New platform is a ‘hub of innovation’ for contingent workforce management, says PRO Unlimited’s CEO

workforce data About a year ago, Kevin Akeroyd became the CEO of PRO Unlimited, a provider of modern workforce solutions. (Company photo)

As the world slowly emerges from the Covid pandemic, businesses are taking stock and re-evaluating their workforces. So many companies, large and small, were pushed into new staffing and management scenarios.

Even though plenty of negative experiences occurred over the past year, many positives emerged in the contingent workforce arena. At the beginning, every category within the workforce faced a dramatic short-term drop. But contingent work has quickly rebounded while full-time work is still lagging.

According to Kevin Akeroyd, CEO at PRO Unlimited, a modern workforce management solutions provider, by the third quarter of 2020, they saw contingent work increase by 9% over pre-Covid levels. By the end of the first quarter in 2021, that figure rose to 15% above pre-Covid levels. Akeroyd and his company, which provides contingent workforce management (CWM) software and services, supported this shift while providing integrated CWM solutions for businesses in sectors including technology, financial services, pharmaceuticals, consumer, insurance, manufacturing and healthcare.

For many companies, Akeroyd said, the pandemic was a forcing mechanism that helped them realize they could shift from full-time employees in brick-and-mortar offices to a total talent pool that included non-employee workers who are remote. It became an educational moment that accelerated change and removed some limits. While this trend was coming before Covid, the pandemic has been an accelerant — creating what looks to be a permanent mental and strategy shift for many employers globally.

We talked with Akeroyd to learn more about how the pandemic has impacted companies like PRO Unlimited, which is focusing on data-as-a-service, and to find out what its clients are looking for now.

Q&A

Spend Matters: What have you seen internally with your clients as they adapt, or adapt more quickly, as a result of the pandemic?

Kevin Akeroyd: Overall, we have seen more companies move from the traditional tactical CWM in the procurement office to a more strategic focus that encompasses multiple departments and higher levels of leadership. At many businesses, contingent workers make up half, or even more, of their total workforce, so it becomes a priority for the chief human resources officer. The types of workers have changed, too, with more white-collar workers at play. This means the chief financial officer and chief procurement officer are now looking at millions of dollars — billions in the Fortune 1000 — in spend across wider categories of workers. Data security, software, analytics and integrations mean the chief information officer will also be weighing in.

Another major development we’re seeing is a desire to shift away from fragmented and unintegrated solutions. Companies are finding that contingent labor needs to be treated much more holistically because it is no longer merely staff augmentation. The C-suite is integral because there can be hundreds of millions of dollars in contingent spend being managed each year.

Companies want to move away from a number of discrete vendors — VMS, MSP, payroll, compliance, data/analytics, talent curation and the like — because they need to have a true technology ecosystem that enables the entire workflow and can integrate effectively across the entire company to manage their contingent workforce. The same thing that happened with technologies on the full-time employee side is now happening with CWM for the same reasons — to improve speed, quality, efficiency and financial benefits.

In today’s world, it’s critical that each individual component enables the overall solution and can integrate with existing technologies. To meet those needs, PRO Unlimited is developing multiple software-as-a-service (SaaS) tools in addition to our service, data and worker-experience suites:

  • Rate Point (SaaS for market rate intelligence)
  • DirectSource PRO (SaaS for direct sourcing)
  • PRO Unites (SaaS for diversity and inclusion and data-as-a-service (DaaS)

While companies want to transition their technologies, how are they managing that process? Do you find it moves at different rates depending on company size? And how is PRO Unlimited supporting its varied client base?

One of my epiphanies has been that every single one of our Global 2000 clients recognizes that the change is mission-critical, but I’m amazed at how many are still behind the curve.

The client has to be ready and have the sophistication to enact the changes. It takes an investment in people and leadership, budget and technology. Companies may be self-aware, but movement can be slow.

We see this as a major opportunity because our CWM platform is a hub of innovation. With our client base of more innovative Fortune 1000 companies than anyone else in the industry, we’re establishing best practices across a range of industries and company sizes. We’re also helping companies mature by giving our clients more than our traditional services — delivering enhanced services like advisory, consulting, analytics and intelligence services.

