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These Are the 3 Biggest Trends in Workforce Innovation

Keeping up with the changing world requires constant innovation — and this includes hiring. Evolving technology, the shifting generational makeup of the workforce, and a candidate-centric market[...]

February 18, 2020

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Configuring Your VMS for Clear Communications

A Cautionary Tale: poorly configured technology jeopardizes Ebola patient

Since September 28, Thomas Eric Duncan had been in isolation at the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas for exposure to Ebola. Sadly, Duncan lost his battle and died on October 8. His admittance to the hospital on September 28, however, was not his first visit. After developing abdominal pains accompanied by a fever, he checked himself into care on September 25. He had even explained to the nurse about his recent travels to West Africa, a glaring red flag that should have sent the staff running to administer tests for the lethal virus. Instead, crucial details about his overseas trip became lost in the shuffle and he was discharged the same day.

How could this have happened, many wonder, including the Centers for Disease Control (CDC)? How could a patient likely exposed to Ebola be released by hospital staff into a densely populated American city? According to the hospital, the problem stemmed from “a flaw in the way the physician and nursing portions of our electronic health records (EHR) interacted in this specific case.”

Technology, not medical professionals, bears the lion’s share of the blame. As reported in The Atlantic: “The hospital’s electronic health record contains separate workflows for doctors and nurses. The information about the patient's travel history was on the nurses’ side, but ‘it would not automatically appear in the physician’s standard workflow.’ Which means the doctor wouldn’t know about Duncan’s recent trip to Liberia. Which means she’d have no reason to suspect Duncan had Ebola.”

The news wasn’t as surprising to technology experts as one would expect. A recent RAND study found that current EHR technology “interferes with face-to-face discussions with patients; requires physicians to spend too much time performing clerical work; and degrades the accuracy of medical records by encouraging template-generated doctors’ notes.”

Yet is this situation exclusive to the healthcare field? No, it’s an issue we all face to varying degrees.

Technology merely enables, not replaces, human processes

Across countless industries and businesses, people increasingly rely on technology to automate their tasks in the name of operational efficiency. And that’s not a bad thing. Technology, though, is simply a tool that enables human processes. The output of computers is only as good as the data entered. The workflows are only as efficient as their configurations. The EHR example above is admittedly extreme. Still, it demonstrates at the largest level the circumstances of over-reliance on automation, which can compromise vital interpersonal interactions and diligent human oversight of machine-based functions.

Although a VMS breakdown won’t produce the same dire ramifications as the EHR system in the Dallas hospital, a poorly configured and overly automated solution can put a contingent labor program in peril, with millions of dollars in spend at risk.

Defining success in VMS

A well-run VMS program comes down to communication. Every benefit of a VMS -- whether visibility into spend, transparency into performance, accurate timekeeping and billing, consolidated reporting or control of the supplier base -- boils down to a communications-based process that must include, embrace and support supplier partners.

In order for clients or MSPs to obtain quality talent on a timely basis and at competitive market rates from the best supplier partners, a framework must be created to centralize communications that bridge the needs of all users (MSPs, hiring managers, suppliers and contingent talent) in an agile and efficient manner. Optimal programs are those in which communication is nurtured among suppliers -- not just MSPs and hiring managers -- which promotes collaboration, mutual benefits and the alignment of goals toward success.

Collaborative VMS selection

The VMS selection process sometimes seems like an unintentionally selfish decision-making exercise. A system is easy to consider when the functionality ideally fits the needs of the party responsible for the choice. Perhaps the reporting data will benefit the MSP in context of demonstrating value to hiring managers. Perhaps a hiring manager believes industry experience trumps feature sets. The tool, however, is meant to be a collaborative platform for shared communications and work processes. It must cater to the requirements of all users equally.

MSPs should carefully assess the needs of the business, the user community and the staffing partners to select a system with the key features needed. Many VMS manufacturers will load tons of functions to their systems in an attempt to create a robust, universal application. There are no one-size-fits-all solutions in talent management programs, however. Every customer is different. Their job categories and talent needs are unique. Their HR processes are not the processes of others. For this reason, the abilities, candidates and data of staffing suppliers are imperative. Your supplier partners should be instrumental members in VMS selection. And if the VMS has already been identified or deployed, suppliers should be intricately involved in the configuration process.

MSPs should consider working with their supplier partners to document process flows, requirements, reporting criteria, approval structures, assignment parameters, timekeeping policies and invoicing processes upfront. Then, issue an RFP to prospective VMS vendors and award a contract to the system that provides the features you’re actually going to use based on the collective needs of suppliers and hiring managers.

Contingent workforce management processes, with few exceptions, are the same from industry vertical to industry vertical. The ultimate success of a VMS comes from its core functionality, configurability and categories supported -- not domain experience. And it’s only as useful as the data it collects about candidates and suppliers.

