There Is an Alternative to Staffing Your Field Technician Force Yourself – the Case for Utilizing an Onsite Freelancer Platform

“The world of work has changed,” according to Jeffrey Leventhal, CEO and co-founder of Work Market, a leading platform and marketplace for finding and managing freelance labor. And this may be especially true for the services industry, where simply doing things the same way they’ve always been done just doesn’t cut it anymore.

However, Leventhal also warns that, “finding the right talent is one of the primary challenges in building an on-demand workforce. Especially for companies who use freelancers at scale, it’s imperative to find a reliable place where you can routinely tap into top-tier freelancers.” For the services industry, top tier typically means highly trained – and in many cases, certified – field technicians that may be confidently dispatched shortly after being recruited and vetted by the organization. Oh, yeah – and they must also be conveniently located proximate to a wide distribution of customer sites.

How can this be done? And what are the potential pitfalls of not having a well thought out plan for action, or not employing the proper tools to support an expanding market demand? Well, … unfortunately, there are many potential stumbling blocks – unless the plan is built on a foundation structured upon an effective onsite freelancer platform.

According to Diego Lomanto, vice president of marketing for Work Market, “there are six tools, or processes, that a services organization requires in order to effectively manage its field technician freelancers. They are find, verify, engage, manage, pay and rate.” Each of these tools may be described as follows:

Find

Identifying and finding the right freelancers for the job at hand represents the best place to start. For many businesses, it is relatively easy to screen lists of potential freelancers in easily defined industry segments, such as accountants, home healthcare aides, plumbers and electricians, etc., by relying on any one of a number of widely used list sources such as Craigslist, the Better Business Bureau (BBB), LinkedIn or Google, etc. However, in the services community, most of these list sources will often come up short.

However, an onsite freelancer platform, such as that offered by Work Market, can handle things much more efficiently by providing a tool that:

  • Allows the user to build assignments quickly, based on previous work,
  • Identifies candidates that best meet the required skill sets, and
  • Provides a mechanism for generating and tracking community ratings for each selected candidate (i.e., to assure a consistent level of freelancer quality)

Verify

The verification of the required skill sets represents another major obstacle for most services organizations in terms of their ability to check out the candidate’s background and capabilities, as they relate specifically to field service. In other words, do they have the right stuff – stuff meaning skills, experience and certifications, among others?

The use of an effective onsite freelancer platform takes nearly all of the burden out of the verification process by allowing the user to:

  • Verify the candidate’s credentials via an integrated verification process; and
  • Identify limit functions which, in turn, will automatically off-board the independent contractor when compliance thresholds are reached, or if certain details change, (i.e., such as expiring insurance coverage or certifications, etc.).

Engage

The engagement process is typically where too many organization begin the process, as it is typically far less painstaking for some to start with the recruitment of “warm bodies”, rather than mounting a concerted effort upfront to find the most qualified candidates – and be able to verify that they are, in fact, eminently qualified for the job.

This is where an onsite freelancer platform provides, perhaps, one of its greatest value propositions to its users, by allowing them to:

  • Organize their field technician workforce into groups for easy assignment en masse; and
  • Eliminate the need for having to deal with only one contractor at a time, or conversely, having to rely on group e-mails that make it impossible to manage responses quickly or effectively.

Manage

Managing the freelancer field force should require the greatest levels of attention and oversight by the organization; however, many managers find themselves too overwhelmed and/or understaffed to effectively handle the situation. Nonetheless, this is often the single process that ultimately defines the direction – and the success – of the organization in terms of its ability to send the best qualified people to each site, and track their performance and progress over time. Many services organizations utilize fully functioning mobile applications to communicate with their mobile field force in real time – but this may not be enough!

By utilizing an onsite freelancer platform, users benefit from a variety of tools that allow for:

  • All field communications and management tools to be resident in a single system,
  • The use of geo-location tools to identify the exact locations of their freelance contractors in real time, and
  • The ability of workers to upload and complete all tasks directly through their mobile devices.

