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Will 'open source talent' shatter the long-standing workforce model?

Posting in Education

Open source software has been a major disruption for the tech industry, offering community-built and supported solutions at no cost, or at a fraction of the price of existing commercial software. Now, some analysts suggest talent is following the same pattern, with open source labor and expertise becoming increasingly available on a community basis to organizations.

Photo courtesy of HubSpot.

That's the perspective put forth by Lisa Barry, Andy Liakopoulos, and Jeff Schwartz, all with Deloitte, in a new paper that posits that the traditional workforce as we've known it is not only being disrupted by a freelance, contract model, but also a growing community of subject matter experts or highly engaged customers who provide support at no cost.

Barry, Liakopoulos, and Schwartz define open source talent as "people who provide services for you for free either independently or part of a community – for example those who answer questions about your products on the web in an open source help function." A confederation of freelance talent, independent contractors, and formal business partners will increasingly be doing much of the work previously performed by a locked-in, 9-to-5 workforce.

This threatens jobs and wages of course, but may also give rise to a new type of industry -- firms that can identify and package specific clusters of talent to make available to organizations that need projects accomplished. In the software world, many vendors now have built a business model on wrapping industry-specific solutions around open source code.

They describe the continuum of talent on which today's and tomorrow's enterprises are relying:

  • Balance sheet talent: "Full-time, statutory employees of your organization. You bear all the carrying costs of these employees."
  • Partnership talent: "Employees that are part of a partnership or joint venture that are on related balance sheet."
  • Borrowed talent: "Employees who are part of your value chain or ecosystem but who reside on someone else’s balance sheet such as contractors who work in support roles."
  • Freelance talent: "Independent workers you hire for specific but temporary projects."
  • Open source talent: "People who provide services for you for free either independently or part of a community – for example those who answer questions about your products on the web in an open source help function."

Not mentioned in the report, but also an emerging force, is the rise of "crowdsourced" talent, in which projects can be accomplished and paid for on a piecemeal basis by online community members. Barry, Liakopoulos, and Schwartz cite 6 factors driving the growth of open source talent:

Globalization. "On one hand, time zones will always present challenges when colleagues want to collaborate simultaneously from Shanghai, Los Angeles, and Paris. But on the other hand, the availability of voice and video over IP make it possible to see, hear, and share documents in real time from your notebook, or your smartphone."

Technology. "The growth in computing speed, storage, and power is making global, real-time collaboration possible in almost every discipline."

Mobility. "Today’s critical workforces are freer to work where they want, making career moves more seamless—and potentially more frequent."

Social business. "Organizations now must use social media not only to innovate their talent brands, but also to connect and deploy people who relate to the organization in widely different ways."

Education. "We are witnessing a new wave of innovation, driven in part by MOOCs (massive open online courses): Leading universities (including Stanford and MIT) are making high-quality courses, taught by world-leading professors, available to tens of thousands of students around the world."

Analytics. "Those who can effectively mine large pools of employee and business data for hidden insights and apply them will perform more powerfully in the open talent economy."

— By on September 30, 2013, 8:05 AM PST

Joe McKendrick

Contributing Editor

Joe McKendrick is an independent analyst who tracks the impact of information technology on management and markets. He is a co-author of the SOA Manifesto and has written for Forbes, ZDNet and Database Trends & Applications. He holds a degree from Temple University. He is based in Pennsylvania. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure