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SAP, Cornerstone join launch of blockchain-based 'Internet of Careers'

Phil Wainewright Profile picture for user pwainewright January 29, 2020
Fourteen staffing, background check and HCM software firms are backing blockchain-based Velocity Network to speed worker credential checking

Blockchain network on blurred office background © Funtap - shutterstock

Fourteen influential organizations including HCM vendors SAP and Cornerstone OnDemand have joined the launch of a new blockchain-based network designed to automate the verification of employee credentials such as qualifications and experience. The Velocity Network has similar aims to Workday Credentials, launched last year by the cloud HCM giant, but with the significant difference that the new initiative is designed to operate as a vendor-neutral public utility. That's key to widespread adoption, says Dror Gurevich, CEO of the venture building the new network:

Contrary to other initiatives we've seen in the market, the Velocity Network is governed by a collaborative, democratic, non-profit foundation, with members being diverse labor market stakeholders.

Participants in the network are all equal, they adhere to the same protocols, and the network belongs to no one and is run by its members. This is why we call it the Internet of Careers, because it's a public utility, rather than a proprietary platform.

The founding members include educational and background check services Cisive, HireRight and National Student Clearinghouse, the employee assessment businesses of AON and SHL, global staffing agency Randstad, freelance and employment marketplaces Upwork and ZipRecruiter, management consulting firm Korn Ferry and HCM vendors Cornerstone, SAP, SumTotal, Ultimate and Unit4. They are joined by Gurevich's business Velocity Career Labs, the venture-funded startup which is building and will run the network under the direction of the Velocity Network Foundation.

The founding members collectively hold career-related data for more than 700 million individuals in their systems, consisting of professional and student credentials and assessments numbered in billions, along with employment and contract work records that hold information on individuals' experience, competencies and pay histories. These numbers will grow as other organizations join the Foundation.

A faster, more reliable way to check credentials

Prospective employers today still verify these credentials in essentially the same way they did a hundred years ago — by examining paper certificates, making phone calls, or simply relying on what candidates tell them. The Velocity Network makes it possible to automate away the delay and unreliability of these manual processes, using blockchain technology to ensure that credentials are reliably and immutably linked to their issuers, while at the same time giving individual credential holders absolute control over who can view them. In a fast-moving labor market, where people in full-time work often switch roles every few months, while contingent and gig workers are increasingly used, employers can no longer afford those delays, says Gurevich:

If you're deploying talent every three months, you cannot do this by verifying their qualifications manually. You don't have a full month for the background check agency to come back with answers.

Putting people in control of their own data is another important aspect of the network. Velocity's Ecosystem Lead, Yvette Cameron, cites Accenture research presented at last year's World Economic Forum in Davos, which found that almost three-quarters of employees want to own their work-related records and take them as they move between jobs:

It points to the rise of the self-sovereign identity and the desire for individuals to own and manage their career-related information, so that they know how it's used, who's using it, when it's being used, and possibly even take advantage of it in the data-sharing economy.

Building out the Velocity Network

Velocity is not ready to serve these needs just yet, however. This week's launch brings the technology out of stealth mode, not only to attract more organizations to join the Foundation, but more importantly to build out the developer community. It will take "all of 2020," says Gurevich, to put everything in place before the network is ready to use in production. That's largely because the core network has to be a neutral utility layer on which foundation members and other developers will build their own proprietary applications to deliver use cases to the market. As Gurevich explains:

When we talk to vendors, we hear from them that it will be very difficult for them to invest and make big bets into a proprietary platform that might change the rules when it feels like — not to talk about one that is led by a competitor.

The Velocity Network is an open architecture platform. It's governed by the industry for the industry democratically, everybody is involved in the governance structure. That vendor-neutral space will assure fair play is maintained, so that vendors are not concerned with integrating to it.

This provides a level playing field where vendors will be free to develop their own applications that take advantage of the underlying technology, in exactly the same way that vendors today build proprietary applications that run on the open Internet, he explains.

Existing vendors, other groups and individual developers will decide to leverage these new capabilities of verified credentials to build new use cases and a whole new world of functionality.

The Foundation is responsible only for this layer, leaving that proprietary competitive landscape to its members and other developers that want to develop on top of it.

Leaving white space for application developers

The first applications being developed by founding partners include HR vendors offering their customers the ability to issue credentials to enable more efficient internal mobility, or providing a benefit to employees in the form of verifiable assets they can take with them. Another example is recruiters wanting to process verified credentials rather than relying on self-reported records.

The operation of the network will be paid for through a system of transaction fee tokens. Organizations that issue credentials or provide computational resources for blockchain nodes will earn tokens, while those who want to verify credentials will pay in tokens. An internal exchange facility will allow conversion of tokens into cash and vice-versa. The more verifications that are requested, the more cash will flow into the network. In addition, application providers will be able to charge users subscriptions to use their services in the normal way, based on the value they provide.

Velocity has been careful to focus on providing a trusted verification layer without encroaching on application functionality such as ontologies or ratings. It provides a set of schema that define various credential types such as position, qualification, award or badge. There is a know-your-customer process to verify the identity of issuers as they join the network. But having recorded that data in a verifiable way, it's up to the application providers to then evaluate the data.

For example, those facts are recorded by the network in exactly the same way whether the credential issuer is a small business or a global enterprise. Similar to a credit rating application that evaluates the financial data it collects from various sources, it's up to application providers to run algorithms that evaluate how reliable those credentials may be. As Gurevich explains:

We are bringing data to the doorstep of the application that is verifiable, but then to make sense of this data digitally there are already applications that do this work and there will be more and more.

We want to leave this white space for the competitive landscape of our members.

My take

The changing dynamics of the modern workplace demand faster, more responsive systems and processes. The century-old process of credentials checking is ripe for replacement with a more automated, digital system. And just as the Internet has had a whole range of unexpected consequences for industries as diverse as retail, publishing and computing, so an Internet of Careers could have far-reaching effects we can barely discern on the future shape of work. But while the need is clear and potentially gamechanging, every potential solution faces a huge challenge in establishing itself as the network of choice.

The founders of the Velocity Network are well aware of the need to demonstrate that their network is bigger and better than the rest, in order to establish sufficient momentum to make that claim come true. It has an impressive list of founding members but it also needs some compelling applications that will bring the network to life. Other more proprietary networks have more control over the applications they bring to market. Velocity's big gamble is that staying open and vendor-neutral will persuade a critical mass of developers to flock to its platform. For now it's too early to say whether that gamble is going to pay off.

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