Business Agility: The Contingent Workforce Paradox

There’s a lot of market discussion now about business agility. My colleague Craig Le Clair just published a key report on the topic today. He also blogs about it. Craig defines agility as: Business agility is the awareness and execution quality that allows an enterprise to embrace market and operational changes as a matter of routine.

Think about that definition for a while and it quickly becomes clear that contingent labor is key to agility. What’s contingent labor? In Forrester’s view, any worker that isn’t a long-term part of your workforce -- permanent employees or long-term outsourcing contracts -- is considered contingent. For example, independent contractors, resources engaged in a six-month application development project from Cognizant or IBM, or people hired through an MSP or staffing agency are considered contingent. Even within a large offshore master service agreement, the individual workers are brought on and off the client’s engagement with some frequency. We’d consider those workers contingent also.

And why are contingent workers so critical to agility? Because your existing permanent staff will not suddenly develop new skills overnight. Nor will your long-term outsourcer suddenly change the resources assigned to your account without a (sometimes) extensive renegotiation of your contract. For example, if you decided to build a Portuguese-language mobile app for a new Brazilian customer segment, it’s likely to take you months to move someone internally off an existing project, hire a new staff member, or call your outsourcer and change directions on your current maintenance contract.

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