by Richard Sykes

The LaaS frontier

Dec 29, 20114 mins
CareersIT LeadershipIT Strategy

Last year I wrote of the CIO as the Master Operational Strategist, the service broker for the enterprise, focused on the sourcing, integration and management of the technology-enabled business services that the enterprise requires to operate — with the parallel transformational challenge of leading the enterprise to escape the restraints of its legacy inheritances.

Last month I spoke at a gathering of the UK facilities management (FM) fraternity: ‘Life, Work and Place in 2020… Action Now’ part of the 2011 Workplace Week Convention, organised by Advanced Workplace Associates (AWA).

AWA advises on the new ways of ‘delivering the office’, from hot desking to home working and empowering the mobile worker.

Sceptics would say that their real role is to help their big-ticket clients pack more knowledge workers into less space, given the high costs of offices, and there is a grain of truth here.

But AWA does invest a lot of effort in seeking to help companies better understand the changing nature of work in today’s world.

Those who follow my columns will know that I see the business models of the IT vendor community increasingly dividing between a focus on the delivery of standardised and commoditised services from highly automated service factories, and a focus on delivering people-intensive services based on high intimacy with the workings of particular industry verticals.

My thesis is that the development of the markets for highly standardised and commoditised services ‘out of the cloud’ should allow the contemporary CIO to routinely source his or her requirements for infrastructure and the back office, and then to refocus IT resource to the front line, to better underwriting core competitive competencies close to key clients — to the heart of the business’ competitive battle.

So, faced with an audience of UK facilities management leaders, I made the logical next step and suggested that responsibility for all this infrastructural stuff should be taken over by FM folk. The IT folk have better things to do, I argued.

The FM team should be given responsibility for asking ‘What technology services do the employees of the enterprise need, and what services do the buildings or offices need?’

Employees need means of access (wirelessly linked kit), identity control and assurance.

They can potentially work location-free, so the office itself needs a clear business purpose and to be enveloped in effective wireless broadband with integral identity, security and assurance services as required.

This is FM stuff, not for the IT folk.

In September The Economist published a special report on The Future of Jobs — The Great Mismatch.

Its author Matthew Bishop treats the consequences of an emerging reality that, in the new world of work, unemployment is high yet skilled and talented people are in short supply.

He introduces the US venture oDesk, one of several booming online marketplaces for freelance workers.

In July 2011, he says, some 250,000 firms paid 1.3 million registered freelancers for over 1.8 million hours of work via oDesk – nearly twice as many as a year earlier.

The oDesk model takes outsourcing to the level of the individual worker.

This LaaS (Labour as a Service) model suits both employers who can have workers on tap whenever they need them, and freelancers who can earn money without the hassle of working for a big company, or even of leaving home.

Earlier this month I was in Bangladesh for this year’s eAsia conference and met up with Matt Cooper, the VP Marketplace Operations for oDesk.

The company currently enables 3,500 freelancers in Bangladesh to work from their Dhaka homes for remote US and European companies.

Matt was the lead speaker at a freelancers conference run as part of eAsia, held in a packed main hall with an atmosphere more reminiscent of a revivalist meeting than a business conference.

According to oDesk’s feedback and quality control processes, these Bangladeshi freelancers have world-class technical and delivery skills and are very cost-competitive at a third of the price of their Indian counterparts.

So here is the new world of work creeping into the enterprise: the enabling infrastructural and back-office stuff ensured by a modern FM team while the IT folk, liberated to focus on where the competitive battle really is, reach around the world to access the most competitive and relevant resource available to help deliver on their current priorities.