Organizations explore benefits of pooling workers

With so many organizations these days carrying the same workload and smaller budgets, finding creative ways to organize staff has become a necessity.

One methodology that has been getting some attention within HR departments is the concept of resource pooling, which essentially groups employees of like skills – particularly in IT – and contracts them out internally when projects arise. By creating several resource pools within an organization, employees can be mixed and matched on projects requiring specific skills, which should result in the formation of optimal teams.

Kazim Isfahani, an analyst with Robert Frances Group Inc. in Westport, Conn., describes resource pooling as focusing on an organization’s human assets. The concept of resource pooling is designed to eliminate hierarchical structures by creating a large pool of skills along with someone to manage the pool. According to the Robert Frances Group, the approach promotes improved resource utilization and accountability within an organization.

“Another benefit of resource pooling is the concept of cross training,” Isfahani said. “By having the ability to put people into different projects, you create for them the opportunity of learning different skills that may be targeted to different types of projects. By expanding out their own skill sets, employees become more challenged and more marketable, with the side benefit of improved retention and employee motivation.”

Ron Babin, associate partner in the strategic IT effectiveness group at Accenture Inc. in Toronto, has witnessed the success of the resource pooling methodology within his own organization. Referred to as centres of excellence, resource pools exist for a number of Accenture’s divisions, including ERP, commerce and Web delivery.

According to Babin, the resource pool concept helps employees build their expertise and ensure they work on interesting and varied projects. “By being a member of a centre of excellence, they won’t be stuck on a treadmill of doing the same old stuff and can constantly build up knowledge as a individual,” he said.

Faye West, director of information systems for the Alberta Research Council in Edmonton, sees advantages to the resource pool idea from the employer’s perspective.

“It’s a good opportunity to make better use of your resources,” she said, noting that the concept of resource pooling is largely common sense. “It’s always a good idea to use the employees you have to do the work that needs to be done.”

However, employees within a pool can often lack a connection with an organization’s day-to-day business problems, Babin said.

“That’s the classic IT challenge – to create technological depth and expertise, but also a deep understanding of the business and how to fix business problems. When you’re separated from market issues, you tend not to appreciate what’s most important for the business,” Babin said.

Another challenge, Isfahani suggested, is helping employees get used to the idea of the pool structure.

“Traditionally, as employees, we associate ourselves with a hierarchical organization with a boss and our boss’ boss. In the pool structure, you’re loyal to a project a task or an assigned team for a given period of time, then you’re put back into the pool and reassigned,” he said. “The reporting structure might be difficult for people to grasp, initially, particularly when working with virtual teams.”

The difficulty from a management perspective is that employees within the resource pool might be more challenging to evaluate, as they’re bouncing from project to project. Isfahani said for the pool system to work, a process must be in place to effectively evaluate an individual’s performance, noting there are tools on the market designed to handle this task.

While the concept is not appropriate in every circumstance, Isfahani said every company could benefit from using some form of the resource pool, although companies with bigger workforces tend to be the frontrunners in using this methodology.

“It’s generally used by more progressive CIOs who want to see what their guys are doing,” he said, noting that the fundamental philosophy of resource pooling is to run an IT department as its own business.

According to Isfahani, creating a resource pool doesn’t eliminate a company’s use of contractors, but may encourage the use of fewer outside consultants.

“Because the nature of the work becomes more project-based when dealing with a resource pool, the employees become more like hybrids between regular employees and contractors,” he said.