Human resources technology helps streamline the hiring of contingent labor and boost productivity
by Alison Weiss, February 2013
According to a recent Professional Services Sector Report published by Hoovers, the professional services industry includes 770,000 firms with combined annual revenue of more than $1 trillion. And it looks like 2013 will be a prosperous year. Industry analysts at Service Performance Insight, who have tracked the industry over a five-year period, predict that professional services organizations (PSOs) will continue to achieve revenue growth and provide salary increases for consultants, following trends that started a few years ago. Their research shows that the average base salary for project managers, business consultants, and senior managers, among other professional service personnel, increased 4.8 percent in 2011 in addition to an 11 percent increase in 2010. A key reason for this positive outlook: A continued focus on improving productivity.
But increased productivity means more than just working harder. Experts at Staffing Industry Analysts attribute productivity gains to PSOs in financial services, business services, IT, and retail sectors, where hiring professional contingent labor as a cost-effective way to meet customer demands. While this trend to embrace contract labor shows no sign of abating in 2013, savvy PSO leaders recognize that contract employees need to be intelligently managed to meet strategic productivity objectives. And increasingly, efficient use of technology is seen as an option to support contingent labor productivity—while yielding a positive impact on the bottom line.
Indeed, global organizations of all kinds are dealing with pressure to deliver HR services more effectively and efficiently. The 2012 HR Service and Technology Survey Report by Towers Watson, which surveyed 628 firms, found that 31 percent of respondents expect to invest more in HR technology in 2013 to improve quality and lower costs for HR services. For PSOs, there is often a strong drive to use technology to streamline the project staffing process—particularly when there is a need to bring aboard contingent contract specialists.
This is certainly the case for Oracle’s own internal consulting organization, Oracle Consulting North America Applications (OC NA Apps) and its affiliated North America Consulting Subcontractor Program (NA CSP). NA CSP leaders recently implemented PeopleSoft Services Procurement and PeopleSoft Resource Management, part of the PeopleSoft Enterprise Service Automation 9.1 suite of products, to create a new Subcontractor Staffing Tool (SST). SST can be accessed by more than 200 registered external suppliers to review openings and bid competitively to place their resources on OC NA Apps consulting projects. In addition, NA CSP resource analysts can use the system to efficiently and accurately manage all aspects of identifying, recruiting and deploying billable subcontractors for consulting projects.
Contingent Labor on the Radar
According to Mandar Pendse, Senior Practice Director Oracle North America CSP, the timing for SST couldn’t have been better. Over the past few years, Oracle has pursued an aggressive strategy to acquire new products and technologies—ranging from PeopleSoft in 2005 to Vitrue in 2012. This has provided OC NA Apps’s approximately 1,400 consultants with more opportunities to work with customers on an ever-widening variety of projects. However, such rapid growth has meant that there are times when particular customer demands and tight time frames require OC NA Apps to request subcontractors to work on OC NA Apps-led projects.
“When there’s a need for a consultant on an Oracle project, the first thing we do is look for employees internally,” says Pendse. “And if no employee option is available, the requirement is officially open to the CSP channel.”
Christie Martinez, Consulting Staff Practice Manager with NA CSP, reports that advertising openings to the CSP channel used to be a very manual process. As part of her job, she is responsible for working with resource analysts and managing the back end subcontracting processes. She says that in the past, resource analysts would work with individuals requesting consulting support and then draft job requirements and project details that would be captured in Excel spreadsheets. Then, resource analysts would send e-mail blasts outlining job openings and their requirements to the Oracle partners they believed would most likely be able to supply subcontractors with the right skills for the particular OC NA Apps project.
In turn, each vendor in the supplier community would respond by submitting e-mails with resumes attached describing proposed subcontractors, their skills, and their subcontracting rates. “Six different resource analysts would send us e-mails with Excel spreadsheets to manage detailed requirements,” says Shawn Anderson, President at SDA Consulting, Inc., based in Homewood, IL. Anderson and her staff have provided consulting and staffing services to Oracle for over eight years, and as one of the top staffing vendors for Oracle for the past three years, she and her team were well acquainted with the juggling required by the former process. “Although we were able to successfully provide our services, it wasn’t the most efficient system,” she admits. And when it was necessary for Martinez to run reports to provide a consolidated picture of job requirements, contractors, and supplier information, this also proved to be very challenging. “It was always a struggle making sure everybody got information to me in a timely manner,” she says. “And since we didn’t really have a standard format, sometimes there would be missing data that needed to be filled in. There was a lot of back and forth to make sure reporting was accurate.”
