A View Into the Extended Workforce

Recent trends show an increase in organizations engaging the extended workforce as well as a significant increase in the number of independent workers over the last few years. More companies are including contingent staffing segments in their workforce plan, making an extended workforce platform that includes data tracking for all workers an imperative. On this month’s Subject to Talent podcast Beeline CEO Doug Leeby shares how greater visibility and holistic management of the entire workforce within one platform provides a tactical advantage to organizations.
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Bruce Morton: Welcome to Subject to Talent brought to you by Allegis Global Solutions (AGS). Similar to you, we're always trying to learn more. On this podcast, we speak to workforce and talent experts from around the world, covering market trends, technology and our ever-evolving dynamic industry.

Bruce Morton: Hi, I'm Bruce Morton, the host of this Subject to Talent podcast. Today I'm joined by a great friend of mine, Doug Leeby, who's the CEO of Beeline, a global SaaS technology company and solution provider for sourcing and managing the extended workforce. Doug has been named to Staffing Industry Analysts’ Staffing 100 list, get this, every year since 2012. Wow. Doug, welcome. Thank you for joining us.

Doug Leeby: Thanks, Bruce. Great to be with you.

Bruce Morton: Good stuff. So, let's dive straight in. We always ask our guests the same first question. And that is how did you get into the workforce industry, and what was your journey to get you where you are today?

Doug Leeby: Okay, fair enough. I certainly didn't have any desire to get into this industry, of course, especially from the technical side—the VMS side as we used to call it—that evolved 20 years ago. But I did actually get a master’s degree in human resources, so I always had predilection towards people and consulting from that regard. But then I found myself, like my father, in consumer products and went through Pillsbury and ConAgra and 10 years later found myself looking to do something a little bit differently here in Jacksonville and had an opportunity to connect with the MPS Group, which was later bought by Adecco. So, you may not know that name, you might remember it.

But at any rate, I was with the staffing division for a year but that was 2001 when things weren't going so well on multiple levels economically. And then, of course, the tragedy of September 11. So my experience with staffing was basically shutting down offices all that year, which wasn't very fun. And then MPS Group sold that division, it was called Scientific Staffing, to Kforce. And I wanted to stay with the MPS Group, so I was asked what I might want to do. There was a little startup out at the beaches area called Beeline, which actually started as a marketplace, believe it or not. He may have been way ahead of his time. But then they pivoted to what we all understand to be VMS. And so, for me that was 22 years ago, last month.

Bruce Morton: Wow. Quite the journey.

Doug Leeby: It has been. Thanks.

Bruce Morton: Yeah. Obviously, so Beeline has been in the industry for more than 20 years, but in the past few years, you've truly established yourself as the world's first extended workforce platform. As we all know, the industry is now finally starting to embrace that term, “extended workforce.” But for our listeners, can you just expand on what that really means and how is that changing from a technical perspective?

Doug Leeby: Sure. So let me answer that in two ways. In terms of what it really means around the extended workforce or the external workforce or the variable workforce or whatever moniker we want to associate with it, it just basically in a nutshell means all that is not full time. So that's contractors, it's project work, it's independent contractors, or gig consultants that do BPO. Whatever isn't fully employed by the organization, should be in the technology.

And then to answer your question, from a technology perspective, what's changed is when you think about yourself as a platform and no longer just a point solution, you have a responsibility to all the constituents. You and I know this, we've been doing this for years, but we operate in an ecosystem. So we've probably focused, I shouldn't say too much, but in the early days that's what you do, on the client. But there's other important components and constituents, like I said. So our next area of focus was frankly, folks like yourselves, the MSPs, to better enable the work. But we really haven't done much for the suppliers, whether that be staffing companies or others, nor have we done much for the talent. And then there's a couple of other players as well. But for the most part, from a technology perspective, we've got an eye now, not just on the client, but also on the talent, and then the supply group so that we can bring more value and make this ecosystem more efficient for all players.

Bruce Morton: Right. And I want to dig into that in a second of some of the recent acquisitions you've made.

Doug Leeby: Sure.

Bruce Morton: But with this expanded extended workforce and the technology now to really help organizations get their arms around it, how is that culturally impacting the way organizations are thinking about the way to get work done now?