Pay

Paying the organization’s mobile field force freelancers should be one of the easiest jobs to do – but any HR or accounts payable professional will likely tell you different. What should typically only involve the tracking of hours, and cutting checks to the appropriate individuals is generally anything but easy – and PayPal simply doesn’t cut it!

What can make this process as easy as it gets is the ability of the onsite freelancer platform to empower the organization to:

  • Allow for Application Programming Interface (API) integration into existing payment platforms so they can continue to manage their respective accounting processes all in one place, and on a business-as-usual basis; and
  • Create a robust mechanism for reporting key financial and compliance data to HR, Accounting – and the CFO – as necessary.

Rate

However, the series of processes does not end once the freelancer is paid, and the transaction is reported. In fact, the process is never-ending – and cyclical – in that the performance of each and every freelancer is rated, tracked and ranked to identify top talent for future projects, and measure the performance of the onsite freelancer model as a whole, over time. It can also be well argued that the organization will likely have greater confidence in the ratings provided directly by their customers (and/or, their territory managers) rather than by an outside third party, such as Angie’s List or the Better Business Bureau (BBB), etc.

Therefore, the principal benefits of an onsite freelancer platform are that it provides users with:

  • An online capability for rating, and viewing ratings, on a much broader scale, and
  • The ability to determine the “height of the bar” with regard to the desired, or expected, quality of the worker’s performance.

Coordinating all of these individual tools into a single set of processes may be daunting for many organizations – but not so much when they have the power of an effective onsite freelancer platform such as that offered by Work Market, at their disposal. It is difficult enough to run a services organization (or any business, for that matter) in general – but it is far more difficult to attempt to do so without the support of the proper technology, tools and processes.

[To download a complimentary whitepaper on “Finding & Managing Onsite Freelancers” for businesses and field service organizations, please visit the Work Market website at Work Market Guide to Finding & Managing Onsite Freelancers.]

The Internet of Things (IoT) Is Also the Internet of Payment Options

When it comes to Product Lifecycle Management (PLM), Application Lifecycle Management (ALM) and Service Lifecycle Management (SLM), everybody talks about the need to be fully connected to the Internet of Things (IoT).

It seems that everybody wants to embrace it; everybody wants to implement it; and everybody wants to deploy it. However, some organizations are more sophisticated than others with respect to their understanding of the realities of the IoT, and some are not – but the common thread is that everyone acknowledges that it is (or, at the very least, will be) a necessity for developing and designing the products that the market wants, the software that makes them work, and the services that will keep them up and running over time.

However, there is one key area regarding the IoT where the market still remains largely fragmented in its understanding; that is, how do you pay for the IoT? And this may be particularly true on the SLM side of the equation.

Let me explain.

It may be argued that each business component supported by the IoT has its own lifecycle, and that each lifecycle, in turn, reflects its own conceptualization, development, implementation, duration, complexity and ongoing need for management and support moving forward.

The findings from Strategies For Growth’s (SFG) 2014 Field Service Management Benchmark Survey reveal an industry migration from an historical premise-based SLM user market (i.e., roughly 70 percent of existing SLM implementations are described as premise-based, vs. 30 percent as Cloud-, or SaaS-based) to a Cloud, or SaaS-based, SLM user market quickly evolving over the next 12 months (i.e., 67 percent planning to implement Cloud, or SaaS-based vs. 33 percent premise-based). The numbers are surprising in their magnitude, essentially representing a sea change from the “way things used to be”, to the “way things will be” (or already are, among the more sophisticated users).

Even more surprising is the lack of clarity currently resident in the SLM marketplace, among both vendors and users, with respect to how to price – and how to pay for – the desired SLM solution. Historically, services organizations sought either an (allegedly) all-inclusive SLM solution from a single provider, or a cherry-picked custom solution from among two or more of the best-of-breed providers. Depending on the specific case (e.g., type, size and complexity, etc. of the services organization) one could easily argue the respective benefits of either type of approach.

The thing is that times have changed – but the old habits and precedents harbored by long-time services managers sometimes stand in the way of their knowledge – and understanding – of the newer ways for acquiring SLM software (and other) solutions.