Shared workflows

Most VMS systems allow for data-driven workflow elements, with the ability to customize them. In general, these include workflows for requisition distribution, new hires, assignment management, timecards and invoicing. The problem with the Dallas hospital’s EHR system came from an issue of the workflows being too unique, too exclusive, too segregated. To be effective, the VMS must facilitate transparency and seamless communications with the suppliers engaged in the program. The data they provide about talent drive nearly every aspect of the solution. To avoid this sort of breakdown with a VMS, ensure that workflows maintain shared communications and visibility.

Make certain that permissions provide supplier users with access to the data they need. Plan out a list of user groups, individual users and the workflows to which they will need shared access. The VMS provider should help make these essential configurations during implementation.


Transparency and inclusion are important for visibility, yet actual communications systems are imperative.

• The VMS should be configured to generate email alerts and dashboard notifications to suppliers immediately when an action must be taken.
• The VMS system should provide comment sections to record any additional feedback. For example, if hiring managers or MSPs record feedback about a submitted candidates, the staffing partner should receive notification with a link to view the feedback. This process assists suppliers in refining their search, thereby empowering them to better identify candidates who more closely match the requirements and expectations.
• Most VMS systems automate the scheduling of interviews. However, a solid system should further facilitate related correspondence, such as offers and negotiations. For instance, the VMS notifies a supplier when an offer for a candidate has been made. The supplier has the option to accept the offer or negotiate. When negotiating the rate, the supplier is notified by email and system alert that the candidate’s offer rate has not been accepted. The supplier is prompted to view the offer rate for the candidate in the system, allowing options to accept, reject or continue to negotiate the rate.

A robust communications system is mission-critical to a rich VMS program, yet the automation software should not serve as the sole vehicle for meaningful dialog. Additional exchanges by phone, email and in-person reviews should occur at regular intervals with suppliers to discuss performance, issues and continuous improvement initiatives.

Best practices

Designing a successful VMS program isn’t always an easy undertaking, especially when relegated to a single group or company. A smoothly running VMS engagement epitomizes the adage “It takes a village.”

1.  Always include staffing suppliers in the design, configuration and ongoing evaluation of the system.
2.  Ensure the proper number of suppliers are active in the VMS. Inactive suppliers, while maintained in the database for potential future work, should be deactivated and invisible to the live system.
3.  Supplier tiers and distribution lists for requisitions should be carefully considered and customized to each job category and type. Work in advance with your supplier groups to determine the requisitions they are most qualified to fill. By really understanding a supplier’s capabilities to fill positions, even those outside their core, MSPs can be better configure distribution lists that provide more robust pools for sourcing and recruiting.
4.  Ensure that the VMS offers a means for responsive, open and timely communications. Further ensure that the appropriate suppliers have access to the workflows, approvals, feedback mechanisms, notifications and communications protocols needed to foster meaningful exchanges and interactions. Also remember to have a Plan B, which involves frequent and regular discussions through means outside of the VMS.
5.  Prior to implementation, a meeting should occur with suppliers to map out processes and thoroughly collect all data that will need to be uploaded into the system. Work closely with the VMS provider as the data is scrubbed and loaded. Demand adequate time for User Acceptance Testing, and involve the suppliers to ensure that the system is functioning properly prior to live deployment.
6.  Engage staffing partners and work together in the formation of requisition fields and templates to assure that sufficient details will be present on job requirements.
7.  Allow staffing partners shared access to reports, business intelligence and analytics in which they have a vested interest. Performance should be tracked and shared. Details about workers should not be excluded, especially given the stake suppliers have in their talent.

It takes a village

A great deal of information covering business policies, processes, suppliers, jobs, rates and workers is needed when configuring and populating a VMS. And at the end of the day, it’s called a vendor management system for a reason: the data provided by staffing partners influences the entire program. Suppliers should be engaged at every step in the VMS configuration process to ensure the availability of critical data, adherence to timeframes for review and approvals, and the configuration of workflows and business rules. Garbage in, garbage out, as they say.

Technology alone cannot protect an investment or satisfy universal requirements. Suppliers participating in a VMS program are only as successful as they are permitted to be by the technology. They can’t act on what they can’t see. And hiring managers and MSPs can’t manage the program, the supplier population or the talent if restrictions in the system prevent meaningful communications with supplier partners.

Sunil Bagai
Sunil Bagai
Sunil is a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, thought leader and influencer who is transforming the way companies think about and acquire talent. Blending vision, technology and business skills honed in the most innovative corporate environments, he has launched a new model for recruitment called Crowdstaffing which is being tapped successfully top global brands. Sunil is passionate about building a company that provides value to the complete staffing ecosystem including clients, candidates and recruiters.
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