Doug Leeby: It's a great question, and I still think we're in early days, and as you'll probably concur, the analysts and folks have been talking about the term I don't love, but “total talent management” for many, many years. And you probably share some of my frustration in that. We can talk about it all day long, but yet the industry at large has still been reticent to move in that direction. I think for a myriad of reasons. But as you think about economic downturns or changes in technology or service offerings from people like yourselves, it starts to become easier and more prominent. And as you obviously recall, early days, I think it was really perceived as staff augmentation. Now it's really seen as strategic. And so the fact that the enterprise is actually looking at this category strategically, it clearly makes sense to pursue the approach that you and your colleagues bring to market, which is the unified workforce, and start to look at that Venn diagram and where the overlap is and look more at skills versus how the government pays people specifically. Makes sense?

Bruce Morton: Yeah, it does. Yeah. And we're certainly on that journey, as you say. And I think it is, we're definitely seeing signs of it expediting now.

Doug Leeby: Agreed.

Bruce Morton: And I think everything we've been through the last few years and the impending whatever's coming this year, I think there's a wind of opportunity now for organizations not just to theorize and strategize, but actually really make some differences and start thinking differently about that work.

Doug Leeby: And don't you think, Bruce, sorry, just real quick.

Bruce Morton: Yeah, go on.

Doug Leeby: Don't you also think that the talent shortage has maybe accelerated that as well as organizations try to tackle some of these sourcing problems? I think that's also been an impetus for them to look at internal and external talent side by side and realize, okay, we actually do have to look at talent holistically.

Bruce Morton: Yeah, totally agree. I mean, the explosion of talent platforms now, if you think about the internal talent marketplace, I think in 2023 we're going to hear a lot more about that.

Doug Leeby: Agreed.

Bruce Morton: Never mind going, so what talents have we already got within, and how they will hopefully be utilized.

Doug Leeby: That's right.

Bruce Morton: So with the acquisitions that you've been making, it's positioned you to combine all these things we're talking about, and obviously on a global landscape as well, can you share how a couple of those recent acquisitions and partnerships are impacting how you can now elevate the value that you bring to organizations?

Doug Leeby: Absolutely. Thanks, for that. I think if we're honest with ourselves, the reality is, I'll use old terminology, VMS, but we'll call it the extended workforce platform in this modern date. But from a VMS perspective, there are gaps. I mean, I think we've done a pretty good job, my competitors and myself, going globally with people like yourselves to handle a majority of the external workforce. But there's still pieces, in my opinion, that we weren't servicing very well. And one of those components or labor classes would be the, that the shift, S-H-I-F-T, shift-based talent, highly transactional, really just about getting butts in seats. And a VMS can actually kind of retard the progress that the people on the line are looking for when you start to bring all this governance and workflow into place.

And so I was looking at a build or buy strategy for many years on that, and there frankly wasn't much to buy. And from a build perspective, we knew we could do it. We understood what our clients were looking for, especially in the light industrial space, but we just had other priorities. And so we got, I think, very fortunate and found this really neat little company from some great technologists who actually then went into the staffing world in the light industrial world and figured there was a better way. And they created this company out of the UK, JoinedUp, which is really fit for purpose, for highly transactional shift-based work. So we purchased them so that we could fill that gap and bring, I think, a much more credible, viable solution to our clients. So that was one.

And then, of course, the big news as of late was the acquisition of Utmost, which for me is really, really exciting on multiple fronts. I think many people may view that and think we are just trying to knock a competitor out. But as we got deep with the executives of that company, we realized, of course, there's some overlap, but there's actually a lot that wasn't overlap. And I guess dovetailing with your earlier questions around the unified workforce, one of the areas I got most excited about was, we just recently renamed it, so I'll refer to it with this current name, which is GWI, which is Global Workforce Intelligence. And they've been quite clever in creating, I'll just call it a module or a solution that can sit on top of an extended workforce platform or on top of a VMS and, in essence, digest all that is non full-time, whether it's in your VMS or your AP system or any other platform.

