Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Opportunities and Challenges in Digital Talent Platforms

John Boudreau has posted recently on the use of digital platforms (see my recent post) to transform employment and other types of work.  It's an interesting read though I'm not sure whether there are really four quadrants as in the model above - I think the transformation of work and the use of technology to transform it will pretty much go hand-in-hand.

Boudreau suggests that an increasing proportion of work will be undertaken through the use of freelance platforms along the lines of UpWork, Tongal, and Gigwalk (or any of these) helping to match talent with opportunites for work and organisations to gain access to talent often as part of the sharing / gig economy.

Further compelling evidence was provided in McKinsey's report on online talent platforms last year.  They noted that 30-50% of the working age population in inactive, unemployed or working part-time yet large shares of employers say that they can't fill positions.  McKinsey therefore suggest that 540 million individuals around the world could benefit from these systems.

I think that to a smaller extent at least, that's probably going to be the case, however I'm still not convinced it's a particularly attractive future.

In a post last year Boudreau suggested that "many examples show that the very best software coders, biochemistry puzzle solvers, media producers, and product designers are often available only as free agents on a platform like Topcoder or Tongal, and free agent workers often value periodic stints of work in jobs such as drivers, so that they can pursue passions such as music and art."

As a free agent for the last ten years I can understand some of that.  However I work for my clients and find work through my contacts, not for or through a digital platform and quite frankly, I don't want to do that.

Platforms do enable people to differentiate based on skills, performance (star ratings etc), location etc but the main determinant is cost.  They're commodity based marketplaces which tend to drive costs down and isn't an area I want to play in.

This is partly because I want to be fairly compensated for my work, but it's also because I want to be involved in co-designing the scope for my work - coming up with something that neither I nor my client could have come up with without each other.  And you can't (yet) do that on an app.

The best software coders may value being on Topcoder but IT's a much more transactional and tangible type of profession than HR (that's not to knock it, but it is - you can tell whether a coder has done a good job in writing a programe based on how it works.  That's not always so easy with a talent management programme.)  That's why there's a Topcoder but  no Toptalentcoach.

Plus of course any profession or job which can be defined and broken down to be managed through a platform is also going to be one of those which can most easily then be replaced by technology (Uber drivers by driverless cars etc).  Again, that's not a space I want to operate in.

That's the problem with talent platforms as I see it - they're not actually about talent at all, they're about volume roles, value for money rather than added or created value.

There are platforms which can help employees and other individuals providing work to create value, and I'm sure their number will continue to grow, but I think these are more along the lines of Linkedin and Glassdoor than they are similar to UpWork etc.

Of course I could be wrong.  I'm reminded in the week that Twitter turned 10 that my first reaction to this (9 years ago) was that I couldn't ever see myself using it.  Times change (they did - I was tweeting one year later, even if I didn't know how to spell it properly), but I'll take bets on never bidding for work on a Uber style digital talent platform.
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