For example, when asked on a non-prompted basis, how they would prefer paying for their new and/or upgraded SLM solution, 33 percent of survey respondents cited perpetual license over subscription basis (which received only 12 percent), representing a ratio of nearly three-to-one for the traditional, tried and true payment model. While 30 percent were uncertain as to their preference, one-quarter (i.e., 25 percent) stated they still would prefer to own or lease the software.

However, when the same question was asked on a prompted basis in a follow-up survey interview – essentially with the same base of respondents – the results come out virtually 180 degrees diametrically opposed.

This is important because the only difference between the two modes of asking this one particular question is very straightforward: on the non-prompted basis, respondents were simply given a list of multiple choice answers from which they were asked to check the one response reflecting their preference. The choices were perpetual license, monthly subscription, own or lease, or don’t know/unsure.

For the same question, but asked on a prompted basis, each of the two main choices were described in the following manner:

  • “I would prefer to pay on a perpetual license basis (i.e., paying a large capital expense upfront, with ongoing monthly, quarterly or annual maintenance charges that could be expensed)”, or
  • “I would prefer to pay on a subscription basis (i.e., where there is no large upfront capital expense required, and I can expense the ongoing maintenance payments via credit card or other payment mode)”.

In the latter case, simply by defining how each of these two very different payment models work, we were able to, first, educate the potential SLM user that they have choices; and, second, that one of the choices may represent a new alternative (i.e., to them) that they may not have thought of before. As a result, the responses to this otherwise unchanged question totally flip-flopped to 44 percent preferring a subscription basis, compared with only 28 percent preferring a perpetual license. An additional 6 percent cited no preference, and only 22 percent responded don’t know/unsure.

What this shows is that while the market may be fairly sophisticated with respect to what features and levels of functionality they require from their SLM solution, many remain fairly uneducated about the payment options available to them and, as a result, tend to rely on their historical experience in paying for any service management solution on a perpetual license basis.

Regardless, the differences between the two alternative modes of payment could not be more pronounced. Say the desired SLM solution was available for roughly $1 million. Most, if not all, of this amount would be invoiced and payable within a timeframe virtually equal to the implementation and burn-in period – with a steep initial payment required up front. For such a large capital expense, the VP of Services Operations would need to present his or her case for acquisition to senior management, including the CIO, CFO and Procurement.

The acquisition cycle would likely be lengthy, complicated and hard fought from a value vs. cost basis, with each camp arguing from its own perspective. Further, even after the implementation, there would still be monthly, quarterly or annual maintenance fees required to ensure the efficient use of the solution over time. This approach is often a hard sell for the services manager, who just simply wants to implement a state-of-the-art solution that powers the company’s services operations.

The subscription model, however, offers an entirely new way of pricing and structuring the acquisition of the solution. Made possible through the proliferation of Cloud-based technology (and promoted in a big way by Salesforce.com for most of its offerings), going with a subscription model does not necessarily do away with any of the potential inter-departmental infighting between Services, Procurement and the CIO or CFO, etc.; however, what it does do is take away much of the financial burden associated with having to pay a steep upfront cost that, for some companies, could present a major cash flow or other bottom-line-related problem.

In fact, more than one respondent to the survey reveled in the possibility of having the option to pay for a much needed state-of-the-art SLM solution on a monthly basis – on his corporate credit card – rather than having to go head-to-head with management and Procurement over an extended period of time – with no assurance of winning their case.

Of course, subscription pricing is neither a miracle cure nor a panacea for the overall costs associated with acquiring and running an SLM solution; but it affords a “new” option that takes a more readily available Cloud-based solution, and makes it more easily affordable to the marketplace.

This example clearly shows that when the market is well-educated as to its options, it can more easily make a choice regarding these important types of decisions. However, it also shows that when it comes to pricing “new” technologies, or those being offered via “new” modes of delivery, they will require a bit more education from the vendors as to what options are truly available to them, and with what specific value propositions.