And so I think that's something that is of immediate need to the market and helps us from a global perspective. As you well know, you have pockets where it doesn't necessarily warrant full-on technology, full extended workforce management tool, yet you still want that visibility. And in essence, it also provides the ability to digest the full-time information as well. So now we can actually look at both full-time and non-full-time in one place in a very easy and elegant solution. And, of course, there's other areas, I mean, I already talked about the ecosystem. They too, interestingly, were looking at the world in terms of client, talent and supplier, and they did a fair amount of work on supplier and talent, which is on my roadmap. I don't want to oversimplify it, but in essence, we can bolt that on now to the platform and provide much more robust global functionality to our clients and to the suppliers and the talent as well.

Bruce Morton: Yeah. And has that got you into different conversations with, I won't say new, but additional stakeholders or C-suite players? I'm thinking that, I used to use the analogy that if you went to your large organization, if you went to your head of real estate and say, "Right, come into my office tomorrow, bring me a report of all the real estate we've got. Do we own it? Are we leasing it? Are we're renting it? How long are we on the hook for? What are we paying per square footage, utilization, everything?" You'd get that report within a day.

Doug Leeby: That's right.

Bruce Morton: If you said the same question, how are we getting work done? It'll take more than a day.

Doug Leeby: That's right.

Bruce Morton: So, I think that's the world you're moving towards. And with the Utmost platform, the GWI platform sitting on top of that, at the very least, you've got a starting point. Okay?

Doug Leeby: Well, yeah, the starting point.

Bruce Morton: Who these people are, what skillset have they got, how are we paying them, how long are they going to stick around for, and so on and so forth. So as you move further and further on that journey, are you seeing that you're able to get the attention of folks outside our traditional stakeholders, which would be head of talent or procurement?

Doug Leeby: Yeah, it's a great question because we have seen some of that. It's still early days, but I think it's a harbinger of what's to come. And that is just this kind of magic button that you just talked about. I don't care about any of the details, I just want to hit this button and I want to get a rollup of all of my work and understand where it's being done, how it's being done, who's doing it, what I'm paying, et cetera, which has been elusive for many years, despite the fact that the technology has been there. Now you have to cobble certain things together. And then you have behavioral issues, which is, in my opinion, where the MSP, where the AGSs of the world come in and provide a lot of value because you can still provide a tool, but if somebody isn't digging up that data and ensuring that it's ingested, then you're still stuck with the same old problem. You just have more technology, but not the holistic view.

So we've had some examples where folks on the C-suite have said, "Look, I'm going to leave the VMS for the extended workforce platform to procurement or IT or to the HR, as you've mentioned, but I really have to get my arms around this total visibility from a global perspective on talent." And there's been a couple cases with GWI where we've been able to frankly just sell that to the C-suite, and then obviously we connect to the extended workforce platform.

Bruce Morton: And what are some of the use cases when, I know it's early days, but when an organization gets that visibility they've been asking for and they have the magic button, then what do they do with it?

Doug Leeby: Well, that's a great question. I think about, and I know you do as well, because we've talked about this, but the first thing you have to do is understand what you have and then classify it properly. So in essence, kind of cleanse the data. Then we start looking at skills and needs based on the outcomes that we want to deliver. And we can start, as I always say, fixing the mix, which is an old consumer products term. But let's not worry so much about, as I said earlier, how the government pays these people. Let's just figure out where the skills are. Maybe we can look at rate arbitrage into that equation and look at different models so that we can then start to test different labor strategies for these outcomes. Is that happening wholesale? I don't think so, but I will share a story with you, which I thought was kind of interesting that plays into this global workforce intelligence.

There's a client who already had a VMS, but they still didn't get the visibility they wanted. And we always suffer this rogue spend. We know that the VMS isn't capturing all that was in the external workforce. But this particular pharmaceutical organization installed Global Workforce Intelligence and they ingested the data from all different sources, including the VMS, which wasn't ours, by the way. But here's what was fascinating to me, that out of the entirety of all the data, and they did capture it all, the VMS was only capturing one, five, 15% of that spend.

Bruce Morton: Wow.

Doug Leeby: Now, maybe that's an outlier, but even if you're only capturing 60, 70, 80%, you're still not capturing the entirety of it. And so I think that's step one. And then as I said, then there's step two, step three. So I don't think at large the enterprise is doing a lot with that data yet. But I think you have to have that as a foundational element to then start making smarter, better decisions. And I think we're on the precipice of that now.

