In an era of digital capitalism, where automated platforms facilitate on-demand commerce and the rapid delivery of products or services, logistics have become imperative concerns. We have already grown to rely on the immediacy of solutions such as Uber, Amazon Prime, Grubhub, and others. Not long ago, we marveled at the accelerated shipment of packages from private carriers like FedEx and UPS. Today, our expectations have accelerated with the instant gratification that the sharing economy brings. But behind all the machines and automation and apps, nothing happens without an uninterrupted supply chain. Naturally, maintaining an unbroken system of links in that chain has become a critical focus for many companies. Why should staffing be any different, particularly for managed services providers (MSPs)? Staffing suppliers form the lifeblood of their programs. So we think it’s a good time to concentrate on how to prepare for the unknown in workforce supply chains, using some best practices from the world of manufacturing and logistics.
The Certainty of Uncertainty
Cathy Morrow Roberson is the founder of Logistics Trends & Insights LLC. In her informative article about supply chain best practices for Forbes, she presented a dire but all-too-familiar scenario: “An earthquake damages your manufacturing facility, a strike at a port has delayed shipments to your store or political uncertainty has left your planning and forecasting in chaos. Today’s supply chains are complex global networks that face a growing host of risks, including natural disasters, labor unrest, transportation delays, political uncertainty and cyberattacks.”
“Fortunately,” she added. “through the use of technology and data analytics, there are ways for commercial shippers and service providers to mitigate these risks.”
With the increase in consumer demand, the growing complexities of preventing disruptions to the supply chain has inevitably grown. According to the Business Continuity Institute’s (BCI) “Supply Chain Resilience Report 2018,” 73% of businesses endured supply chain disruptions over the past year. The associated costs, the report noted, can run into the billions. Roberson illustrated a few situations to emphasize the point:
For example, the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami resulted in $210 billion in costs for Japan and affected supply chains around the world. When Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico in September of 2017, the supply chains of two of the island’s biggest industries – pharmaceuticals and medical devices – were severely impacted. And according to some estimates, the trade war between the U.S. and China has cost the U.S. electronics industry alone $10 billion since July 2018. Beyond those losses are also costs that are less easily measured, including lost productivity, customer complaints and damage to brand reputation – losses that companies can’t insure against but can mean the difference between success and failure.
Natural disasters and other unforeseen problems create equally devastating impacts on MSPs and their staffing partners, especially in relation to Roberson’s observations on “lost productivity, customer complaints, and damage to brand reputation.” Think about the hurricanes that crippled the east coast in 2019 or the wildfires that wreaked havoc across the west. Workers were stranded. Staffing agencies in the affected areas were evacuated or intermittently shut down. And clients had to face the prospect of potential lags in output. While there’s no miracle method for preventing catastrophes, there are ways to minimize the initial damage and mitigate the fallout that accompanies instances of force majeure.
Staying Agile in the Presence of Rigid Risks
The right tools, people, and processes can help MSPs stay flexible, nimble, and risk tolerant.
“Many businesses continue to run their supply chains on spreadsheets or over email, resulting in operations that are both inefficient and opaque,” Roberson wrote. Sound familiar? Hopefully not, but the reality is that manual processes persist in the staffing industry. It may seem surprising, but BCI discovered in its study that 46% of supply chain professionals continue to rely on Excel spreadsheets as their “technology.” And the biggest disruptions didn’t come from foul weather, new regulations (AB 5 and the SEC, for example), illnesses, economic fluctuations, or unexpected turnover—55% of them occurred because of cyber attacks and data breaches (a topic we covered in November).
Most MSPs already have some level of automation and tracking in place through their vendor management systems (VMS). Not all VMS platforms incorporate the elements needed to effectively track suppliers or their candidate pipelines if they’re not configured properly, populated with the relevant data, or not actively participating in a specific program. That said, many of the data fields an MSP would need for contingency processes do exist.
Some VMS platforms allow worker data such as job titles, categories, skills, availability, assignment status, and more to be linked by location. If the suppliers are encouraged to enter talent in the pipeline, not just in the program, the MSP has access to a pool of deployable workers for emergencies.
Even better, evolving VMS platforms are encompassing more of these details. Bullhorn has connected its VMS to applicant tracking system (ATS). These previously standalone systems have a wealth of candidate information that may have skipped inclusion to the VMS. Bullhorn’s integration solves that problem, supporting heightened visibility. From Bullhorn’s website:
- Automatically send all your candidate data back to your VMS.
- Every field is automatically filled and resumes are uploaded in the background.
