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Rainmaking in the Cloud

Jeff Dirks, CTO, TrueBlue Inc.
Jeff Dirks, CTO, TrueBlue Inc.

Jeff Dirks, CTO, TrueBlue Inc.

Many companies feel the earth shifting beneath their feet as asymmetrical competitors flush with VC funding challenge them with new ideas and new ways of serving their market. If you’re in the situation, you’re probably asking will it work? Will you get Amazoned or Netflixed into oblivion?

Anchored by monolithic architecture while agile startups flit about the cloud trying to pick off your customers makes any established market leader feel vulnerable. Do you burn a pile of capital in an attempt to boost operations to the cloud for a dogfight? Is it even a technology fight, or is there a more systemic issue opening your customers to competitors?

Answering this second question determines how you answer the first. Some market leaders who flamed out by not innovating when hit by a disrupter may not have known their customer as well as they thought they did. It wasn’t just new tech that extinguished their fire. Technology can fix a lot of things, but it can’t fix complacency Complacency shouldn’t be mistaken for a clear-eyed vision and solid value prop backed by a deliberate strategy to not engage in a costly head-to-head battle against a rival with little chance of stealing your market share. There are triumphant Goliaths out there standing over flattened Davids wheezing out a haze of vaporized VC.

It’s more than digital transformation

Staffing is a people business with a predilection to operate eyeball-to-eyeball with customers and workers. Our people are our brand and staffing companies continue to invest with a people-first, technology-second (or third) mindset.

The idea of flipping that is not new. Online job exchanges have been simmering in the industry since the commercialization of the internet in the early 1990s. But hardware, access, and a preference for the human touch were limiting factors. Before the smartphone hit the market in 2007, you could practically count the number of online staffing companies on one hand.

 Investment in digital transformation is growing at 17.5% CAGR and could exceed $7 trillion over the next three years as companies build on strategies to drive value with digital at scale. We are learning to train for endurance 

Today there are more than 360 firms operating in the human cloud– the staffing world’s term for the emerging group of companies connecting people with work through a digital platform. While the global staffing industry grew 5% in 2018, the B2B segment of the global human cloud accelerated to 22% YOY. In the U.S., about 8 million people found work through the human cloud in 2018. Digital transformation is now on the front burner for many staffing companies – 26% list it as a top investment compared to 9% four years ago. Customers and workers are showing us they want to connect in the cloud and we are listening.

Two years ago, TrueBlue launched JobStack in PeopleReady, our blue-collar, industrial staffing brand. JobStack lets customers post jobs and workers accept them on a mobile app 24/7 without the assistance of branch teams. It is easy to underestimate the cultural change that comes with this transformation. This wasn’t just another “IT upgrade,” it was a bedrock change to a 30-year-old business model that put PeopleReady at the top of the heap in on-demand industrial staffing. Many tenured employees built long, successful careers on that model. Some worried this was a New Coke moment for us.

It’s a natural reaction. I come from a product background in the Seattle VC and technology arena where nothing stays the same long enough to gain inertia. An established service industry brand can build up a lot of inertia in three decades and it can take an incredible force to change direction. This is where strategy can drift into complacency and you slip into the sites of sharp-eyed competitors galvanized in the belief that they are the incredible force that will solve your inertia problem.

All technology projects are people projects

A digital transformation needs a corresponding cultural transformation to be successful. CTOs know the correlation between technology and people and the high risk of failure in under-investing or under-prioritizing either one.

Our day-to-day operations in PeopleReady ran on a proprietary monolith built to support a network of 600 branches with highly trained users. Thirty years of operational know-how is coded into that system. Breaking it down into critical microservices for a cloud app customers and workers can easily use was tricky. There is no single switch to flip for any part of the transformation. There are a million switches. That’s the beauty of it on the technology side: instead of a handful of nail-biting releases a year, we can do hundreds of limited-blast-radius changes, any one of which can be rapidly fixed if needed without rattling the business.

The people side of the JobStack transformation was analogous in the sense that the transactional aspects of our day-to-day operations transferred from our branch employees to our workers and customers. We followed a similar limited-blast-radius approach by changing one branch at a time, allowing us to focus support resources on a small portion of the business to quickly resolve issues and help employees and customers transition.

Today, PeopleReady fills a job on JobStack every nine seconds and more of our day-to-day business is transacted through the app than our legacy process. But we know this is only the beginning. Investment in digital transformation is growing at 17.5% CAGR and could exceed $7 trillion over the next three years as companies build on strategies to drive value with digital at scale.

We are learning to train for endurance.

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