Bruce Morton: Right. As you think about that, so if we separate staff or contractors and independent workers with the service providers, is that visibility, are you able to give that at an individual level regardless of whether they're working for a staffing company or they're working for, I don't know, Accenture? Are you looking at that level or is it just service providers doing this work and here's the individuals?

Doug Leeby: It is at that level. And in fact, at least with Beeline, it's been at that level for many, many years. We always set up our service procurement modules so that you could get down to the worker level. But yeah, I mean, you're exactly right. When we start to elevate that and think about the Global Workforce Intelligence solution and the ability to look at the entirety of the workforce, you can get as granular as the individual.

Bruce Morton: Right. And obviously, we've been working together for many, many years as colleagues, but also our organization went together for probably 20 years, I guess.

Doug Leeby: Correct.

Bruce Morton: But I think where we're starting to really see the impact now is the data that we're collectively bringing to the party, and obviously through, both of us, our relationships that we both have with Brightfield. Do you see that as the next part of the journey once you get visibility, then to be able to break down to that skill level?

Doug Leeby: Absolutely. And you're keying in on something which I think is really important. We've had a couple inflection points in our industry. I mean, 20 years ago it was the technology, and now we're seeing direct sourcing and some other interesting components around marketplaces. But for me, I think the game is again, on the precipice of a major change. And that is, it's all about data. Workflow is not that hard. Okay, you can have a pretty UX, et cetera, and you can kind of talk about AI and ML, which is obviously going to be important, but at the end of the day, it's all going to be predicated on data.

So in my mind, the organizations that have massive datasets are going to be the winners because they'll be able to leverage that. I look at this, and I think you do as well, because we've talked about this is it's not a technology implementation, it's not an MSP implementation. It's a talent strategy. It's a talent transformation implementation. And that requires a service platform such as AGS, it requires a technology platform such as us, and often calls for an intelligence platform like a Brightfield, which you just mentioned. And I think when you put those three together, then you got the potential for the magic to happen, not on day one, but day whatever, it could be a year or three years, five years, et cetera. But now we're actually progressing and moving with a real strategy versus just workflow and data capture.

Bruce Morton: Right. And here we are in January 2023. So I guess we should have a quick conversation around do we think there's an impending recession and if so, what would it look like, and what would the impact be? Our industry obviously had an incredible 2021, nobody really predicted that, how quickly we came back.

Doug Leeby: Sure.

Bruce Morton: And then 2022 was even better. But the signs are that depending on what press you're [reading], that things are slowing down.

Doug Leeby: That's right.

Bruce Morton: You're seeing a lot of the big tech companies make these big layoffs and perhaps they overindulged and overextended it. What are your thoughts on that?

Doug Leeby: I mean, I've written about this before. If we want one, we'll get one. And I think people want one because there's a self-fulfilling prophecy happening now. I'm not naive enough to say that there aren't variable factors that are going to contribute to this. But I guess my point is, when you read about what some of these big tech firms are doing, you get a little bit nervous and you don't want to be Johnny-come-lately. So it can have a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy effect. Having said that, I do think something's coming. I think we're all starting to tighten the belt a little bit. We look at the data as I'm sure you do as well, and the number of openings is down, it's still up, but it's down comparatively month over month, right?

Bruce Morton: Right.

Doug Leeby: I actually think this is going to be a super interesting time because as you well know, whatever the number is, 45, 50% of the labor force is now contingent. And I believe because it's become so strategic and not just senior staff, I think we're going to see a different dynamic, whereas traditionally in '08 and '09, and prior to that in '01, the organizations would cut the temps first. And you'll remember that viscerally, right?

Bruce Morton: Sure.

Doug Leeby: There was like a 20% head cut in 2008. I don't think that's going to happen to the same extent. I think there's going to be pressure from the CFO suite to reduce headcount. And I think what we'll see is a bit of, as I said earlier, a mix shift where, right or wrong, they're going to be full-time positions that'll be eliminated. And yet they'll still make good use of the external workforce because of the variable model, which is so effective. And yet work still has to get done.

For example, there's some projects we're working on, and our private equity firms are like, "Well, that's project based. We don't worry about that as much. Go for that." So I think we're going to see, I don't think it'll be a severe economic downturn, I don't see massive changes and bill rates are coming down a little bit, but not massively. And I'm not seeing a massive pullback in demand. We're just seeing a little slight pullback and that could get a little bit more, but I still think we're not going to be impacted the way that we have been previously.

