From Watch to Know in 2019: Upwork Serves the Contingent Workforce Market

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Each year, some companies on Spend Matters’ 50 Providers to Know list and the list of 50 to Watch honorees here in the Spend Matters Almanac push themselves beyond simply a standout performance.

They earn the recognition that they are not only bringing innovation into procurement organizations but also leading the charge to change the way we do business for the better. These are the providers who shifted from Watch to Know in 2019, like Upwork.

To learn more about these providers, we reached out to a few such cases in our 2019 50/50 lists, asking how they’ve changed over the years and what differentiates them from the competition. Today’s Q&A features Upwork's Eric Gilpin, SVP of Enterprise.

In case our readers aren’t fully familiar, can you give us a one-sentence summary of what your company does?

Upwork is the largest global online marketplace for highly skilled freelance and agency talent. We make it possible for businesses to find, hire, work with and pay the best professionals anywhere, anytime.

How has your company changed since it was first named a Provider to Watch? What is the biggest lesson you have learned?

We’ve learned quite a bit since we were first named a Provider to Watch in 2014. When we launched Upwork Enterprise four years ago, we faced some initial reluctance from enterprise organizations, many of whom had longstanding engagements with MSPs and other contingent workforce providers.

For many organizations, making the shift to an online talent platform is challenging. As with any new technology integration, there’s the challenge of creating effective business processes, operational scalability and organizational change management. We knew that if we were going to win the hearts and minds of buyers, we’d have to remove the friction of traditional talent models by driving better business outcomes faster, with higher quality and at a better value than other providers.

Over the past few years, we’ve supercharged our enterprise business by investing in new services and features that enable enterprise organizations to be more agile and innovative. In August 2017, we added a service layer to our enterprise offering with the introduction of Upwork Talent Services. The Talent Services team helps companies gain quick access to qualified freelance talent, working with them to define the scope of their projects, identify the skills that are needed and design processes to help track project outcomes and deliver final reporting. In late 2018, Upwork announced a partnership with Microsoft to launch the Microsoft 365 freelance toolkit, and best practices to help companies effectively launch, execute and manage a freelance talent program at scale.

Today, more than 30 percent of the Fortune 500 use Upwork.

What are your two or three best features or services that make you a Provider to Know?

We’ve distinguished ourselves among customers and analysts in the following areas:

  • Private Talent Clouds: Our Talent Cloud functionality enables enterprise users to access pre-qualified, pre-defined freelancer talent pools that meet the unique needs of the enterprise business. Upwork Enterprise users or our own talent services representatives can organize and access groups of freelancers with specific skills or experience using Talent Clouds.
  • Compliance Services: Customers of our compliance offering are able to leverage the service to determine correct worker classification through a technology-enabled classification evaluation. Our classification process was created with the help of legal experts and leverages our data and state-of-the-art client and freelancer questionnaires, along with review of each engagement request by a compliance specialist.
  • Talent Matching Capabilities: Our platform streamlines the interviewing, screening, and contracting process through proprietary search algorithms incorporating freelancers’ availability, online status, and skill profiles. This helps companies get to quality talent faster than traditional methods. Customers often receive proposals within minutes of posting a job, and the median time to hire was 23 hours in 2017.

How are you thinking about your competitive landscape? How are you differentiating yourself from other Providers to Know in the industry and upstarts on the Watch List?

Technology is enabling an increasing number of people to work how, where, when and with whom they please. When and where work gets done has fundamentally changed. Knowledge workers are increasingly demanding flexible work arrangements. Simultaneously, businesses need better access to talent in order to remain competitive. Our platform is bridging skills gaps caused by rigid traditional hiring methods and removing friction from the job market.

We view this as the beginning of a new chapter and the biggest opportunity for us clearly is to go after traditional workforce and staffing providers, and provide an alternative to them. We provide companies with a number of benefits over traditional talent providers, namely:

  • Access to higher-quality talent: The average fill rate is 84 percent versus 50 percent through traditional methods.
  • Faster time-to-hire: Jobs fill 10 times faster, taking an average of three days versus the traditional 30-day average.
  • Better value: Companies on average experience an over 50 percent savings in total project costs.

Where do you see the procurement sector going in the next several years, and how is your company helping organizations through that?

The world of work is changing, driven by the need for on-demand intelligence, processes and talent. As competition and innovation continue to accelerate, the procurement organization will be forced to shift and evolve in order to keep pace. We see procurement evolving in two key ways:

  • Drivers of innovation: Emerging technologies, changing workforce demographics and the growing power of business network ecosystems will redefine how goods and services are sourced, purchased and tracked. As a result, procurement will serve as a primary channel for driving innovation and will play a critical role in driving new product development.
  • Embracers of the agile workforce: The general pace of business and speed of innovation is driving businesses to embrace a truly agile workforce in order to meet the evolving needs of the organization. Procurement will lead the charge in enabling new sources of external talent by cultivating new methods, tools and processes to deliver critical talent capabilities.

Upwork plays a pivotal role in helping procurement engage external, flexible talent while maintaining control over the engagement process. We work with procurement leaders to simplify the process by helping find the best-fit talent for any given project leveraging machine learning algorithms. Furthermore, we provide tools and services to support organizational adoption of flexible talent models, helping to ensure customers stay safe, compliant and aligned with corporate governance.

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