In 2018, the Crown Commercial Service, an executive body and trade organization within the UK government’s Cabinet Office, engaged managed service provider Alexander Mann Solutions to manage its $1.4 billion contingent workforce program. The result was the creation of the Public Sector Resourcing marketplace, which connects contingents to government work. The program serves 90 customer organizations across the government, engaging 12,000 workers through 350-plus staffing providers and many alternative routes to talent. The idea was to take the mystery out of recruitment for the contingent and make it a transparent, digital process.

At the 2019 CWS Summit Europe, held March 26-27 in London, Alexander Mann’s Matthew Rodger and Crown’s Maggie Tonge discussed the program’s development. Over the next three weeks, Contingent Workforce Strategies 3.0 features an excerpt from that conference session transcription, edited for clarity and brevity. Here is part 1.

Maggie Tonge: As a procurement organization, Crown Commercial Service, or CCS, supports the leveraging of common goods and services across all of the public sector spend areas within the UK, notably central government, health sector, and education. I lead the workforce category, which comprises all of contingent labor and permanent recruitment frameworks and solutions.

The CCS responds to the challenges around the flexible workforce, ensuring civil service is fit in terms of the breadth and blend of the workforce that we need now and going forward.

When we looked at the revision of our contingent labor programs, we were looking for something that was going to be easy to find and use, digitally enabled and, of course, something that all of the public-sector organizations could work with. It was really important to connect workers to government work as well. And to bring that transparency to it.

UK government program drivers. The CSS has a lot of obligations around visibility and transparency around spend. We also have obligations and targets around how we work with small and midsize enterprises. So, it is really important that we distribute wealth and we have the opportunity to do that up and down the country. We’re also clearly looking for value for the money [for the] tax payers. That’s essential.

We awarded the contract in January 2018 to Alexander Mann Solutions. The company then went through a series of mobilization and activities, and the first phase commenced in June 2018.

As a public-sector body, we have exacting standards around transparency, gateways, being clear on our requirements, working collaboratively with the market to give feedback at various stages.

We started early on. These things take quite a long time to manage and bring to market. But, once you’re in, you stick to it and you get it done.

Matthew Rodger: This was [Alexander Mann Solutions’] first venture into the public sector. It wasn’t something that we as an organization had ever done before.

The first thing that became evident to us was that we were going to have to stay the course. We couldn’t be half committed. We had to be all in. My other observation about the procuring process, from the vendor perspective, was that it was quite rewarding.

The interesting thing about procuring in the public sector is, as the vendor, you receive scoring and feedback at every single one of those stages. So, even though it’s over a long period of time, you have an interactive exchange with the buyer. And it’s very rewarding to receive that feedback and that score at every single stage, because it means that you can work and develop and evolve your proposition as you go through the procurement activity.

The difficulty with implementation is that it’s time-bound. We had a heck of a lot of work to do in a very defined timeframe. So, to start with, we mobilized an implementation team of some 67-odd resources from Alexander Mann Solutions; many contributors from Crown Commercial Services as well as the FTE equivalent team of 120 were also involved.

Complex governance. As the MSP supplier to the central government, we were effectively implementing over 80 customers, which required enrolling 350-plus staffing agencies — more than we had ever conceived of enrolling in a single program before — in two months’ time. Maintaining a dialogue with all of those customers concurrently; whilst ensuring their individual pay and bill processes. One of the most important things for us as we went through this journey in that complex environment was governance.

And there were numerous daily phone calls, project meetings weekly, or every two weeks for our North American colleagues. When multiplied by the 80-plus customers, then we had this complex cubing effect of much of these activities being done over and over and over again — especially for the 12 to 15 of the largest customers, all of whom had an individual voice.

Stakeholder presence. The other thing about governance that I began to realize was that it is really, really boring. There are a lot of meetings and lots of dashboards. The hope is, they all stay green on every single work stream.

But [that makes it] a bit boring because there’s nothing to get excited about. And in that situation, it becomes easy in the customer’s environment for senior executives to get off the bus halfway through, and send some delegates along to those meetings.

So one of the most important things for us was keeping everyone on the bus — making sure that the governance was interesting enough to keep everyone’s attention, that those senior executives stayed the whole journey. That way, decision-making was much easier, because we didn’t have to spend time re-explaining the context to any newcomers. We had all of the decision-makers present in all of the teams, which was really important, because while we only had five months to complete all of the work, we were able to make those decisions quickly.

Tonge: Crown Commercial Service takes care of a lot of the common goods and services, you don’t necessarily have the category expertise of contingent labor in many of the other departments. So, there was an awful lot of education to be undertaken — for us to upscale, share insight and know-how with our colleagues in different departments. And also recognize that through time, attrition does happen. So, we did have some moving parts and we really needed to make sure that we were consistent and on-point through that time, which sometimes is more difficult.

The discussion continues in the next issue of Contingent Workforce Strategies 3.0, when Tonge and Rodger discuss the mechanics of the complex marketplace solution.