If You Build It: How Combining Multiple Platforms Can Transform Workforce Management

6 min read
Dyan Finkhousen
CEO of Shoshin Works and former global director of open innovation at GE, has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Wired, and Harvard Innovation Lab.
If You Build It: How Combining Multiple Platforms Can Transform Workforce Management
  • Dyan Finkhousen spent 23 years at GE, most recently trying to effect change in the way the company hires and works with on-demand talent.
  • In her experience, an Expert Operating System can redefine a workforce.
  • Here’s what it is, and how to get started.
  • Visit Staffing.com's homepage for more.

Business model innovation has been a passion of mine for years. I love the art of reading market forces, configuring new paths to value, and scaling.

Ten years ago, I stepped into the world of platforms and ecosystems and never looked back. Connected vehicles, connected equipment, and now – connected experts. I’m certain of this: An intelligently connected organization that harnesses the power of these platforms will change the way the world thinks about work and about value creation, as well as the role of the firm, the human experience, and technology in the path forward.

We’re seeing significant developments in expert ecosystems. The good news is that we have a lot more upside before we reach a fully optimized system of work. (For you cynics, the bad news is that we have a lot of work to do.)

In the interim, we can all learn from the great work colleagues are doing to test and scale advanced resourcing models.

Building an Expert Operating System

Organizations that rely exclusively on traditional resourcing models – command-and-control models that oversee the efforts of full-time employees and approved suppliers – will increasingly be outpaced by those that integrate an Expert Operated System mindset and methodology.

What Is an Expert Operating System?
Evangelists (like myself) define an Expert Operating System as a connected community of experts and collaborators, each engaging in a way that aligns with their own interests and needs.

In other words, Expert Operating Systems manage information and workflows on a set of platforms (e.g., Brightidea and Spigit offer great community engagement platform options). The operating system provides a digital connection to all the stakeholders in your extended community, including employees, customers, suppliers, and other external collaborators and experts.

The platforms house comprehensive profile information for each person. They can accurately search, recruit, and engage external experts. And these platforms enable secure and targeted collaboration, knowledge management, configurable workflows, precision communications, reporting, and dashboarding. Most importantly, however, some of these platforms (for example, Toptal and Upwork) are curating talent in a way that removes the friction of finding the right expert for the mission at hand.

This type of operating system has tremendous flexibility and can show up in a number of ways.

In one example, a team recruited the help of a globally distributed engineering and product management community. They needed to convert traditional manufacturing operations to additive manufacturing and achieve an aggressive productivity goal within a 10-year timeline. To do this, the team used a platform (in this case, Brightidea) to recruit the expert community and manage the collaboration:

  • They invited a community of globally distributed engineering and product management experts to collaborate on manufacturing transformation opportunities.
  • They used the workflow management capability of the same platform to coordinate information collection, prioritization, decision making, funding, and implementation tollgates for each transformation project.
  • They used the project management capability of the same platform to manage the daily activities of each transformation project.
  • They used the dashboard and API capabilities of the same platform to publish ongoing status and performance reports to their globally distributed stakeholders and executive leadership.

This expert network approach enabled the additive team to secure operating commitments in nine months for what had originally been a 10-year goal.

In another example, a marketing team determined that their annual performance requirements vastly exceeded the capacity of their team. Rather than staff up, they reconfigured the roles on their core team to be coordinators for “expert resource operations.” In their reconfigured roles, the employees were responsible for:

  • Interpreting the needs of management.
  • Translating those requirements into task and project specifications.
  • Identifying, recruiting, and engaging talent from expert networks (e.g., 10EQS) that could execute the work, including data science, software development, research, and content generation.
  • Integrating the results of that work into deliverables for management.

Working with multiple expert network platforms, the marketing team was able to source 95% of their annual deliverables through this secure, vetted expert network methodology.

Today, Expert Operating Systems exist only as a patchwork quilt of analog and digital operations at the enterprise level. Someday soon, I hope we’ll see the development of an intelligent enterprise expert operating system that reduces operating friction and can be scaled up and down to better align with business cycles.

