The Case for Talent on Demand I

March 10, 2009

According to Peter Cappelli, management professor at Wharton, in this global economy that fills with lots of uncertainty, we should manage our talent like we manage our supply chain. This is because, with the constant changing business environment, it is becoming very difficult to forecast human resource requirement.

Taking the cue from Professor Cappelli, I am proposing a new paradigm for engaging IT professional especially for project managers.

Imagine that your company is planning a major IT project. Traditionally you will form a project team taking from existing resource from your IT department and business unit. What happen if your IT department is bogged down with daily routine? Naturally, the IT department will ask for additional head count, but what will happen when the project ended? You will end up with bloated headcounts. Besides, you need time for your existing staff to get familiar with the technologies that are required in the project.

To resolve this issue, companies should consider engaging free agent type of IT professional. Similar to contract staff, you contracted the IT professional on a short term basis. Different from contract staff, you hired these free agents to run a project or to troubleshoot some major problem. They are like hired guns or troubleshooters for IT problem. While you hired contract staff to temporary ease the departmental work, you hired these IT professional to perform a particular tasks or project. Contract programmer is one such example.

If we need special skills for a project why don’t we just engage software consultants from the software vendor or IT consulting firm? First, they are more expensive; second, free agents that you hired will look after your interest more than the consultants. Consultants from your software vendor, although has more product knowledge, they lack the perspective of looking at the IT problem as a whole and exploring various alternative solution; what they are concern about is how to solved the problem using their product. They will not be concern if you need any other software solution to solve the problem; contractually, they are obligated to solve your problem using their products. Some software vendor may recommend a particular external solution they are in partnership with, but they will not search for any alternative solution that is most cost effective and relevant to you.

Of course, we can hire external, independent IT consultant. They have the perspective of looking the IT problem as a whole and recommend the most appropriate solution for your company. Ultimately, the consultants work for their consulting firm. Although they will put customers need first and they will help your company to save cost in any way but not at the expense of their consulting hours or fees. Due to the cost of their fees, it is more feasible to engage these external consultants for advisory and strategic role.

Free agents in contrast work for your company; they are your employees in the short term. It is in their interest to look after your company in order to retain a continuing relationship with your company. Free agent fills in the gap between consultants and general contract staff. Consultants provide strategic advice but usually not hands on in solving the problem. General contract staff does not have the specialty in solving a particular problem. Free agents fit in between these two categories. As different free agent specialized in different technical arena, it is easier for your company to choose the agent or expertise based on your particular requirement.

End of Article

Articles from Wharton

‘Talent on Demand’: Applying Supply Chain Management to People

Written in May 2008