Cloud-Based Labor-on-Demand Services Expand Beyond IT Tasks

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    As companies continue to try to cut their labor costs by reducing full-time employee headcount and adding more freelancers, managing the mix is only going to get more complicated. The stable of service providers vying to uncomplicate it is expanding, as is their focus—what used to be a model characterized by freelancers performing one-off IT tasks has evolved into a much more complex labor-on-demand management marketplace that crosses job functions and vertical industries.

    Eager to demonstrate its wherewithal to make that transition is OnForce, a Boston-based work force management services provider, which earlier this month launched its Converge platform, a cloud-based freelancer management system. OnForce has been in the space since 2004, sourcing freelancers to perform task-based IT work. With the launch of Converge, it’s positioning itself to compete more aggressively against Work Market, a newcomer that’s focused on managing onsite freelancers on an enterprise scale, which I wrote about last month; and the combined power of Elance and oDesk, two veteran players in the virtual freelance work segment that merged last December.

    I recently spoke with OnForce CEO Peter Cannone about his company’s strategy and its fit in the expanding worker-on-demand marketplace. He affirmed that what OnForce is doing with Converge, that’s different from what it was doing before, is essentially the leap beyond IT.

    “We’ve been very focused on the IT industry for the past seven or eight years,” Cannone said.”And what’s happened over the past six to 12 months is we’ve been asked by large enterprises in other industries about being able to take our platform to manage their onsite freelancers.”

    Cannone said there’s a gap in the market, stemming from the fact that 26 percent of spending on contingent workforce management is through traditional vendor management systems like IQNavigator, Beeline and Fieldglass. “We see about a 75 percent market opportunity, where businesses have freelancer networks that they’ve been utilizing for years, but that they really had no mechanism to manage,” he said. That, he said, is where Converge comes in.

    “OnForce Converge gives them that mechanism to manage freelancers,” he said. “They’re able to aggregate their existing freelancers, and place them into a network that can be managed in a highly efficient and cost-effective way.” He characterized the approach as complementary to what the large staffing companies, or managed service providers, are doing with their contingent workforce programs—he cited Manpower’s TAPFIN, Adecco’s Pontoon and Randstad’s Sourceright. Cannone said these programs manage $88 billion in contingent work spending in the United States.

    What Cannone was talking about seemed to be strikingly similar to what Work Market is already doing. That’s probably not a coincidence. An interesting dimension of all this is that Jeff Leventhal, who founded OnForce in 2004, is the co-founder and CEO of Work Market, which just last month went out of “stealth” mode to launch its platform. Cannone acknowledged that “there are some similarities” between what Work Market and OnForce are doing, but he made a concerted effort to differentiate his company.

    “I think the big difference between Work Market and us is they came out with an approach to service all markets, whereas we were very focused in the IT space. We stayed focused, and really perfected the industry, and then we expanded beyond that,” he said. “So we’ve been around a lot longer, and we’re a lot bigger. The other thing I would say is, we have existing large enterprise clients that are working with us. We feel like we’re the proven entity. We’ve been very stealth about announcing Converge until we were ready.”

    I asked Cannone if it was fair to say the emergence of Work Market kick-started or accelerated what OnForce wanted to do with Converge. He dismissed the notion out of hand.

    “No,” he said. “We’ve been doing this for a long time, and we’ve been dealing with several large enterprise players.”

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