To imagine what this could look like, we can simply look to some of the more disruptive digital natives for inspiration. Think Waze for business operations management or Amazon for talent.

At the risk of oversimplifying, the ideal solution could be achieved through a set of connected or nested platforms. These platforms each orchestrate operating inputs, nodes, and workflows (e.g., information, people, assets, and organizations). All the workflow information aggregates in a way that can train algorithms that design work and compensation packages, assign work, or provide people and organizations real-time learning and coaching. And the work system and its contributors could learn and optimize over time.

How Does an Expert Operating System Work?

Mindset Shift
The first step in the journey to implement an Expert Operating System requires a shift in the way the organization thinks. The mindset shift begins with an acknowledgment that, as an organization, you’ll never have all the answers. You’ll never have all the best resources or all the resources you really need as full-time employees. With the mindset shift in place, the shift in behavior becomes more achievable.

With the Expert Operating System mindset, you embrace the fact that while you have brilliant minds and operators on your team, they can be even more successful when empowered with real-time, relevant insights and learning tools; appropriate levels of automation, autonomy, and authority; and when collaborating with a precision-curated network of experts. Embracing this mindset tends to be particularly challenging for many organizations that deploy a command-and-control operating culture.

Methodology Shift
Today, the Expert Operating System is typically deployed at a component level, with organizations launching one or more components in a way that augments the traditional resources and work processes, rather than redesigning the work system in its entirety.

For example:

  • An organization uses a freelancer platform (e.g., Toptal, Upwork, or Business Talent Group) as a source for surge and specialized resources.
  • An organization uses an open innovation platform (e.g.,Topcoder, HeroX, or Innocentive) to source diverse and specialized outcomes.
  • An organization uses an ideation platform (e.g., Brightidea or Spigit)  to engage employees in collaborative solution development.
  • An organization uses an expert services network (this could be a freelance platform vendor or a consulting on-demand vendor) to source strategy, advisory, or planning work.

How To Get Started

Sampling
Organizations using expert ecosystems today tend to do so at a project or workflow level. The best way to ensure a successful experience is for a business group to apply the new resource approach to a discrete project, engaging a vendor that manages expert communities aligned with the skills required for the mission and collaborating with internal resources who are responsible for legacy resource governance. These will typically include the following:

  • The sponsoring business group
  • Labor and employment counsel
  • Intellectual property counsel
  • Procurement
  • IT
  • Human resources

The best way to get started with the Expert Operating System components is to collaborate with your existing resource governance team. Leverage and adapt their policies and processes so you have a set that is compliant, relevant, and appropriate for the new resource communities.

Scaling
Organizations that engage Expert Operating System components more broadly within their operations will typically deploy against one or more of the following strategies:

  • Connecting. Putting all the stakeholders in their extended operating community on a platform that supports a more efficient flow of information and work.
  • Twinning. Engaging a set of vendors that provide reach into on-demand expert networks (these could be freelancer platforms or open innovation platforms) that offer a competency and coverage profile that mirrors the existing resources of the company. This provides access to flex resources that can help fill gaps in current workloads – surge and coverage.
  • Augmenting. Engaging a set of vendors that provide reach into expert networks that offer competency and coverage profiles that address the growth requirements of the company. This provides access to specialized resources that can help fill gaps in future workloads – new market, product, and service categories.

Today, organizations that deploy Expert Operating System components are driving significant improvements in speed, precision, optionality, and cost. Social channels and conference agendas are littered with application and impact-proof points. These published works, however, typically reflect component-level impact, and often at the sampling rather than the scaled level of deployment. Expert Operating System solutions, strategies, and adoption still have plenty of room to mature before enterprise-level optimization can be achieved.

In the future, a cohesive strategy and execution plan for Expert Operating Systems will use technology to connect people, organizations, and resources in an interactive ecosystem -- elevating human potential, experience, and performance and driving substantial value.

Dyan Finkhousen
CEO of Shoshin Works and former global director of open innovation at GE, has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Wired, and Harvard Innovation Lab.