ProcureCon Contingent Staffing Conference: An Analyst’s Takeaways

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Spend Matters attended the ProcureCon Contingent Staffing Conference this week in a very peaceful Minneapolis. The two days were fully packed with presentations, panel discussions, roundtables, conversations with contingent workforce practitioners and solution providers. The conference scale was small enough to support substantial networking and conversations, but still a very robust conference. Based on the published attendee list, there were just shy of 100 buy-side practitioners in attendance from roughly 80 companies (most Fortune 1000 companies and/or well-known brands from a range of industry verticals).

In this article, I’m going to articulate my own key takeaways from the presentations and panels that I found informative and valuable. One caveat: My analyst orientation/focus is around technology and innovation — and I’m also a bit of a “datavore,” so there’s some subjective filtering going on here. But hopefully my selective treatment will bring into focus some key areas of change that are in play for contingent workforce procurement practitioners at this time.

Make 'change' your friend

The conference was launched with an opening address by Susan Miller, the Chief Revenue Officer of Brightfield Strategies. She talked about the changes in the contingent workforce and services ecosystem and why it is important to see these changes as opportunities. She pointed to key areas of change, including “the joining” of contingent workforce programs and statement-of-work management; the growing interest in direct sourcing (and talent pools); how AI can be used to dissect job roles and skills; and possible changes in the relationships between businesses and MSPs.

There were several online polls conducted during the conference, and one of the polls cast by Susan asked the question: Within the next three years, what is the probability that your program will be managed in-house or as a hybrid program? Interestingly…

  • 41% of respondents said that it was highly likely (P = 76-100%)
  • 28% of respondents said it was likely (P = 51-75%).
  • Only 31% said it was unlikely or highly unlikely (P = 0-50%).

I have to admit, these poll results were kind of mindblowing. Could the data have been skewed by MSPs’ responses? I don’t think so, because the skewing would have gone in the other direction. I have a suspicion that many of the respondents making predictions of “likely” or “highly likely” may have had hybrid programs in mind (vs 100% internally managed ones). The topic of hybrid programs came up in several discussions I had with practitioners and other contingent workforce ecosystem dwellers, and there seems to be quite a bit of energy around it.

In any case, the results of Susan’s poll were an example of one of the changes she referred to in her talk. But the fundamental questions she posed to the audience of contingent workforce practitioners were: “How are you going to respond to these changes, how are you going to take advantage of them?

A balance of real topics for real practitioners

There was a rich range of topics discussed in presentations, panels and roundtables. And I’m sure there was a storm of neurons firing during the course of the event. For example:

One of the more visionary, “let’s imagine” types of sessions as "Preparing Your Contingent Staffing Program To Address Digital Disruption." The panel consisted of two procurement practitioners (from Deloitte and S&P Global) and two technology solution executives (from Beeline and Toptal). The big question: Is it truly disruption or something else? Henry Murphy, Global Director of Indirect Procurement at S&P Global, said he saw it more as an ongoing “optimization” process that has been underway for a few decades.

One of the more pragmatic, share-a-use-case-type sessions was the presentation of Renee Hughes, Global Senior Procurement Manager of Contingent Labor Deloitte. In "An Interactive Case Study: A Journey Into Globalization: Contingent Labor At Deloitte,"Renee gave a comprehensive and pragmatic overview of her approach to forming a program across an extremely decentralized, global organization.

In one of the other sessions, "Adapting the Enterprise to the Next Way of Working," MBO Partners execs Tim Clarke, VP, Business Development Strategy & Operations and Bryan Peña, Chief of Market Strategy, focused more specifically on engaging the valuable professionally-skilled independent workforce.  To engage these critical resources, Tim and Bryan explained that enterprises must turn to a different talent/attraction-centric model (vs. the more commodity-buyer/commodity-purchasing-centric supply chain model), in order to compete for talent as (what MBO calls) a "Client of Choice."

Breakout sessions covered a range of topics from “Mastering the Light Industrial Workforce Within Your Mid-Market Program” (presented by Cam Huyn, Contingent Workforce Manager at Lime) to a large scale workshop “Incorporating SOW/Services Into Your Contingent Workforce Program — The Good, The Bad and the Ugly” (conducted by Serene Vivadelli, Manager Vendor Procurement Management Resource Management CommonSpirit Health and Jodie Smith, Program Director, Contractor Connection Team at CommonSpirit Health Guidant Global).

The point is that topic coverage of the conference was very diversified, and many important bases were covered in the agenda.

What got my attention at the conference?

Direct Sourcing/Talent Pools

Several topics at the conference captured my attention — in part because there seemed to be quite a lot of energy around them and because they’ve generated a lot of questions in my own analyst’s brain.

