VMSA Live ‘Scorecard’ – Reflections on the Recent Contingent Workforce/Staffing Supply Chain Conference

I spent the greater part of last week covering the VMSA Live 2015 conference in Las Vegas, and I wanted to wrap up my coverage with not really a “scorecard,” but with a summary of impressions and key take-aways below. Incidentally, if this were a scorecard, VMSA Live 2015 would – in my opinion – score at the top across all conference rating categories.

Also, if you haven’t been following our Spend Matters posts covering the conference over the past week (written in the spirit of “what happens in Vegas, does not stay in Vegas”), you can catch up if you like clicking through chronologically ordered links – read ‘em and weep.

  1. VIVA Las Vegas: Kicking Off Coverage of the ‘VMSA Live 2015’ Contingent Workforce Management Conference
  2. How I Became a Temporary ‘Staffing Supply Chain Anthropologist’ at VMSA Live 2015
  3. First Full Day at VMSA Live 2015 – The Contingent Workforce Staffing Supply Chain is Alive and Kicking
  4. Thinking Outside the Box: VMSA Live 2015 Brings Together Innovators of the Staffing Supply Chain
  5. VMSA Live 2015 Pulls Up Stakes in Vegas, Contingent Workforce Suppliers Brace For Demanding Supply Chain Environment

What Made VMSA Live Unique, Pragmatic and Not Utopian?

I’ve mentioned this a number of times in my posts: VMSA Live 2015 uniquely brought together professional practioners and leaders from all parts of the contingent workforce/staffing supply chain and successfully orchestrated their engagement and facilitated information sharing, discussion, learning and thinking about best practices for individual performance and for optimization and innovation across the supply chain.

Last Wednesday, kicking off the first full day with her keynote talk to all of the conference attendees (from all parts of the supply chain, end-to-end), Jeannine Parise, CEO and co-founder of VMS Accelerators, spoke about how she saw VMSA Live and its ongoing significance:

I am absolutely committed to bringing you the highest value I possibly can by creating a forum, a community where you can connect with clients, suppliers and partners in this VMS segment to move your businesses forward and to facilitate tangible takeaways rooted in real world solutions. That’s why VMSA Live exists. Now there is a place where all players in this segment (enterprise, MSP, VMS, suppliers and providers) can come together and drive the services industry to new heights! A Uutopia if you will. What exactly is our utopia? How can we grow and optimize this $140B+ Industry?

Firstly, we must openly acknowledge that we are all dependent on one another for success….

  • The enterprise is looking to optimize their programs and spend management via managing risk, achieving quality, scaling operations across all categories globally and realizing savings relative to the market. One may say upon reaching this state, the enterprise has met its utopia. Sound easy? Well, it’s not! Each service category is unique in its acquisition and consumption of services.
  • The MSPs strive to be exactly what the enterprise needs and wants. To do so … they must expand and deepen their breadth of capabilities to support multiple types of spend globally. They must also understand the challenges of their suppliers in finding top talent.
  • The VMSs must consistently innovate their automation, workflow, reporting and analysis to support the requirements of the enterprise and provide the platform for utopia.
  • The suppliers continually strive for operational excellence to achieve profitability while maintaining the highest level of quality and service delivery to their MSP partners and ultimately the enterprise.
  • Lastly, the providers must align their products and services to support this entire ecosystem.

We wish to perpetuate an independent, neutral yet equitable environment where the walls of communication are down and the real-world scenarios flow freely. We all know that face-time is a casualty in this MSP/VMS model. We see VMSA Live as your in-person meeting with your clients, suppliers and partners … old home week if you will … a family reunion even … an event that takes place every 9 months…

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Certainly, there is no contingent workforce/staffing supply chain utopia, here or anywhere else, but VMSA Live is certainly a conference that creates a collaborative space and a path for continuing performance improvement and innovation across the entire supply chain.

Not a Perfect World: Key Challenges Across the Supply Chain?

