Viewpoint: Crowdsource Digital Skills On-Demand with Talent-as-a-Service

By Dave Reid June 29, 2018
Viewpoint: Crowdsource Digital Skills On-Demand with Talent-as-a-Service

​When it comes to finding talent, many companies still operate an old-world model, relying on traditional HR practices to get the right candidate hired permanently for the business. However, changing times necessitate a new approach. Getting access to and unleashing the motivation and discretionary effort of great talent is arguably the most important job of leaders in all areas of every business and government agency. This is especially challenging in the IT and digital domains, simply because IT organizations are evolving so quickly.

Recent Leading Edge Forum research reveals that CIOs are currently hurting for specific digital skills including data scientists, security experts and enterprise architects. Human resources departments have always struggled with recruiting IT workers and defining the roles, levels, pay scales, and other aspects of the IT and digital domains.

Business leaders are missing out by continuing to rely on traditional employment strategies. To create a workforce that can beat the competition, operate more efficiently and undertake specific functions in the 21st century, business leaders must look to newer strategies that take full advantage of the many options available in the digital economy.


As a function, talent-as-a-service has been around for a while, but its usage within business is still relatively immature. Instead of hiring full-time employees, companies can hire top talent from crowdsourcing platforms when they need it, for as long as they need it, in a project-based business model. This is an option that needs to be looked at more closely for certain areas of the business, in particular for digital skills, data scientists or IT.

By crowdsourcing talent, businesses can access a wider talent pool and acquire skills at the time they are needed. An organization often has no need for niche skill sets in a permanent position, and by sourcing talent in this way it can scale up and down as needed.

This method of recruitment also makes accessible potential world-class talent that companies may not be able to afford on a permanent basis but can bring in for a one-off project. By bringing in a fresh pair of eyes and approach, the process creates new learning opportunities within the organization for existing employees and can encourage them in their own ambitions.

Topcoder is one of the most famous examples of a successful talent-as-a-service marketplace. It is a crowdsourcing platform for software designers, developers and data scientists based in Indianapolis that hosts about 7,000 projects per year. Companies run competitions on Topcoder, challenging developers to fulfill their need and awarding a financial prize to the winner. The platform is also designed to generate learning for all participants.

The Developing Supply Side

The supply side of talent-as-a-service is also continually maturing, as we all learn how to execute this relatively new talent paradigm well for the benefit of all participants. The dynamic of this platform is very different from traditional recruitment as it is the talent that finds the company. Such a platform also enables market participants, such as those wanting flexible work (due to personal circumstances, or those nearing retirement and changing their work patterns), to still flex their muscle in the workforce.

One important aspect of these talent platforms is the reputation boost for those who participate, as they can build their brand and learn from others on the platform. Kaggle, a San Francisco-based platform in which statisticians and data miners compete to produce the best models for predicting and describing the datasets uploaded by companies, also provides a peer network for data scientists to share skills and improve. People in very different roles offer feedback, such as when a glaciologist won a competition on algorithms analyzing the make-of-car purchase and the likelihood of an accident for an insurance firm.

As the supply side develops within these networks, you may also want to consider not only using these platforms as a recruitment target, but also as a development opportunity: Encourage your developers and other digital experts internally to participate a little in some of these platforms, as a way of sharpening their skills.

Bumps in the Road

Running effective and successful talent-as-a-service programs in business is not an easy thing to do. You have less control of outcomes and no critical dependency, and you cannot be sure of a return on investment. There isn't one person accountable if something goes wrong. So, don't go all in; experiment first and get guidance from those with experience in this area.

Some of the more mature platforms have specialists to help you right-size the task and prize and generalize the problem so that more members can participate. Breaking a task into pieces and generalizing it also often helps to make it less confidential and more accessible. Other success criteria for using talent-as-a-service include making sure it is always a learning experience for all participants by sharing feedback—for example, on who won and why. And a company should never deploy code that is developed in this way without some good, hard scrutiny from a security and risk perspective.

What's Next for Talent-as-a-Service?

Talent-as-a-service is probably not going to be the way you find talent for a large proportion of your workforce, but it looks to become an important source of talent that is difficult for you to own or access in other ways, and it may be key to high-value projects in impactful areas of your business. Used effectively, it can also become a strong agent of change across your permanent employee base.

Dave Reid is program director at Leading Edge Forum, a global information technology research and advisory firm based in London.


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