Five years ago, as the freelance economy was gaining traction, PwC realized the supply chain of talent was going to become fractionalized. Its ability to tap into that workforce collectively for total talent management would require a coexistence model, where it could have full-time workers and an increasing number of freelancers working side-by-side for its clients. Thus began its journey toward the development of its Talent Exchange, a model where PwC brings together part-time workers along with its full-time workforce to serve client projects with the best skills available.

It is also the contingent workforce program for its advisory services business line with about 75% to 77% of that business’ contract workers coming through the exchange. Brian Snarzyk, principal with PwC, talks to SIA Editor and Publisher, Media Products, Subadhra Sriram, about the development of the program and his role in bringing this concept to life.

Brian Snarzyk, Principal, PwC

What did you think of the plan when you first heard it?

The initial vision was the brainchild of Miles Everson, who at the time led our advisory service and part of the PWC US leadership team. I had dinner with him one evening in February 2014, and he laid out some of his ideas, the foundation of the program, which he had been developing for about 18 to 24 months. He asked me, “What do you think?” And I told him, “I think you’re nuts. I don’t think it can be done. I think there’s all sorts of pitfalls and challenges.”

What was the biggest objection you encountered?

Some were concerned whether a greater use of freelance workers taking on a greater portion of our delivery team would dilute the PwC brand and experience our clients have with us.

And it’s a fair concern, because it really gets to the heart and soul of clients of any organization. They look to us to hold a certain standard and approach to how our people deliver that work. Would an increased use of a contingent workforce dilute that brand and dilute that experience our clients have come to expect in working with our firm?

How did you build the business case?

Miles’ initial approach had already been laid out around the business case, the business imperative. I just touched on our growth strategy — continued growth and expanding our footprint in the business, the need for speed, increasing speed to market and access to talent, search needs, the ability to cover white space. Those were all the business needs and the business imperatives that essentially laid this out.

It was not driven from an economic standpoint in terms of arbitrage of cost or the competitive pressure of a procurement-driven exercise. Rather, it was around the ability to maintain relevance as a professional services firm by tapping into that marketplace. And then the approach was simple — we broke it into three stages. First, we wanted to test a proof of concept to see how well it would resonate, certain features and capabilities of an exchange. Second, we’d move on to some initial prototyping activities. And then, if those proved to have traction with the business, with the leadership, we would move to a pilot stage.

Where did the technology to build the solution come from?

We built the platform ourselves with teams based here in the United States as well as with our delivery centers that are expert in solutions and technology development.

The exchange is a direct-sourcing model?

That’s correct. Think of the Talent Exchange like a window in a house. On the inside of that house are myself and my colleagues at PwC. We have opportunities or roles and positions that need to be filled for particular projects that we are doing with our clients. So, inside the house, our teams will create descriptions of those roles and positions that then get posted that get hung on the wall, if you will, so that they’re visible inside the house for everyone to see.

Outside the house, on the other side of that window, is the market of freelance talent. They have the ability to create their profile, upload their résumé, their experiences or credentials and so forth. And then as they establish that profile with us, we can make that window more or less transparent.

The more they have established a profile and have created a connection to us and we understand how they can work with us in a compliant manner, then the more they have the ability to see those roles and positions [hung inside the house on the wall].

Similarly, my colleagues within PwC can look out the window and they can see individuals who have expressed interest themselves, and search the talent pool we’ve onboarded and curated at large for any who may not be aware that a new opportunity has been posted, but would be a good fit.

Is the exchange used for hiring full-time workers as well?

Yes, it is. In fact, it’s part of our journey. Even coming out of the initial pilot stage, the recruiting team within PwC or our advisory team are focused simultaneously on hiring full-time workers as well as continuing to search for and identify freelance workers who are interested in contingent opportunities.

We’ve actually locked in on that. There’s a lot of discussion on the construct of total talent management — both of these are at play. The full-time workforce and as well the freelance economy and the part-time workers. With the exchange we focused principally on the part-time worker, the freelance workers and connecting them to the opportunities. The special attribute of it is they can search directly for those opportunities. They don’t have to do so through third-party providers. They have direct access to our people and then, likewise, our people can look for them directly as well.

What was the initial costs of building up the pilot and then making it a full-blown solution?

Because we did this with in-house resources, though we did use a certain amount of contract labor, we didn’t actually track it in terms of dollars. I would say at our peak we had about 150 people on it. Most of those, probably about 120, were in our delivery centers offshore in Asia, and then about 30 were core team members. And I’d say it’s about a year’s effort to the summer of 2015, when we launched in earnest. So, I’d call it about 130 person-years of effort in all. We had a mix of our leadership team here in the US along with other individuals and our delivery teams offshore building it.

Our interview with Snarzyk concludes in the Nov. 13 issue of CWS 3.0.