The workforce solutions industry is undergoing a dramatic change with the rise of the remote workforce as well as the gig economy. Add Covid-19 to the mix and today’s MSP must contend with managing a complex environment. Sponsoring the SIA 2020 CW Program Game Changers list enables KellyOCG to have conversations with the innovators in the CW space and encourage them to champion causes that move the ecosystem forward including the MSP. Ed Pederson, vice president of product development for Kelly, explores the evolution of the MSP, including its role in technology evaluation, managing both the talent and the buyer communities, as well as navigating a world of work that offers opportunities, purpose and varied ways to contribute.

The terms “work-style preferences” and “varied work styles” are being commonly used. Please explain what these mean with reference to the evolving workforce solutions ecosystem.

“Work-style” refers to the environment, such as remote working — which many organizations have been forced into now — or the office setting, where we get more in-person interaction and more of a traditional work style. “Work preference” is how people approach their careers such as working full time, on a contract basis or as a gig worker.

How has the change in work preferences and the adoption of different work-styles by organizations led to the evolution of the MSP market?

There are three factors that have led to the evolution of MSPs, some catering to work-styles, and some are related to work preferences. First, from a work-style standpoint, with the huge leap forward to remote working that we’re experiencing right now, it’s everything from how you onboard a worker and the technologies they interact with, to getting familiar with a company without actually setting foot inside of it, and how you manage those workers to make sure you’re getting an optimal worker output.

Second, as you look across generations, there’s the inherent need that people want more purpose and meaning out of their work. This is an indication that MSPs must evolve to support an organization’s employee value proposition. Let’s extend the concept into a contingent or contractor value proposition, so we are looking at a total talent value proposition. And then, pose these questions: Why would someone want to come work for this company? What personal gain do they get out of it? Does it connect with their personal sense of purpose? Do they feel an affinity toward it?

Third, in terms of work preferences, trends toward gig work have caused an evolution that the MSP market needs to adapt to. The industry is trending more and more toward the use of human cloud platforms to access the independent contractors that rely on them to find work. Until recently, it was kind of a “” situation, where MSP providers were introducing customers to human cloud providers with the hope of finding an opportunity to connect them to the talent they need and then rolling the cloud provider into the program.

Kelly sought to address this challenge when it launched its Human Cloud aggregator solution to bring more structure around it for buyers. Most of the cloud firms bring their own customized technology platform. So that’s another layer of technology a hiring manager would need to interact with. We’ve simplified that whole process. We manage the interaction in the cloud platforms; we keep it compliant with the MSP program and make it a lot easier for companies to use, giving hiring managers greater access to the people who are choosing to work this way.

Since Covid-19, firms have reduced their workforces, yet there’s still a need to get a very large volume of work done. Some need to figure out how to do that without adding headcount. Tapping into this other work preference could be a really great way, from a micro level, to achieve that.

How does the evolution of work-style impact what buyers are expecting from MSP providers?

Buyers expect the MSP to be on top of all these trends. They want to know what the trends mean for their technology stack and how it all interacts. For example, if KellyOCG is responsible for their contingent worker solution, and now everything needs to be in a virtual environment, it’s our responsibility to figure out how that functions and works within their MSP. Customers also expect help in accessing these different labor channels that perhaps they haven’t been able to access before.

What are some technologies that MSP providers should be discussing with buyers?
There are two different categories of technologies. One is access to the different labor channels — in particular, the human cloud. The second category is efficiency gains. The MSP landscape has become very mature, especially when it comes to core VMS technologies. We see thousands of disruptor technologies coming in and out of the space. Providers should stay focused on helping customers maximize the benefits of their MSP and optimize the mix of technologies to get the most efficient program for them.

As buyers evaluate which technologies will give their CW program a competitive advantage, what role do they expect the MSP to play? How do you see KellyOCG’s role in that?

Buyers should expect their MSP providers to navigate the technology landscape for them. It’s too much for an individual company to try to stay on top of all the trends of what’s the latest and greatest technology when that’s not their core competency.

Everybody sees the nice, bright, shiny penny — the cool bells and whistles — and thinks, “Wow I could see how that could help,” but the MSP should assist  the buyer, helping them to understand how it will fit into their culture. How is that going to fit into your existing technology architecture? Are you truly going to get an ROI from it? Can we help install those improvements smoothly, so they don’t see disruption in the business?

The trend that I see is that customers are trying to simplify their technology stack, not make it more complicated. So, if the MSP can act as that one-stop-shop that figures out the best technology combination – one that doesn’t disrupt their business – and eliminate hiring managers from interacting with five different systems, then that’s going to be much more beneficial.

To do that effectively, the MSP must know the culture of the buyer company as well as what hiring managers want, what they’re looking for. So how does the MSP deal with it?

When implementing a program with a new customer, there’s a lot of exploration to find out what their landscape is currently, what technologies they have, what their culture looks like, how many different people they will be interacting with, etc.  After time, you understand their pain points because you get to know the hiring managers, and you get to know your account teams. Then you have the conversation around, what’s the biggest priority for us to address?  Where are your biggest pain points? Where do we think we could see the biggest ROI? Matching that with the technology options we view as top-of-the-line is where you can really start to create the greatest benefits for your buyer.

Is there any benefit to these new tech providers compared to traditional VMS providers? The VMS has so many features and functions, which buyers ask for in the beginning during the RFP but then never use.

The interesting thing about traditional VMS providers is that they have a very solid core, a tried-and-true, behemoth of a technology that fits into a lot of frameworks. They’ve been able to handle a lot of different facets that address what an MSP needs, and, obviously, the customer at large.  Some VMS providers have wonderful linkages that helps them scale across the globe.

However, they can’t serve everything. There’s always going to be these niche areas that they don’t have on their development roadmaps or, for whatever reason, they’re not invested in developing. And that’s where some of these new technology entrants are starting to gain their foothold. They’re focused on features that the VMS can’t bring.

The other core area is user experience. Some of the cloud providers are so intuitive and easy to navigate that you don’t really need any training to figure out how to utilize all its features and plug it into your systems.

How important is it to consider culture in evaluating technology for an MSP? What would buyers expect when considering integrating these new technologies into their MSP?

Culture is very important. If the technology that your MSP recommends moves you to an environment with little human interaction, yet your culture is very personal and craves that high touch, you need to either rethink implementing that technology or you’d better have a very robust change management approach to get people comfortable with the new way of doing something.

You also need to consider how the technology will integrate into the various subcultures across an organization. What is great for procurement may not work for IT or HR.

KellyOCG is a global advisor of talent supply chain strategies and workforce solutions. For more information on the role of the MSP, contact us at