To ensure PRO is creating solutions for our entire client base, we have become the holistic global provider while also putting the appropriate level of market segmentation in place. Our clients in EMEA, APAC and North America, for instance, have similar global needs, but the region-specific and country-specific requirements are also significant and need to be met with regional teams and regional solutions.

Enterprise vs. mid-market clients is another example. Again, many needs are similar, but the complexities and spend requirements are distinct enough to warrant individual, specific focuses for each area. Mid-market clients, for instance, prefer to work in a more “self-service” mode, so our entire customer experience and solution set needs to cater to that. Enterprise needs are more “full service,” so we cater to those needs as well.

One more example is vertical industries. While the overall needs are similar, the specific needs for technology, pharmaceutical, automotive, consulting and financial services companies need to be met as well.

Like many of your clients, PRO Unlimited is undergoing a dramatic evolution. How are you accomplishing things and what’s still to come?

CWM is now 40%-50% of the entire workforce and over $4 trillion in annual spend; it is also becoming highly dependent on data, technology and integration, so traditional MSP and VMS solutions are not enough anymore. Now that statement of work, diversity and inclusion, and direct sourcing are also becoming major components of the CWM landscape, staff augmentation isn’t enough either. At PRO, we realized that if we wanted to be the industry leader for the next decade, we were going to have to invest in major innovation and transformation ourselves. We have developed a true platform and have launched five new technology solutions in the last 10 months.

We’ve also made two material acquisitions and formed strategic, industry-changing exclusive partnerships with companies like Eightfold.ai and Mitchell Madison. And we’re doing this globally. We are the scale player; we have the capital, resources and the institutional knowledge to execute against our aggressive agenda.

To underscore the need to be global, the acquisitions of Brainnet, the largest vendor-neutral MSP in continental Europe, and PeopleTicker, the leading contingent data provider in over 160 non-USA countries, are important capabilities enhancers and a major expansion of our global footprint.

Most importantly, we’re involving our clients every step of the way. We collaborate with the best, most-innovative clients in the world to ensure we align with their current and future requirements.

PRO Unlimited’s growth strategy relies in large part on data. How is your data set different from others in the industry and what benefits does it provide for your clients?

Our clients have aggressive agendas. They want their contingent labor programs to be as data-driven as every other department, so we have to be equally as aggressive in providing solutions.

And software is just “the container.” The intelligence comes from the data that is populated inside the container. We have amassed a data ocean that goes beyond reporting and visualization. It provides predictive analytics and is the largest, highest-quality training data set in the world, so we are able to offer true machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI). Our total available data, which is updated regularly, encompasses more than 30 billion data points on more than 1.5 billion workers globally.

We now provide our clients with features that enable more informed hiring, diversity and redeployment of workers anywhere in the world. This real-time matching and ranking of candidates result in faster, smarter hiring decisions at scale.

No matter how much technology is in the mix, how will people — at PRO Unlimited and with your clients — play a role as the industry evolves?

Technology and data are important, but I've come to a firm conclusion that people always have been, and will continue to be, the most valuable resource, especially in this industry. It has been my observation that some companies providing services and solutions in our industry view people as a cost to be squeezed out of the system, whether that comes through cutting employees or shifting jobs to low-cost offshore offices, despite the material degradation in quality and client/candidate experience. At PRO, we believe people are the most important part of our entire solution.

Within our company, we’re investing in the most capable people across the spectrum so we know we can maintain and grow the strategic-advisory services for our clients. We also need to compete aggressively — and win — against our competitors. Services are a critical part of our platform, and we believe those services will help our clients achieve what they’re working toward.

Our clients and suppliers are learning that investing in technology creates new jobs. And it creates more jobs than it displaces. That won’t change at all, especially not in this industry. Companies will need their traditional staff augmentation roles, but they can’t expect those people to all of a sudden become services procurement or direct sourcing experts, data scientists or business analysts or candidate experience gurus — so new job descriptions will continually evolve.

To successfully climb the maturity curve, an investment in people and services is key. People are the differentiating factor, not a cost to be reduced.

This Brand Studio article was written with PRO Unlimited.

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