The term human cloud is commonly used to describe the disruptive models of staffing. From Uber to Wonolo, TaskRabbit and Crowdflower, these technologies provide organizations a multitude of opportunities to access a diverse talent pool in a manner that is timely, cost-effective and transparent. When we describe the human cloud to buying companies, we often remind them that the term can be applied to a number of talent engagement models and company philosophies. Staffing Industry Analysts differentiates these models by two primary dimensions.

The first dimension is related to the manner in which the work is done and where: whether by an individual worker or a multitude of workers. The oldest models of human cloud staffing, such as Elance (now Upwork) and (now Onforce), allow specific hiring companies to find, engage and compensate specific workers directly. They can enter into and complete work arrangements entirely online. Freelancer management systems like Work Market and Field Nation enable clients to create vetted/curated talent pools (public or private) to source candidates directly. Just-in-time (JIT) staffing models like Sidekicker and Shiftgig allow rapid sourcing and engagement from a curated pool of workers. JIT has strong penetration in light industrial and hospitality.

Workers can be onsite, across town or on the other side of the globe.

The other end of this dimension is crowdsourcing, whereby companies can engage a multitude of workers to solve a particular workforce or business problem. These “crowdsourced” resources can also be anywhere in the world. Work assignments get parsed out and performed (often as disaggregated micro-tasks) by a far-flung crowd of independent workers. Companies that fit this description include Crowdflower and Innocentive. What makes crowdsourcing unique is often this inclusion of a competitive element and game theory to solve a business challenge in part or in whole. Using the wisdom of crowds has been a proven mechanism to solve even the most complex problems effectively.

The second dimension is to categorize what type of work is done in a fixed time-frame. The most obvious differentiation is the use of time or labor resources as the output — companies like TaskRabbit and PeoplePerHour — to compensate individuals for their time. On the other hand, companies like 99designs allow the purchase of a finite deliverable for a fixed price. Uber, perhaps the most well-known member of the human cloud family, is a B2C website that provides consumers the opportunity to source an outcome-transportation.

As with anything many companies may defy classification altogether. WorkFusion, for example, uses a globally dispersed workforce along with a form of artificial intelligence that delivers a wholly unique workforce solution.

While wholesale penetration of these technologies in the enterprise space is somewhat nascent, the opportunities to achieve cost savings and have access to a potentially wider talent pool make these solutions worthy of consideration. That being said, these solutions are not without their challenges. The current legal and regulatory environment gives companies pause — whether the risks are real or perceived — and the cultural shift necessary to fully leverage human cloud solutions prove too high a hurdle.

Whether the human cloud will revolutionize the human capital industry or not remains to be seen, but what is not in dispute is how the ever-accelerating pace of innovation will create unprecedented opportunities to make a real difference in the future workforce.