MBO Connect: Returning to Kick the Tires and Look Under the Hood Andrew Karpie - October 28, 2015 8:27 AM | Categories: Services and Indirect Spend, Services Procurement & Contingent Labor, Services Procurement & Contingent Labor Management, Technology | Tags: L1, Technology We recently covered the announcement of the pilot launch of MBO Partners' MBO Connect. To help gain a better idea of what MBO Connect is and what it means for services procurement, we reached out to CEO Gene Zaino and Vice President of Product Management Julian Richards. A Bit of Context At Spend Matters, some of the developments that interest us in the contingent workforce space are: The increasing importance of independent workforce as a source of talent Direct sourcing as a buyer channel as an alternative to staffing suppliers How different players, who have been around in the contingent workforce space for a while, are adopting new technology to evolve their business models and what roles they play in the space We see MBO Partners — for some time categorized as an independent contractor evaluation/compliance service provider (ICEC) — as one of the players that brings together all three of the above, with MBO Connect being a significant milestone in a path that MBO has been pursuing for a few years now: To become a platform/hub between enterprises and fully compliant “independent professional talent.” It should be noted that independent professionals means high-skilled independents who are usually earning over $100,000 a year. (MBO also noted that the average engagement for these independents is about $30,000.) Building the Foundation for MBO Connect Gene Zaino told us that MBO Connect is really a culmination of several years of underlying technology development that has been accompanied by a rise in tech personnel at MBO, from a handful to 30 and growing. The technical team, all based locally and not offshore, includes highly experienced technology leaders: Vice President of Product Management Julian Richards, with deep expertise in mobile apps, has led teams and projects at Gannett; Vice President of Technology Tom Rumberg, who was most recently the CTO for VMS provider Provade and before that held leadership positions at SAP, Oracle and Peoplesoft. According to Zaino, MBO has been carefully building an underlying technology infrastructure with a service-oriented architecture that will support development of a broad range of possible business applications as well as support open APIs for integrations and other purposes. For reasons of confidentiality, Zaino wished only to summarize by saying that MBO is using an enterprise services bus (ESB) as an integration backbone to provide a seamless user experience across MBO’s expanding product offerings. From Spend Matters’ perspective, MBO’s technology architecture choices could even prepare the way for PaaS and iPaaS capabilities and all that they can do, those are merely our thoughts, not what MBO reported. MBO Connect as a Platform MBO has been building a true multi-sided platform model, defined in Sloan-MIT Management Review as “technologies, products or services that create value primarily by enabling direct interactions between two or more customer or participant groups.” At this stage, MBO Connect is a two-sided platform, bringing together enterprises, on the one hand, and independent professionals, on the other. As such, one side of the platform addresses interfacing with business users, who directly engage professional independents, and integration with vendor management systems (VMS), while the other side of the platform addresses interfacing with independent professionals with a user-interface and tools designed specifically for this population. Through APIs, the other sides of the platform can be opened for a variety of purposes, including integrations with other ecosystem players and application developers. According to Zaino, MBO Connect is designed to be a many-to-many, multi-sided platform as opposed to simply a multi-tenant software-as-a-service (SaaS) system. The expectation is that many enterprises will connect to MBO Connect, not only getting access to some network talent beyond their private talent pools. But more importantly, independent professionals will have a range of enterprises they can engage with, not just their own original clients. In the middle of these two sides of the platform are integrated compliance management and payment systems, which were at the core of MBO’s original business model. With MBO’s ESB integration capabilities, these systems can be seamlessly integrated into the new underlying service -oriented architecture (SOA) infrastructure. MBO Connect: Key Capabilities MBO Connect provides an MBO direct sourcing interface for enterprise business users, Zaino said, allowing them to reach into their private talent pools. Today, MBO connect sends each set of engagement data to the VMS at the time of payment, though this integration will be expanded in the future. MBO already has established integrations with the top VMSs. As noted above, talent pool capabilities are a key feature of MBO Connect. Enterprises can design and implement a number of talent pools for their different types or tiers of independent workers. Talent pools would be populated with independents already engaged by the enterprise, or they can be selected from MBO’s population of thousands of vetted professional independents. Additional independents can be brought into the network. Independents who have not been vetted for compliance already are vetted at the time of their first engagement; after that they are “in the system.” Important New Stuff While not always well-known, MBO already had a feature-rich online front-end for independent professionals. MBO Connect brings that interface to yet another level to make it comparable to consumer user interfaces and user experience. For example, registering now with MBO Connect is simplified so that with a few key strokes a LinkedIn profile will be transferred to form the basis of the independent’s MBO Connect profiles. In addition, MBO Connect is designed to be “mobile first,” with the expectation that most users will be using smartphones and tablets to manage their work. Correspondingly, MBO has released Apple and Android mobile apps that can be downloaded from the App Store and from Google Play. This iteration of MBO Connect will certainly not be the last one, Zaino told us. MBO Connect will continue to expand its functionality and features on all fronts. One of the important next stages will be the capability to bidirectionally connect with different online platforms to enable sourcing of a broader pool of independent professionals. Zaino expects the future will be full of specialized online marketplaces and other platforms — an assertion with which Spend Matters agrees. Wrap-up MBO Connect is one of many developments in the independent workforce solutions space and should be of interest for a number of reasons, including the digital path it is on and its shift from being mainly an established service business to being more of a technology platform-based business. It’s probably true that among existing players in the ICEC, agent of record, employer of record space, MBO is leading the pack in terms of digital transformation and its evolution as a platform-based business. Services and contingent workforce procurement practitioners should take note for a number of reasons: MBO’s vision for MBO Connect points it in the direction of becoming a supplier network hub and a source-to-pay solution (S2P). MBO’s deep expertise and capabilities in compliance complete the enterprise solution, giving it an edge over other platform and freelance management system (FMS) players. Moreover, MBO’s established relationships with a wide-range of enterprises and their contingent workforce management programs also give it a leg up on other FMS players, which have had trouble getting traction in this way. Finally, MBO has a clear focus on and an established business in engaging highly-skilled independent professionals — not less-skilled workers. This means that MBO is addressing the priority enterprise need for critical talent, which is where the most painful gaps are. For the above reasons, with its introduction of MBO Connect, MBO is emerging as a unique, important player in the new, developing ecosystem that will enable enterprise sourcing and engagement of independent talent. So it would not hurt to check it out, kick the tires, and maybe take it for a test drive. 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