Microstaffing with OnForce

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    A couple of months ago I blogged about Quicksolve.net, a "micro-outsourcing" business based out of Redmond, WA that specializes in providing remote service on call.


    Now I’m going to tell you about OnForce, a service that specializes in "microstaffing" for onsite technical services. If you haven’t read about OnForce yet, you will. The company was just honored with a Codie nomination in the category of Best Vertical Market Business Content Solution. (The Codies are awards given by the Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA) to recognize new software and services that go above and beyond the norm. After an arduous and competitive judging process, they’re vetted by the entire SIIA membership.)


    Just as you can find somebody through Elance to handle your project — whether it be developing a Web site, creating graphics, or writing a white paper — OnForce specializes in putting you in touch with people who can come onsite to do your technical work, including computer repair and support, data recovery and backup, home electronics work, printer fixes, wireless set-up. That could be in your office or in your home.


    For example, say you run a property management company. You have eight people in one office. You’re not large enough to have an IT person, let alone a staff. Nor are you persuaded of the virtue of signing a maintenance contract with the local IT company. (Maybe the guy who runs the biggest computer operation in town stiffed you on his rent last year, you had to evict him, and you don’t really want to work with him.) You’ve decided to upgrade your computers in order to run a new property management application. What do you do? Who do you turn to?


    That’s where OnForce comes into play. You can post your job description and location to the site, along with the service fee you’re willing to pay, and OnForce’s 10,272 currently registered service providers will get word about it. If they’re in the right geographic area, some of them will probably say they’ll accept your project — typically within minutes of its posting.


    Say that nine providers respond with potential service dates. You confirm their expertise by reviewing their profiles. (Any technical certifications they claim to possess have been verified by the staff at OnForce.) Two of the providers say they’re available that afternoon. The other seven say they’re available tomorrow. Not bad!


    You choose the one whose profile says he went to your alma mater, and he shows up when he says he will, does the work and gets paid through OnForce. For the privilege of tracking down just the right person to tackle your onsite technical work, you pay a whopping $11 fee on top of the amount paid to the provider.


    Both you and the provider rate each other, so others will know whether the parties involved are worth working with in the future.


    Whereas this project may require eight hours of somebody’s time for a total of $400, you may have a tinier effort — fixing a printer — worth $40. Or you could have a group of remote offices where you need to get VoIP systems installed and users trained at each location. You could get a job acceptance order from one company that has technicians and trainers in each city or it may be that you hire people from a different company for each location. (The company provides a tool for uploading massive numbers of work orders at once.)


    Senior VP Paul Nadjarian says service providers are using OnForce as a way to fill in the gaps in their technicians’ schedules. If somebody has a free afternoon that week, OnForce can be used as a resource for filling in that unbilled time with some service jobs. Who knows? It could generate a new long-term client.


    The service provider is motivated to use a site like OnForce because it strips out all the business hassle of billing, collections, administration. He or she will be paid for the work within three to five days. When the work is completed, OnForce takes 10% of what the service provider contracted for; he or she gets the other 90%.


    Nadjarian says over half of work orders are accepted within 13 minutes or less. Within two hours, 70% to 80% are accepted; eventually 95% of work orders get accepted.


    What OnForce is attempting to do is rewrite the sourcing model for certain types of services. Whereas Sourcingmag.com has profiled companies that provide regional outsourcing services to smaller and specialized businesses on a contract basis, OnForce says, do it just in time. When you need tech support, get it then. Don’t lock yourself into a contract.


    On the other hand, you may have an IT team that’s way too busy for all the work that’s thrown their way. The team could use OnForce as a way to augment the staff in times of need. Exchange expert going on vacation? Get a temp in through OnForce to backfill for you. It’s a heckuva lot less expensive than going the temp agency route.


    Of course, you have to decide what the given service is worth to you in order to submit your work to the site as a buyer. If you get the bid wrong, it’s possible your project will be ignored, or that you’ll be leaving money on the table. Nadjarian suggests studying the bids for comparable work in your area to get in the ballpark.


    Nadjarian says he believes, "the system does a good job of generating market price." He’s in a position to know. His previous job was with eBay. "If you look at what GeekSquad charges to install wireless routers," he says, "I think it’s $159 for that. Market rate in our system is $60 to $80."


    Microsoft will be rolling out Vista this year. Most of the deployments happening in this first wave will be part of new equipment purchases or setting up corporate pilot projects. Picture thousands of companies trying to integrate what’s new and shiny with what they’re already using. It’s a nightmare in the making. If your organization expects to participate in that, then OnForce may be the resource you’ll need to find the temporary talent required to help you with your integration work.


    As for me, I have some phones that need to be redirected to accommodate my new DSL service; think I’ll post the work to OnForce to see how quickly I can get it done.

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