Managing a Large Contingent Workforce: What are MSP, VMS, and FMS?

When something important has to get done, you’ll do whatever it takes. And you’re not alone. This ten-year old, for example, stole his parents’ car to drive to the grocery store to buy Cheerios when he found they had run out at home.

I’d start hiding the car keys. There are better ways to replenish the Cheerios.

Replenishing your workforce can be a tougher job. When building a contingent workforce management program, there are lots of options and lots of acronyms.

Here’s a high level cheat sheet of the key options, along with the acronyms you’ll hear:

MSP = Managed Service Provider.  Third party that oversees the selection of service providers. An MSP negotiates contracts with staffing agencies and works with suppliers, usually not working directly with individual talent. Uses VMS, possibly FMS.

VMS = Vendor Management System.  Web-based application that allows organization to secure and manage staffing services on a temporary, permanent, or contract basis. Features include job requisitions and staff ordering. Centralizes and handles the administrative process of multiple vendors for invoicing and payments.

FMS = Freelance Management System.  Technology platform used to match opportunities with talent. May include a talent pool; may include public marketplace and a private talent pool. Helps ICs find opportunities.

VOP = Vendor on premise. Preferred staffing agency, onsite.

Your company can use a VMS directly or can retain an MSP (which will use its own VMS) to manage the talent acquisition process. Here’s my weak attempt at a flow chart:


        /       \

     VMS    FMS   

       |            |

Staffing       ICs



Temps, ICs

Here’s what I’m trying to show: If you retain an MSP, the MSP will likely use a VMS to work with staffing agencies, and the staffing agency will identify temps or ICs. Or, the MSP may use a FSP to directly retain ICs.

If you do not retain an MSP, you can handle the talent search process in house, using a VMS to oversee the relationship with staffing agencies, who will procure temps or ICs. Or you can use a FMS to match qualified ICs with your project-based needs.

This is a vast oversimplification, but hopefully it’s helpful at a high level. Best wishes for a terrific week, and don’t forget to maintain an adequate supply of Cheerios.

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© 2021 Todd Lebowitz, posted on, Exploring Issues of Independent Contractor Misclassification and Joint Employment. All rights reserved.

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