPs are not yet a well understood phenomenon among procurement and contingent workforce management, though several surveys have indicated that contingent workforce buyer awareness has been growing – from practically nil to not inconsiderable – over the past 2-3 years. While we know there are a handful of contingent workforce managers that have moved far up their learning curves, these are tiny minority.

For most managers, understanding of digital work-as-a service platforms is at an early stage, quite behind the actual developments now underway. Moreover, where awareness and understanding have emerged, it is often tainted with unclear definitions and indefinite descriptive terms like “cloud labor,” “online staffing,” etc. That said, one should not lapse into a state of false comfort – it will be easy to fall behind as this whole set of developments accelerates and as labels and punditry lull you into a false sense of knowledge.

A Great Place to Begin the New Learning Process: What is a WIP?

In our analysis, we define WIP as:

An ICT-based infrastructure that has the primary function for its users of enabling the direct digitally-based discovery and engagement of available talent/labor AND the arrangement (and to some extent “control”) of units of work within a specific set of time, location, cost and other modalities.

Platform here basically means the technology-based medium through which different users/agents can either access or “arrange with other” certain capabilities or services. WIPS have already significantly extended and are continuing to extend the possible range of work arrangement modalities (e.g., could be an “on-demand,” brief engagement of single worker, could be a deliverable created thousands of multi-second microtasks each performed by different workers on multiple continents, etc.).

With a Stake in the Ground, Where Do We Go From Here?

This series of posts will provide a concentrated analysis of the developing connection of workforce procurement and WIPs and will discuss:

  • What WIPs actually are, what varieties exist and what “they are capable of.” (Part 2)
  • How WIPs are evolving relative to the crucial service ecosystem partners, to the established contingent workforce supply chain infrastructures and last but not least, to the economic tap root of large-scale enterprise demand. (Part 3)
  • What are the critical implications of the development of WIPs and their ecosystems for procurement/contingent workforce management programs and professionals over the next several years/what changes/plans might be contemplated. (Part 4).

Stand by for coming perspectives and insights into WIPs and labor supply chain transformation.

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