- All status updates are also seamlessly synced between your VMS and ATS, giving you full visibility into where your candidate submissions stand.
Beeline’s tool for direct sourcing and talent pools also offers a robust, bird’s eye view of available talent pipelines from suppliers: “Our technology seamlessly integrates private and public talent pools into the sourcing process, from requisition through settlement, with full compliance and data security, without disrupting your existing workflows.” From Beeline’s site:
A natural first step is to include a private talent pool as part of your direct sourcing strategy. Private talent pools allow you to leverage your brand equity in attracting, curating, and engaging top talent through a wide variety of sources. Beeline’s recommended private talent pool solution is TalentNet®. TalentNet is an industry-leading private talent pool technology and the premier choice for our clients. In addition to private talent pools, many organizations are also getting valuable talent from public talent channels.
Our talent partner ecosystem offers a wide, deep, global pool of talent with specialized skills and highly relevant experience. Through Beeline Direct Sourcing, you have access to this talent without having to contract with each talent provider individually. Our ecosystem is constantly growing and currently includes leading talent providers.
Here are a few more best practices for launching a VMS that can help curb unanticipated hiccups:
- Prior to implementation, map out processes and collect all data to be uploaded into the system. Work closely with the VMS provider as the data is scrubbed and loaded. Demand adequate time for User Acceptance Testing, and involve suppliers to ensure that the system is functioning properly prior to its Go Live date.
- Engage staffing suppliers in the configuration of requisition fields, templates, and candidate data so that sufficient details appear and can be monitored in the system.
- Allow staffing partners access to the reports, business intelligence, and analytics that affect their efforts and performance. This data should be tracked and shared.
It’s virtually impossible to meet urgent, last-minute needs with a vendor pool that satisfies only the issues of the here and now. Integrating smaller and perhaps less familiar firms into a program can help MSPs establish a more diverse supplier community. MSPs may discover that, when pitted against niche providers, some of their incumbent suppliers fall short in locating talent for hard-to-fill categories, or challenging regions.
Boutique agencies and those just entering the space will be striving to lay down roots in the industry. They could be more likely to offer:
- Greater concentration on delivering specific skill sets, now and in the future
- Experience filling specialty positions in the client’s industry, especially when emerging or niche job titles enter the picture
- A superior grasp of geographies where talent populations may seem scarce or difficult to reach for larger firms
- An available pool of deployable talent who can step in to bridge gaps that arise during emergencies
Business Continuity Planning
Every MSP should have a business continuity and disaster recovery plan ready to go. Just as important, the plan should be tested regularly. Here is a basic outline.
Immediate Response Steps
Immediate Response Steps include protection of life and property, determination of disaster declaration, and notification of key individuals.
- Initial Response to Incident (local safety plans, meeting place)
- Business Recovery Team Member Information
- Disaster Declaration Criteria
- Damage Assessment
- Command Center Location
- Corporate Communications Policy
Disaster Declaration Activities includes employee notification and relocation to an alternate site with appropriate workspace.
- Emergency Notification Procedures (calling trees)
- Alternate Site Information (include maps)
- Notification of Critical Employees
- Employee Contact Information
- Transportation & Relocation Plans
- Alternate Site Requirements (workspace, hardware, software)
- Notification of Critical Internal Contacts
Functional Restoration is the point where all resources that support critical business operations are restored.
- Identification of Critical Business Processes
- Interim Operating Procedures
- Non-Critical Employee Notification
- Notification of External Vendors, Suppliers, and Customers
“Day 2” Requirements include the addition of processes to enable business units to resume some portion of their normal business operations.
- Identify “Day 2” Business Processes (e.g., uploading manual data back into systems once operational, etc.)
- Identify “Day 2” Requirements
Return to Normal
Return to Normal is the point where the damaged site has been repaired or a new location prepared and the business unit returned to their permanent location.
- Determine Facilities Support for Repair / Rebuild / Relocation
- Identification of Procedures & Tasks
- Notification of Employees
- Notification of Internal Contacts
- Notification of External Vendors, Suppliers, and Customers
Expect the Unexpected
“Every day,” Roberson said, “supply chain companies must navigate a world of risk. To do that successfully requires flexibility and the agility to respond quickly to unexpected disruptions. That’s why it’s crucial that companies have the right technology, tools and partners to help manage and mitigate both known and unknown risks.” The perils facing the nation’s leading logistics and manufacturing companies bear little difference to the challenges that workforce solutions providers must confront. A thoughtful, proactive, and honest approach to identifying problems and planning for resolutions can define the difference between failure and success.