Despite these inefficiencies, Pendse and his staff did a very good job matching subcontractors to projects and keeping track of particular skill sets they offered. But the information was not easily quantifiable. “We used our tribal knowledge and our history through our Excel trackers to go to vendors and when appropriate request specific contractors we’d worked with before,” says Pendse. “But, we didn’t have a single source of truth and a single database to meet the business requirements of a professional services business like ours.”
Pendse knew there was a way for his staff to be more productive and efficient, so he took action. “I told my management, ‘Guys, I need to automate, but right now there are no corporate systems available to run this business. But there is ready-made software, PeopleSoft, which Oracle owns, so we’ll just do it ourselves. We’ll even host it ourselves using Oracle hardware,” he recalls.
In short order, Pendse and his team decided to implement PeopleSoft Services Procurement to streamline the entire services procurement cycle for suppliers and PeopleSoft Resource Management to enable resource analysts to have complete visibility into suppliers and consultants with all information available in one location. The system runs on Oracle database, Sun hardware, Oracle Enterprise Linux and Oracle Virtual Machines.
And to follow the very same best practices that Oracle consultants recommend to their customers, Pendse was adamant that he and his staff make use of PeopleSoft functionality out-of-the-box. “We certainly didn’t want to customize the heck out of it,” he says. They went through a standard plain vanilla functionality demonstration to clearly understand features. When creating their portal-based system, the group focused on adapting their practices and procedures to map to what was available in the applications.
Another reason the team avoided customizations was the time factor—or lack of it. Pendse and his staff were still responsible for their day-to-day jobs and focused on system development on a time-available basis. They also did not have extensive system help, although the PeopleSoft Product Management and Development teams did provide guidance as well as regular checkpoint meetings to ensure everything went smoothly. And because the system would run internally and be accessed by outside users, SST needed to abide by Oracle’s corporate IT requirements, particularly regarding security. Eventually, SST was tested and implemented using the Oracle Unified Method project and program management framework, which is the same methodology used with Oracle end customers.
Going live on SST generated immediate benefits for the NA CSP staff and the more than 200 registered external suppliers. In her job, Adrienne Little, Resource Manager for NA CSP, uses both Services Procurement and Resource Management features in SST and definitely sees a productivity payoff. “The SST portal offers easily accessible, real-time status on every requirement. It also tracks bids and bid feedback,” she says. “This alleviates a lot of the back-and-forth e-mail communications with our vendors.”
Since SST makes liberal use of PeopleSoft’s flexible and powerful rules engine, which automatically recommends a list of vendors that meet certain requirements—such as Oracle products, skills, geographic area, or other parameters. This definitely saves time, but it also gathers critical information that individuals used to have to remember. “As we set up the rules, it captured a lot of our tribal knowledge in one place,” says Pendse.
And because SST is portal-based, NA CSP staff members see a version tailored for internal users, while contracting companies have their own version of the portal. For Capgemini India, which has over 100 consultants working as subcontractors on a variety of projects, SST has been a boon for productivity. “SST makes the whole process more efficient and more transparent,” says KT Nambi, National Lead-Captive Transformation Services, India Local Business Services, at Capgemini India. “It has improved turnaround time, and we’re able to process more profiles.”
Anderson particularly appreciates the visibility SST provides her in managing the activity of her recruiting staff in a single location. “I like having the ability to go to one system to get staffing requirements and updates on the staffing process,” she says.
NA CSP resource analysts report that because suppliers have adapted to SST so quickly, they are receiving more bids when they advertise for subcontracting positions. “We’re getting the right candidates,” says Martinez. “The system is connecting us to the vendors who can help us find the right subcontractors to fill even those positions that call for less common skill sets.”
Pendse and his team are pleased with the positive productivity results achieved with SST, particularly because such pains were taken to implement the system using the same methods and practices recommended to Oracle end customers in the business world. “We think the project shows how we at Oracle use PeopleSoft and how we managed using very little external help,” he says. “If you’re in the professional services business and need to borrow subcontractors to augment your own delivery capabilities, this is something you can do, too.”
Alison Weiss is a freelance writer in the San Francisco Bay Area and a frequent contributor to Profit.
Tribal knowledge, defined by businessdictionary.com, is a set of unwritten rules or information known by a group of individuals within an organization but not common to others that is often essential to the production of a product or performance of a service. Today, many organizations need to find ways to harness and transfer critical tribal knowledge for access by a new generation of employees. And for organizations intent on becoming more efficient and productive, accessing tribal knowledge held by their own staff members may be key to making successful improvements. According to industry experts, knowledge transfer is challenging, but there are a variety of ways to gather and archive tribal knowledge for later use. Here is a partial list of some of the most common strategies used today: software-based archive, common database, virtual private network or intranet, Wiki-based website, or Web portal. More than one strategy can be used at the same time, depending on the needs of organizations and individual users.