PRO Unlimited’s CEO Kevin Akeroyd envisions tech-enabled, people-driven services platform business

For some years, there have been rumblings in the contingent workforce industry about MSPs needing to bring more value to the table. Some have gotten started with internal changes and in some cases with new management as well.

Much in the staffing and contingent workforce market environment has changed over the past 20+ years, including business requirements, technology, business models and other factors. And many of these changes seem to be accelerating, particularly in response to COVID-19. It is natural, therefore, that we are increasingly seeing MSPs beginning to evolve. Indeed, those that don’t will find it increasingly difficult to thrive and grow in the future.

In late September, we had an opportunity to speak with Kevin Akeroyd, who became PRO Unlimited’s CEO in July 2020. PRO Unlimited is a well-established managed services player in the contingent workforce space. The company is notable as a vendor-neutral MSP with its own VMS technology. According to a July press release, “Former CEO, Andy Schultz, stepped down after leading the company since its inception nearly three decades ago.”

Akeroyd is an industry outsider, with a technology industry background. Prior to joining PRO Unlimited, the press release stated, “Akeroyd served as CEO at Cision where he took the company public on the NYSE before selling it for $2.8 billion to Platinum Equity in January 2020. Prior to Cision, Akeroyd has been General Manager at both Oracle and Salesforce, running business units that were category leaders in Cloud Software, Services, and Data. Earlier in his career, Akeroyd held Executive positions at companies including Jigsaw, Acxiom and RR Donnelley.”

One of Akeroyd’s first moves as CEO at PRO Unlimited was relocating the company’s headquarters from Boca Raton, Florida, to San Francisco, California, a change that fits with what we learned about Akeroyd’s vision of the company and the role of technology in it.

What follows is a sampling of topics discussed in our hour-long, detailed conversation in which Akeroyd shared his view of the contingent workforce industry and how he saw PRO Unlimited addressing organizations’ present and future contingent workforce requirements.

We've covered PRO Unlimited in the past. This Spend Matters' PRO piece gives readers a detailed overview of the PRO Unlimited solution

Akeroyd's view of the contingent workforce industry

Kevin Akeroyd told us about what struck him about the contingent workforce industry as he became acquainted with it in the past months. Akeroyd noted that, over the past 20+ years, contingent staffing had gone from tactical staff aug to strategic at the C-suite level of enterprises, as the percent of total workforce grew.

Akeroyd said, “Now it is not unusual to find organizations where contingent work makes up 40% of the total workforce. And most companies I've talked to want to make that number 50 or 60%.”

Akeroyd also pointed to the increase in the skilled white-collar contingent workforce as a reason for it becoming more strategic for organizations.

Akeroyd explained how he saw contingent workforce becoming a high strategic priority at the senior executive level, not only for the CHRO. For the CFO, he said, “It's a top four, spend category, my entire corporate P&L in most industries, this is literally going to move earnings per share.

“And then, as it always happens, things get more tech and data related, especially with all of the data regulation and the risk associated with running afoul of things like employee data privacy, etc. Now, all of a sudden, the CIO, really cares. And add the complexity and the compliance risks, diversity, inclusion and work from home, and that's a hairy beast. Personally, I've been here before,” he said. “I watched it happen in CRM and customer service, I watched it happen in marketing.”

Akeroyd's visions for PRO Unlimited's growth

Regarding him joining PRO Unlimited, Kevin Akeroyd said, “I looked at this company, with its scale, its size, its geographic footprint. And I thought, ‘Wow, not only is this a great industry to jump into, this company has got a great head start, given its 30 years plus serving the market in addition to its people, expertise and service capabilities.’

“It’s also got a couple of private equity firms with $40 billion assets under management that are interested to invest in this category and in this company. When I went through that thought process, it became very, very apparent to me that I really, really wanted to come to this industry and be the CEO of PRO Unlimited.”

Akeroyd discussed his vision for PRO Unlimited, based on his background in tech and data. “I’ve learned from other industries that businesses don’t want to deal with 30 or 40 little fragmented vendors. They really want a kind of a reference platform, like a Workday for human resources or a Coupa for spend management. So, who's going to do it for contingent workforce management? It's going to need a platform approach.”

Akeroyd took great pains to detail what he meant by that — far too many details to cover in an article of this length. Essentially, it meant having a unifying technology infrastructure, which enables service delivery and new services with data at its core.

“I'm a data guy as much as I am a tech guy. There's always been a component of tech-enabled, value-added services to the tech space. And I think the data oftentimes is more valuable than the software container that it sits in. Most of my career, I’ve been not only a believer, but an evangelist about tying data, software, services and intelligence. You end up driving way more value for your clients.”

But Akeroyd definitely acknowledged the critical importance of people and expertise at PRO Unlimited and the overall industry: multi-disciplinary and domain expertise, program execution, client success, and customer support.

“I'm going to start with the people, and maintain our world-class service delivery and flawless execution,” he said. “That's been the hallmark of an MSP for 20 years. And it needs to continue to be because at the end of the day, while the technology platform is what’s going to enable the step-function transformation for the C-Suite, there will continue to be a strong need for tech-enabled managed services as well. That’s not going to change this decade, no matter how advanced the technology, machine-based learning, AI — all areas in which PRO is a leader — become over the next nine years. And we do it better than anyone else.”

“But what I think is missing,” he continued, “is you also need to have the advisory, analysis and business intelligence/decisioning people offerings. I don't want to get into management, consulting or build an HCM practice. But there's a big layer we need to step up into, there's this higher end advisory component that we are putting on top of traditional staff aug, MSP, etc. We literally sit on decades of experiences, hundreds of Fortune 1000 experience, we’ve seen trillions of dollars of spend, and we sit on petabytes of industry data. We are the only player with these assets, and I can’t wait to harness them and begin delivering value for our clients and partners with them.”

Besides the above topics (where clearly harnessing data is central), Akeroyd discussed a range of other topics ranging from SOW to direct sourcing, from partnering to acquiring. He also discussed the components of PRO Unlimited’s platform business and infrastructure, conceptually and very concretely — including solutions that would start being brought to market in the coming months.

In our conversation, Akeroyd clearly credentialed himself as a savvy executive who had led service/technology/data businesses through digital transformation as well as a super quick study in the contingent workforce.

We look forward to following Kevin Akeroyd’s leadership of PRO Unlimited and how the company will evolve, differentiate itself and create new value for companies in the coming years.

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