There is a VMSA Live (now every 9 months) because the supply chain is far from a perfect world. There are challenges and struggles to do better. The following represent my impressions of what some of those key struggles are and what the priorities are:

  • Enterprise programs are focused on starting up, securing a beachhead or expanding their programs to manage staff augmentation and SOW models. This isn’t a cakewalk. Practitioners are challenged to not only affect discipline and performance upstream in the supply chain (frequently with the help of MSP and VMS), they are also struggling to secure C-level support and (perhaps most important of all) the buy-in and acceptance of enterprise end-users of their services. Mostly, hands are very full; at work, most practitioners in the enterprise, have little if any bandwidth to allocate to looking inside (what is now the “black box” of) suppliers or looking around the corner at what technology can actually enable (ranging from performance improvement to disruption) in the supply chain. But that may be the stretch that the supply chain needs (and, certainly, there are enterprise programs stretching in these directions).  vmsa 1
  • MSPs are challenged to be trying to continuously improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the services they provide and processes they support today, while attempting to evolve to another level of being a strategic partner that delivers transformational services/workforce solutions. Today, most of what MSPs actually do is more like the role of a TPA rather than BPO – largely support somewhat limited administrative execution activities, which vary by client – making even standardization of offerings and delivery challenging. Going to the next level of being a longer-term strategic workforce solutions partner is often hampered by low margins and there not being a shared vision and partnership with constrained and execution-focused enterprise programs. But overcoming those hurdles may be what the supply chain really needs (and certainly there are MSPs ­– that are consistently attempting to advance to this higher level).
    vmsa 3
  • VMS players bear the burden (and hold the unique position of opportunity) of being the central, nearly exclusive, technology enabler of the contingent workforce supply chain (setting aside the technology further upstream in the staffing suppliers’ candidate/worker talent acquisition and engagement sub-supply chain). Part of the burden they bear is in having originated as transaction-oriented supply chain management systems in what is for the most part a financially-constrained, supplier-funded environment (VMS technology has – unfairly – also come to symbolize for suppliers what is bad about the modern staffing supply chain – even though VMS has only been the technological hammer driving the nail). But the opportunity and challenge VMS players face now is how to continue to support enterprise practioners with their tactical needs (e.g., provide much improved user experience and support to internal enterprise end-users, etc.), while evolving – and perhaps leading the way – toward new and improved supply chain models. Proceeding as innovators is definitely what the supply chain needs from these central technology players (and a number of the key VMS providers are clearly taking up this challenge – something very hopeful for the innovative future of the supply chain).
  • Staffing suppliers are challenged in many different ways. Within their current business and operations models, they have been corralled into a classical microeconomics commoditized industry scenario in which marginal returns are approaching zero across the board. They are challenged primarily with trying to further optimize their current business and operating models where MSP/VMS and growing SOW (e.g., use offshore sourcing, adopt more powerful talent acquisition/engagement technology tools, etc.). Driving internal process improvements, like Six Sigma fanatics, will only get staffing suppliers so far, since enterprises are also asking suppliers to be discerning of their special needs in order to distinguish themselves. (By the way, how this is supposed to happen in a supply chain that has been walled-up with VMS systems and MSP-executed processes and little or no exchange of non-transactional information up and down the supply chain, is a question left unanswered.) Perhaps, therefore, the biggest challenge for staffing suppliers is jump starting and funding their own business model innovation ­– not just process improvement – initiatives to explore service offerings that may present alternatives to what the current – we know, imperfect – supply chain is cranking on. This is probably what is necessary, since it seems unlikely – wish it were not the case – that innovation in the supply base will get much of a helping hand from enterprise procurement programs or MSP (some VMS players may be able to do more, if adopt such a vision). Innovation in the supply base (beyond staff augmentation and SOW models) is what the supply chain needs – it was what suppliers needed in advance in the play-offs before the new game is started (and, increasingly, it appears growing numbers staffing suppliers are shaking themselves off and trying out new strategies).
    vmsa 4

So What’s the Final Score, and How Do We Play?

In one of my VMS Live posts I said that improving the functioning of the staffing supply chain was a “wicked problem” (and wicked problems are typically not solved from a single perspective). So even though all actors in the supply chain operate on their own and will and must pursue their own strategies to succeed as businesses, businesses in a supply chain environment must also continuously act together. Moreover, beyond executing continuing operations, solutions to problems and addressing of opportunities cannot happen unless information and ideas are shared across the whole supply chain. It is also true that if you are not a part of the solution, then you may become a part of the problem.

VMSA Live is presenting itself as a vehicle though which this collaborative process of identifying and addressing problems and opportunities for supply chain improvement and advancement. Participating in VMSA Live seems like a concrete way to shape solutions and be a part of those solutions. That said, I am looking forward to the next round of VMSA Live in February 2016 and where it takes us all!

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