Bruce Morton: Right. And I think the organizations realize that the last thing to slow down on is any tech projects anyway, right?

Doug Leeby: 100%. Right.

Bruce Morton: I think we've had a ton of examples in the transport industry recently…

Doug Leeby: Correct.

Bruce Morton: ... that they might have wanted to invest a bit more in tech. And I wholeheartedly agree with you. I think that the organizations now are so reliant as a competitive advantage of some case with their contingent workforce or their extended workforce, that those aren't the people they're going to let go. It's going to be a weird one if it does come.

Doug Leeby: Well, and you and I share one of the world's biggest tech companies, and they've been in the news with some of the things they're doing, but yet the programs that we're involved in, we haven't seen a big pullback. So I think that's evidence, a data point at least.

Bruce Morton: Yeah. Yeah. Okay. So as we come to the end of our chat here, again, it's the same question we ask each time is looking beyond 2023, pick a time in the future to suit, but the crystal ball question, how do you see our industry changing over the next three to five or whatever years?

Doug Leeby: I do laugh when we talk about three to five because I always lament. I do think we operate in a great, fun, amazing industry, and yet one of my greatest lamentations is I think we move too slowly and it just is what it is. I mean, we are dealing with very large complex organizations with lots of priorities. However, you and I have been offering some really neat stuff for years and years that still are not necessarily being exploited in the way that I think it could be.

So I'm going to probably reserve my right not to talk about the timeframe so much, because I'm sure I'll be wrong about that. But from a trend perspective, there are a lot of areas we can talk about. Direct sourcing to me is just a sub-component of omnichannel sourcing. I think it's maybe first step, but I think what we're learning is that at the end of the day, the clients want an opportunity to go find talent wherever, however, and maybe not just the traditional model. I think the traditional model's very important and it won't go away. But I don't think you're going to find organizations perhaps just have one direct sourcing approach. I think we'll find much like staffing, there are niche providers, whether they're great at skills or geography centric or cost model based. There's going to be different approaches and the technology and the AGSs of the world are going to have to ensure that they sit atop that and provide as much access to different sources of talent as possible.

And I think better matching and data insights will help tremendously. I think that's great because clients will get "the right talent" faster. I think it'll be less about price and more about how do I align those skillsets with the desired outcomes that I'm looking at. I think going back to my comments on the ecosystem, we're going to continue to see more solutions and more focus on the talent themselves. And I've heard a lot of people say, "Well, with the economic downturn coming, the power's going back to the enterprise." I don't really think that's true. Certainly not in IT, and I don't necessarily think it should be an issue of power, so we have to be careful about that. But blockchain or not, I still think we're going to see some pretty cool advances with portability, whether that's CVs and profiles or background checks or just giving the talent themselves more visibility to some of the jobs that are open out there. I think we're on the precipice of some big changes there, which I think is exciting.

And then I guess I would conclude with remote's not going away. I've got this big beautiful office I opened up three weeks after COVID, and it doesn't matter how many lunches I buy, I do, like if the executives show up, the others show up. I'm here every day and I'm very lonely. So remote, it's here to stay. And I think that's also going to be a major trend that the technology and the service providers are going to leverage from a nominee sourcing approach.

Bruce Morton: Right. Great. Well, thank you so much for that insight. Doug, as always a great pleasure in chatting with you.

Doug Leeby: Likewise.

Bruce Morton: If people want to know more about all the exciting things happening at Beeline, where should they go?

Doug Leeby: They should go to Autumn, my COO, who actually runs this place or my website.

Bruce Morton: I thought you'd have a funny answer for that one. Well, Doug, really, really appreciate it. We'll speak again soon.

Doug Leeby: Okay, my friend. Be well. Happy New Years.

Bruce Morton: Cheers.

Doug Leeby: Thanks. Bye-bye.

Bruce Morton: Thanks.

Bruce Morton: To learn more about AGS, please check us out at AllegisGlobalSolutions.com. You can also send questions for me or our guests. Just tweet us here @AllegisGlobal with the #Subject to Talent or email us at SubjectToTalent@AllegisGlobalSolutions.com. And if you enjoyed our podcast today, please subscribe, rate us and leave a review. Until next time, cheers.