Utmost aims to give enterprises a holistic view of the sprawling extended workforce

Profile picture for user pwainewright By Phil Wainewright May 12, 2021 Audio mode
Summary:
Startup Utmost, which just raised a $21 million funding round, aims to give Workday customers better oversight of their fast-growing extended workforce

Annrai O'Toole, CEO, Utmost
Annrai O'Toole (Utmost)

As organizations prepare for the hybrid work patterns of the Vaccine Economy, they also find themselves grappling with the continuing growth in contingent work. As many as half of a typical enterprise's workforce today are not on the payroll — they're freelancers, contractors, agency temps and gig workers. Tracking and managing this extended workforce is the mission of Utmost, which last week revealed a $21 million round of venture finance, bringing its total funding to $33 million. The disruption of the past year has accelerated the need for its solution, says CEO Annrai O'Toole, who observes:

The notion of your workforce as just employees, that's over. It's been over for a while.

Traditionally, the contingent workforce has been managed through Vendor Management System (VMS) software, but this type of offering has focused primarily on the procurement of agency staff and is not integrated with enterprise HCM systems. Utmost, which calls itself an Extended Workforce System (EWS) has a much wider remit. O'Toole explains:

We're trying to build something that's holistically both for HR and procurement, and is holistically designed to capture all of your extended workforce, not just staffing agencies.

Initially, Utmost aims to provide this for Workday customers. O'Toole and another co-founder Dan Beck were both Workday executives before leaving to found Utmost along with Paddy Benson, former VP of Engineering at Groupon and a colleague of O'Toole's at a previous venture. Workday Ventures was an early investor along with Greylock Ventures, now joined in this latest round by new investors Mosaic Ventures, Acadian Ventures and Alumni Ventures Group.

Helping hiring managers get the job done

The impetus for founding Utmost came from a realization that the market is currently ill-served by point solutions that create silos of operation. In many enterprises, there are multiple VMSs, each tied to a specific staffing agency and geography. Other workers come as part of service contracts with professional services firms, Business Process Outsourcers (BPOs) and facilities management providers. Functions such as marketing and IT may hire freelancers for specific projects. This creates a confusing landscape of processes and tools for hiring managers, who just want to get someone in to get the job done. That's the key pain point Utmost wants to solve. O'Toole sums up:

We're definitely trying to build something that's somewhat removed from the staffing agencies and is very focused on the enterprise. And in particular, the hiring manager, because that is where all the grief is ...

We're trying to create this universal front door that anybody who wants a non-employee, anywhere in the world, they can go to one place and follow one set of policies and get someone, and they're correctly classified.

This goal has been a priority with early customers including water treatment business Ecolab, cybersecurity provider NortonLifeLock (formerly Symantec), and insurer Colonial Life. While it also provides a robust set of processes to satisfy procurement, Utmost is designed as a tool for HR professionals. Its developers have focused on building out the workflows to replace legacy VMS systems and offer a more seamless, globally consistent set of processes for hiring managers. These workflows cover the three core areas of sourcing workers, engaging them, and paying them. As well as giving an enterprise view of these processes, the platform also has a supplier view where agencies and other providers can respond to work requests, and an individual worker view for actions such as onboarding, confirming certifications, submitting timesheets, and so on.

Integrated into Workday

All of this also integrates into Workday, bringing in reference data such as access permissions, org charts, business sites, cost centers and currencies, and updating the contingent worker's profile back to Workday. Utmost has adopted Workday's look-and-feel so that the user experience is familiar. The integration makes it possible to see all employees and non-employee workers in a single organization view in Utmost, and to report all the data within Workday. Automated processes created within the Utmost workflow builder carry through into Workday, such as raising a work request, onboarding a remote worker, verifying certifications in an external system and flagging them for further investigation if the verification fails, or accepting invoices, approving them for payment and sending them into the financial system.

One important benefit of bringing all the information together in a single view in Utmost is to support compliance. The system looks out for anomalies and flags up issues such as a worker whose contract has expired and should no longer have access to the IT system, or who has not renewed a certification and therefore should not be assigned to work in specific areas. Other rules that can be defined might relate to the maximum length of contract in a specific country, or the maximum number of workers in a particular location.

A new release planned for next month is expected to round out Utmost's ability to function as a full VMS replacement, and so the latest funding round comes at just the right time to step up the company's product development and sales expansion. With the number of workers under management and the number of engagements handled already in the tens of thousands and almost doubling in just the first three months of this year, Utmost is "already operating at some significant scale" says O'Toole.

My take

The rise of the gig economy and more fluid patterns of work are hardly new trends that have just appeared, and yet HCM systems are still architected around an assumption that the entire workforce of an enterprise are employees. This simply doesn't reflect the modern world and it's astonishing how slow HCM vendors have been to adapt to this new reality. On the one hand, they are becoming increasingly sophisticated in tracking skills, sentiment and development across the workforce. At the same time, they have a blindspot to all of these factors across a growing segment of the workforce that are on contract rather than payroll. It's absurd.

No wonder Utmost sees an untapped opportunity here. Its approach is far-sighted, taking care to orient its data model around individual workers rather than agencies, contracts or hiring managers. That means it can track a worker's profile across multiple engagements, even when they switch between engagement channels, for example when an independent contractor decides to join an agency. It's also sensible that it sees contingent labor as an extension of HCM rather than a bolt-on to the procurement function. Both these decisions are aligned with the growing trend towards individual workers taking more ownership of their own talent and employment journeys.

Utmost has already proven that there's a market for its EWS story and it seems destined to become a significant player. Will that be as a standalone business or will Workday decide to consummate the existing partnership with an acquisition? So long as Utmost remains a Workday-only solution that looks certain to be its destiny. In which case, why didn't Workday just build the solution in-house? The argument surely is that you need a startup mentality to disrupt an established category with new thinking — in which case Utmost is a strong validation of the Workday Ventures model.