A New Large Company Trend in Contingent Workforce – Using Ordinary People

contingent workforce

By now, you would have to be living on another planet to not be aware of Uber’s business model, which relies on ordinary individuals and their cars to provide ride services to people who need rides. You’ve probably also heard about TaskRabbit, the online marketplace that connects users to people who will do odd tasks like run errands for you. These are platforms that largely connect ordinary people with other ordinary people to have some service performed.  

But what you might not be aware of is the trend of large businesses – all across the planet – to leverage ordinary people as contingent workers to fulfill certain limited tasks or services.  By ordinary people, we don’t mean freelancers pursuing a specific professional skilled trade but rather those who lend a range of skills casually, often “on-demand.”

Sometimes this type of engagement is referred to as a form of crowdsourcing, because a “call” goes out to a relatively large group of people from which respondents are engaged. In most cases, the population is vetted based on different criteria. Obviously, enabling these types of work engagement involves some kind of technology configuration, including mobile apps, to intermediate matches and transactions, and enterprises, either using a third party’s technology or developing it on their own.

A Growing Crowd

There is a growing number of these kinds of business use cases involving a growing number of companies and technology solutions. Here is just a small sample of illustrations:

Gigwalk is a San Francisco-based technology solution provider that, besides an enterprise offering that allows companies to manage their own in-the-field employees, also provides what it calls Mobile Crowdsourcing. Companies can subscribe to this solution to engage people as independent contractors from local, vetted populations (“Gigwalkers”) to perform what are typically simple observational tasks.  

As Gigwalk’s website puts it, “The types of jobs typically posted include product audits, verifying compliance of a trade marketing program, cleanliness of a restaurant, pricing of competitor products and more. Gigwalkers are your on-demand eyes and ears, providing timely visibility into actual on-the-ground execution at the locations that matter most to your business. You can have them answer questions about a location and/or product, answer a survey, mystery shop, take a photo of a location and/or product and even have them complete a simple task, but they do not do physical work, like assembling a product display or making a delivery.” Companies that have used Mobile Crowdsourcing include Whirlpool, Redbull and other notable businesses.

Swisscom is a Swiss telecommunication/cable provider that has implemented an innovative service delivery solution, called Swisscom Friends, for its residential customers. For the technology, Swisscom has partnered with a technology platform business called Mila, something akin to a Task Rabbit in Europe.  

As the name might suggest, Swisscom Friends engages local neighbors to assist other neighbors with technical issues – what Swisscom bills as “Neighborly help for TV, mobile devices computer, networks and Internet.” Swisscom describes a Swisscom Friend as “an adult who is independent of Swisscom, who knows their way around TVs, mobile devices, computers, networks or the Internet, likes sharing his IT skills, helps with technical problems and issues, works for their own account.”  

A very interesting complement of this innovative service delivery solution is that residential customers are actually offered a choice of which type of service delivery they prefer to have: (1) a Swisscom employee service tech (most expensive, and possibly the slowest); (2) a Swisscom service tech professional contractor (less expensive, and perhaps quicker); or (3) a Swisscom Friend (least expensive and probably fastest). At any rate, we have a case of a large company relying on ordinary people to fulfill a limited task or service. Vodafone and a number of other large European companies also partner with Mila to deliver similar solutions.

Aramex is a leading provider of comprehensive logistics and transportation solutions that has grown up in the Middle East, is now a public company listed on the Dubai stock exchange and employs nearly 14,000 people. Aramex touts that its emphasis on innovation and “unique, asset-light business model has resulted in faster annual growth rates than its global competitors.”  

In early August, Aramex announced another one of its asset-light innovations: using ordinary people to do last-mile delivery of packages. Apparently, Aramex has been employing couriers, on an hourly basis, using Aramex vehicles to deliver a certain number of packages per shift.  The new model will involve ordinary people using their own vehicles to deliver packages and get paid on a per-package basis. (These people will also be vetted and receive training.)  

Aramex is calling this its “crowdsourcing model,” and it will be enabled by technology it has developed, including 2 mobile apps – one for the courier and one for the customer, to communicate and coordinate deliveries. As quoted in the industry publication Post and Parcel, Aramex COO Iyad Kamal gave a somewhat ambiguous statement, saying the crowdsourcing model was not necessarily a cost-cutting measure so much as it was a way to enable enable a company to react quickly to changes in demand. He said, “You upscale and downscale based on volume. Why should I pay fixed costs when I can pay on a per package basis? It will introduce efficiencies. We will be able to deliver more packages on infrastructure we’re setting up.”  

Clearly, Aramex is yet another example of a large company that is turning to ordinary people – who might not otherwise be a part of the labor force – to fulfill limited tasks and services.  

Importance for Services Procurement and Contingent Workforce Practitioners

For practitioners highly focused on managing temp agency workers and statements of work (SOW) , it is important to recognize how quickly and to what extent contingent workforce engagement possibilities are changing, largely made possible by technology. These solutions make it possible for large companies to reach into and tap mostly underused labor resources to perform crucial business tasks in remarkably efficient operating frameworks/models.  

Granted, these particular types of solutions may never be suitable for the companies you work for – though with companies like Whirlpool, Swisscom and others are adopting them, you never know. But even if they are not, the point of this story should now be clear. (And it is not about large companies using ordinary people).  

The point is that, right under our noses, enormous, technology-driven developments are occurring in the range of ways contingent workforce can be engaged in faster, more flexible and highly efficient ways. It’s happening now, and it’s happening all over the world. Procurement practitioners should take these developments to heart and use them as templates for thinking about technology-based innovation in contingent workforce engagement.

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