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Is Total Talent Management Really the Next Big Thing? Or is There Something Else?

01/12/2018 By

Image by Karolina Grabowska from Pixabay

We hear the terms total talent management (TTM), holistic talent management and blended workforce bandied about with great frequency by analysts and writers these days. But when and how it will be achieved remain unclear. While some declare the time is right for such an approach and hazard conceptual roadmaps, others have wondered whether the idea is really feasible. This concept of a unified way of sourcing and engaging both permanent and contingent labor/talent is appealing and probably inevitable, but its realization is – even according to its promotersadmittedly still some ways off.

Spend Matters believes there could be another, more near-term development, closer to home in the areas of contingent workforce and services that has already started to occur and is of more practical relevance to procurement. This is a trend toward a comprehensive independent workforce ecosystem and eventually workforce as a service, which will mean correlating capabilities and outcomes under an expanded services taxonomy. Such a development is much less gargantuan than TTM insofar as it does not require inertial HR organizations to adapt to a blended workforce. Instead, it is a development that can be undertaken solely by procurement and solution providers, with the support of internal business consumers of labor/talent and services. In other, non-services areas of procurement, we have seen how technology solutions, source-to-pay models and supplier networks have enabled definition of buying categories and simplification of internal consumer purchasing processes with catalogues, p-cards and more. We believe we can see the same and more in services and contingent workforce.

So What is the ‘Something Else?’

As suggested above, the “something else” (and “next big thing”) is the development of a cloud-based ecosystem of interfacing intermediaries that will enable different kinds of engagement with the growing independent workforce. Technologically, we are moving beyond the cloud capabilities of APIs and platform as a service (PaaS) to integration platform as a service (iPaaS) that will enable greater interconnectedness of entities and even their legacy systems. Consequently, we can expect this new independent workforce ecosystem to develop in very different ways than what we have seen in the existing contingent workforce supply chain or in the non-services procurement sourcing-supplier-purchasing ecosystem.

What will this cloud-based independent workforce ecosystem be like? To answer that question, we have developed a simple reference model to describe how the ecosystem could be constituted.

TTM graphic


To the left is the enterprise where talent/labor services are procured and consumed. To the right of that, the white space divided up by dotted lines is the ecosystem of intermediaries that enable/support different independent workforce engagements. The dotted lines reflect that these entities and their processes are integrated as services in the cloud. The digitally-enabled independent workforce, represented in blue, can be intermediated by this ecosystem through many different pathways.

Breaking Down the Emerging Ecosystem of Intermediaries

The ecosystem of intermediaries breaks down into 3 main categories, depicted left, center and right. Those are:

  1. To the left are the intermediaries that are by definition connected directly into enterprise procurement processes: vendor management system (VMS), managed service providers (MSP) and freelance management system (FMS).
  2. Stacked in the middle are a set of intermediaries that play a range of different intermediation roles.
  3. To the right are intermediaries that are by definition connected directly to and providing services to the independent workforce.  

The following provides further detail on each of these categories. It should be noted that many of the intermediaries that may be mentioned as corresponding to certain categories may actually be multifunctional and span categories.

  1. Left/Enterprise-Related: Perhaps most recognizable as a part of this emerging ecosystem is FMS (like Work Market, et al). A platform and connecting point for independent workforce into the enterprise, it is only one component and relies on other members of the ecosystem to function. The presence of VMS (Beeline, IQNavigator, etc.) and MSP (PRO Unlimited, ZeroChaos, etc.) as part of this ecosystem may be more surprising; however, there is evidence among some of these that they are evolving and extending to participate in this ecosystem.
  2. Middle/Functional Stack: This group of intermediaries is quite diverse in the functional roles they can play in the ecosystem and are mentioned separately:
    • IC Management: These are entities like MBO Partners or Synergy, which have traditionally managed the engagement and compliance of independent contractors that are beginning to evolve in terms of technology and process models to participate in the new ecosystem.
    • Payrollers: These are entities like Populus and others that traditionally served as employer of record and payroll providers for independent workers that may not comply with the status of independent contractor. Though perhaps slower to evolve, the function is crucial in the emerging ecosystem.
    • Advanced Staffing: There are staffing businesses that transforming their business and process models to support talent pools and become more open and platform-like, often supported by new technology solutions like NextCrew. Alternatively there are new staffing businesses, such as Nvoi, that have been built from the ground up as digital platforms. Staffing suppliers that open themselves with new technology in these ways can also participate in the emerging ecosystem.
    • Freelancer Marketplaces: There are possibly a hundred online marketplaces across the world (like Upwork, Freelancer Limited, et al) that host literally millions of freelancers/independent workers who mainly perform work remotely. These aggregations of independent workers and their mode of remote engagement make these digital platforms natural participants in the emerging ecosystem.
    • Online Services: Many online work platforms (like Visually, Contently, etc.) do not act as marketplaces, but rather provide specific services by organizing independent workers. These digital platforms are also natural participants in the emerging ecosystem.
    • Microtasking: A number of online work platforms (like Amazon Mechanical Turk, CrowdFlower, et al) break down large projects or activities into tiny tasks that can be distributed and performed by members of a large “crowd” of independent workers. These digital platforms are also natural participants in the emerging ecosystem.
    • Contests/Challenges: Another group of online work platforms (like 99Design, Hyve, et al) present simple tasks or complex problems to crowds of independent workers to complete or solve. These digital platforms are also natural participants in the emerging ecosystem.
  3. Right/Independent Worker-Related: This is perhaps the most immature, emergent set of intermediaries that basically provide enabling services directly to independent workers, allowing them to function and sustain themselves independently.
    • Payments: Traditional payment approaches and systems often do not match the way independent workers need to operate. Consequently, a new set of payment intermediaries are emerging, including Payable, Mobbr and Stripe.
    • Accounting: The main accounting player is Intuit’s QuickBooks Self-Employed, though there are some other small ones like FreshBooks that are designed for independent workers.
    • Taxes: With the recent shutdown of Zen99, Intuit Quickbooks Self-Employed remains the primary player in the space assisting independent workers with tax accounting and reporting.
    • Insurance: Primarily focusing here on health insurance, HCA exchanges present access to health insurance for independent workers. In addition, there is at least one company, Stride, which is focused on precisely that.

The above provides a breakdown of the emerging independent workforce ecosystem in terms of what components, functions and types of entities would likely come together in such an ecosystem. By setting this out, we are not asserting that such an ecosystem exists today, but we are trying to suggest what parts might be interconnected with new technology to allow enterprises and independent workers to engage in new ways.


In this PRO brief, we have asserted that total talent management (TTM) is not the “next new thing” for services procurement and contingent workforce managers to be focused on. And we have tried to make the case that the “next new thing” is something closer to home, the formation of a new digital ecosystem for engaging independent workers. We have not tried to predict precisely what that ecosystem will be and how it will function, but we have suggested and have tried to demonstrate that many of the components of that ecosystem exist or are emerging and that cloud technology has developed to a point where the interconnection of those components can start to occur. Time will tell, but we are betting on the visible emergence of this ecosystem before enterprise adoption of TTM. Consequently, we suggest services procurement and contingent workforce professionals begin to focus their attention on the gradual formation of this ecosystem.