The topic of direct sourcing (and the adjacent topic of talent pools) seemed to be pretty hot. One of the sessions (conducted by Jeff Nugent, Chief Strategy and Business Development Officer, People 2.0 and  Ceaneh Alexis, Senior Director, Category Management, Aon Service Corporation) was even titled “Jumping Head First Into Talent Pools.” However, cooler heads may have prevailed in a session titled “Direct Sourcing — Do’s and Don’ts” conducted by Wendy Stenger, Global Lead, External Workforce Programs Thomson Reuters, and Paul Petersen, Director, Skills Management and Workforce Solutions at Siemens. Wendy and Paul are both very strong believers in direct sourcing and have waded in pretty deep, so they were able to share lots of practical information from their experiences.

I’ve been following this topic for nearly eight years, and I have had the sense that business interest in direct sourcing and talent-pooling technology (as well as putting initiatives into gear) has become widespread and may be accelerating. Solution providers like Compunnel, MBO Partners and Toptal were exhibiting, and, perhaps for the first time, I  realized the extent to which direct sourcing solutions were becoming mainstream.

Who Owns the Program?

The question — “Is it procurement or HR, or some combination of both, that owns the program?” — was the topic of two general sessions. A panel discussion session, “You’ve Got a Friend in Me: Partnership in Action Between HR and Procurement,” allowed practitioners to share their war stories and pointers.

There was another session, billed as “Elevating Your Program Through an Effective HR and Procurement Partnership,” with Steven LaRochelle, Assiciate Director of Strategic Sourcing and Greg Scherrer, Director, Contingent Workforce Operations at KPMG. KPMG kicked it off role-playing, on the one hand, the procurement hardnose and, on the other hand, the kumbaya HR softy (stereotypes for sure). But the initial (quite amusing) act quickly settled down to Greg and Faye imparting their wisdom from their own experience at KPMG on how to make what can be a difficult relationship work.

During the session, a practitioner at my table told me what was happening at his company, where HR and procurement responsibilities were not well established. Apparently the problem was not conflicts (as one might expect), but rather a general chaos that made it agonizingly difficult to get anything done. He just wanted it to end.

The HR/procurement ownership topic is one that very much interests me. First, because so many industry folks seem to assume that program ownership is almost always by procurement. But some scattered data I've seen points in the direction that this belief is far from the true. Moreover, some data indicate that more programs may be "owned by"/"in the hierarchy of" the CHRO, or Chief People Officer, rather than the Chief Procurement Officer. From what I can see is that, no matter what the structure (and there appear to be many variations), it’s the same type of people, skills and expertise and methodologies, etc. (and often transplants) who are driving contingent workforce management. Perhaps being in the power column of the CHRO makes collaboration with the rest of HR easier, but maybe not. This topic could use some research, I find myself thinking.

My favorite session …

I found nearly all of the sessions and roundtables I attended informative and/or thought-provoking — particularly those where buy-side practitioners were on deck (no offense to non-buy-side practitioners — y0u were also great). Perhaps the most detailed and operationally oriented session was “Refreshing a Mature Contingent Staffing Program,” in which Brian Feeley, Director, Professional and Corporate Services Strategic Sourcing and Category Management at Fannie Mae, laid out the Fannie Mae program, its historical stages of development, and its strategic sourcing process and metrics — all with extreme clarity and detail. Talk about a brain dump.

But my favorite session was the presentation titled “Achieving Greatness by Forecasting Contingent Staffing Demand” by Patrick Gaynor, the Global Category Chair of Subcontract Services at IBM. Patrick presented the technology- and machine-learning-enabled contingent workforce demand forecasting process that is being established at IBM. This capability is allowing IBM procurement and vendors to not simply react to rolling notifications and reqs, but to utilize 30-day and 60-day demand forecasts that are refreshed weekly.

According to one of Patrick's slides, “Vendor sourcing teams will use the [forecast] report to reach out to opportunity owners (hiring managers) with likely subcontractor demand and secure lower rates by beginning the sourcing process earlier.” And, “vendor teams will use the [forecast] report to proactively identify lower-cost and higher-quality candidates for upcoming demand in order to respond more competitively to [client] stakeholder requests.”

It appears that results to date do not include the expected levels of savings from competitive bill rates (which perhaps would not be surprising to an economist). But the forecast has had a positive effect on time-to-fill and quality-of-hire — which are becoming increasingly important metrics for contingent workforce procurement.

Closing thoughts

The ProcureCon Contingent Staffing conference seemed to be a very successful event based on what I experienced and observed: The information that was shared in conference sessions and the extreme networking that was occurring outside of sessions were sure signs of a successful conference. From what I took away from conversations with practitioners, there was a high degree of satisfaction (particularly with the peer-to-peer networking as well as the presentations and panels).

I would sum it up by saying that if I were a buy-side practitioner who wanted to have an immersion experience into how the industry is changing and the way it may be possible to take advantage of opportunities in today's evolving contingent workforce environment, ProcureCon Contingent Staffing would be on my list of stops.

To sample actual Spend Matters research and coverage of the contingent workforce and services category, visit our Contingent Workforce and Services content page.

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