Is There Anything Open Talent Can’t Solve?
Open talent models are evolving so rapidly, it’s sometimes hard to keep up. Where is open sourcing going and how will that impact the future of work? Michael P. Morris, CEO of Topcoder, now owned by Wipro, has seen huge growth in these models, watching them rise to the mainstream as they evolve in scope to solve some of today’s most critical challenges. Topcoder is the world’s largest technology talent network and on-demand digital talent platform and has pioneered some of the most successful freelance and crowdsourcing models and results to date, including hosting competitions that have led to solutions for improved DNA sequencing, cancer treatment, safer living, working on the space station and many other globally significant outcomes. I asked Morris to share his insights on the new economy of work, the challenges, and the future of on-demand talent platforms.
Q: From your vantage point, where are we now as an industry versus where we were even just one year ago?
The big difference is that now open talent platforms are part of the strategic plans, resources and staffing of a company, instead of being an afterthought. There is more top-down leadership support than we had in the past, and people overall are just more comfortable with the open talent economy. Every conversation isn’t focused on concerns about intellectual property and security.
There has been a shift in the type of work we are seeing. We now run mission-critical projects versus the projects companies first started experimenting with. One example is the work we’ve done with a 100-year-old insurance company. The first year, we needed to prove this concept could be impactful to the business by starting with smaller, less mission-critical innovation projects. This year we shifted gears and are solving mainstream problems that drive revenue.
Q:What are some challenges we’re facing?
We’ve been doing a good job on the terminology and setting the foundation but still have a few gaps that need to be solved. What people are struggling with now is providing the metrics and a solid format for measurement of results. We talk a lot about how working this way is more efficient—it’s better, faster, cheaper. But we don’t have a way to measure the ROI in a way that could be common across the board. Until we have really strong metrics to back up these gig-economy models compared to these traditional models, anybody who goes into the Build Phase is taking a risk. We need to provide cover for the executives to support the move to the Build Phase. Ideally proving the metrics becomes a Harvard study. A true, peer-reviewed, factual analysis by a respected third party. We need to prove just two of the three—better, faster or cheaper—and it’s got to go from being a tribal story to being factual data.
Q:What are some ways platforms are evolving to meet company needs?
Platforms are creating a better user experience. We now have the history to make data-driven decisions based on user experience and add automation that removes steps from the process and creates efficiency. Things that used to take a month are now reduced to two weeks. We are continually updating security to ensure confidential information is safe. We’re beginning to use data analytics to look at and manage our organizational structures, giving people a global view of where the talent is coming from. We’re also creating specialty communities—veterans, women, college students—that a company can opt into or designate that they’d like a certain amount of their work to go to that community.
Q:Topcoder offers a Talent as a Service, or TaaS program. What does that mean, and what are its benefits?
TaaS is our way of moving closer to the freelance model. But here’s what it isn’t: it’s not a program where you find a freelancer and pay them an hourly rate. There is still an element of pay for performance, which we think benefits both sides—the person and the company. The TaaS model is like having a diversified talent portfolio. Say the client needs five people who have specific skill sets. We then create a pool of seven or eight people who fit the need profile and we guarantee everyone in the pool a minimum amount of pay and work for this company, but then there is additional opportunity to create more work for this company, based on performance. This gives the worker more security with a set amount of work, but it frees them up to do additional work elsewhere or to be awarded more work within the pool. The company benefits by accessing a bigger pool of people and skill sets. When they work with us, they are not just going to get these five people they asked for. They are going to get about 60 percent more vetted talent than they ask for.