CWS Summit Europe 2021 Recap: The Future of Work is Here

The Staffing Industry Analysts (SIA) annual Contingent Workforce Strategies (CWS) Summit Europe, held virtually April 20-21, hosted over 500 attendees across 300 companies and featured some insightful sessions and lively roundtable discussions. This innovative virtual conference featured keynote presentations, the latest SIA research, case studies, and real-world solutions around the theme of “Workforce Strategies for a New Tomorrow.” 

Utmost was delighted to sponsor, present at, and exhibit at this premier European conference for the contingent workforce market. We enjoyed making new connections, catching up with our clients and partners, and attending all the informative sessions and discussions. 

As with every conference, we did pick up on some key themes and trends:

The Future of Work is Here

Keynote speaker Peter Reagan, SIA’s Senior Director of Contingent Workforce Strategies and Research, said “tomorrow’s world just got a lot closer.”

Predictions for 2030 are already in play, fueled by the Covid-19 pandemic. Peter touched upon several trends as evidence of this, which were repeated throughout the conference:

  • Remote work is driving a growing potential talent pool (and competition for talent) and a need for organizations to invest in tools, IT infrastructure, and training. 
  • The digital environment is forcing enterprises to adopt new technologies including external workforce systems, direct sourcing, online staffing platforms, talent clouds, and more. 
  • Diversity, equity, and inclusion are a priority today for both the permanent and contingent workforce.
  • A shift from using only traditional staffing partner talent channels to integrating SOW projects and services delivery, direct sourcing, and on-demand/human cloud sourcing channels. 
  • A significant number of enterprises are seriously considering self-sourcing or working with a third-party direct sourcing technology over the next two years. 

Technology - The Need for Something Else

Another common theme throughout the conference were buyers articulating challenges with their current systems, particularly vendor management systems (VMS). Some of the issues we heard repeatedly include:

  • Getting robust and real-time data on all of the extended workforce (i.e., every category of worker) easily without relying on manual processes or third-party BI tools.
  • The inability to capture D&I information.
  • Challenging and clunky user interfaces, making adoption a challenge.
  • The stretch of these systems far beyond what they were originally intended for (i.e., direct sourcing and talent pools).
  • The need for a new technology to drive total talent visibility and conduct associated workforce planning.

What Does This Mean for the VMS?

In the concluding session of the conference, SIA polled its analysts about what the workforce solutions ecosystem would look like in 2025. There was an even split among the panel on the VMS market becoming bigger and it being replaced entirely by alternative solutions. 

According to Barry Asin, President of SIA, it’s possible that the VMS category will be subsumed as point solutions evolve into platforms and broader systems that look more like enterprise software. Thirty-three percent of the audience agreed. As John Nurthen said, “We’re looking at the evolution of the standard VMS model and also looking at the creation of more holistic total talent platforms as well (which seems to be where we need to be heading eventually).

Integrations are Tough

Another area of interest was around VMS integrations. Several delegates pointed to the need for bolt-ons to evolve their VMS beyond its core competencies. This becomes a pain point for enterprises that now have a complex and costly collection of technology that is difficult to manage.

Speaking of integrations -- in a session dedicated to the topic, Lois Heo, Sr. Manager of Contingent Workforce Program at Edwards Lifesciences, discussed the challenge she faces not having a common language. Different pieces of data, Heo said, are called different things across unique systems. Liz Mitchener, Global Operations Director at GSK, said at her organization, issues arose because VMS providers did not collaborate with the key HCM systems, namely Workday, making integrations more challenging and limiting the overall value that technology delivers.  

In a separate session about running compelling VMS tenders, Nigel Shadbolt, Senior Manager Resource Procurement at BT Plc, discussed the importance of doing an in-depth analysis of technology integrations as vendors often point to their standard APIs and ‘plug-and-play’ capabilities, which often do not prove to be true. Another delegate spoke about the necessity of integrating extended workforce technology with their core systems, such as Workday, to enable a seamless flow of data. Without these integrations, there’s a lot of manual intervention required, it’s not always accurate, and there's no single source of truth on worker data.

Steps Towards Total Talent Management

Maarten Hansson, Head of Workforce Strategy at Philips, in a session about total talent management, talked about the importance of focusing on what work needs to be done rather than the role itself. Philips has focused on alignment across typically siloed organizations. Rather than HR looking at time management and talent acquisition and Procurement looking at contingent and outsourced, they’re now taking an integrated approach to get the best access to top talent, and integrating their contingent and employee processes starting in their HR system, Workday. 

In a different session, Lisa Zak, Director of Indirect Supply Management at Medtronic, Inc., spoke about how they are looking at the entire extended workforce in partnership with HR for workforce planning. This is proving challenging because there are so many different systems, and they’re working to bring all types of talent into one digital core.

The response from traditional VMS providers appears to be lacking in this area. One leading VMS provider indicated that they do not advocate bringing permanent hiring data into the technology due to challenges. Instead, they recommended using a third-party BI tool.

Interestingly, in the concluding session, SIA polled its analysts, and the group indicated that total talent would reach its full potential by 2025 but only if companies were to restructure. Audience polling completely differed, with the majority saying that technology will make total talent possible.

The Need for a Centralized Sourcing Process to Get Work Done

Going back to Maarten’s session on total talent, his mantra of ‘right way, right time, right place, right cost’ resonated with the audience, who echoed the need for a centralized entry point for hiring managers to request work. Essentially, one button to press to say ‘I need work done.’ Hansson related this market need for a cost driver in a great analogy of lakes and rivers:

So, you can look at an existing organization and look at it as a lake of workforce cost. And you can start assessing the lake and see if you can optimize and get more visibility and clarity. But if you can control the river before it flows into the lake, then you'll know upfront what will eventually appear in the lake.

And then you have that in control because you've been able to manage it and guide it. So, it's the 'first time right' setup. If you translate that to workforce processes or an integrated workforce approach, then I believe it's the key to work with HR and Procurement together and for the business, obviously, to start from strategic planning or capacity planning. Assess how that work can be best done and build or borrow. And then you make a very deliberate choice for your specific workforce strategy and then it flows into the fulfillment channels.”

This idea appeared in roundtable discussions where “Beyond VMS” conversations turned to technology-enabled decision trees to help managers get work done. Not surprisingly, worker misclassification has become a more prevalent issue as companies try to get the most bang for their buck, hone-in on certain workers skills sets, and identify the correct type of engagement. 

Separately in a session about workforce ecosystem delivery models, Shannu Kaw of Applied Materials discussed the ideal state of an integrated enterprise where external workers are part of holistic workforce planning rather than an afterthought. She spoke of the value of not just a front door, but a decision structure that provides guidance and recommendations to managers. If a magic wand existed, technology would be available that not only provides a seamless intuitive experience for managers with on-demand data on spend and skills, but also delivers recommendations and directs them to appropriate teams.

As companies prepare for a post-pandemic workforce, they must have systems and people in place to sift through these emerging talent strategies that will enable them to better prepare for their future. Add to that the advances in automation, the need to upskill and reskill millions of workers, and the globalization of the market, and it becomes clear these conversations around total talent management must happen now. There is little time to waste as companies ready themselves for the future of work. 

If you’d like to learn how Utmost is doing this on behalf of our clients, please join us for our next monthly demo.

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