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Tech-staffing database taps social connections

A start-up is operating a database that lets an employer match its staffing needs with someone who, for example, attended the same college, joined the same fraternity, or comes from the same hometown.

    Wish you could hand off your latest IT challenge to a trusted acquaintance or at least a familiar face?

    A start-up called Mogall is betting on it.

    The company, which says it takes its name from a Celtic word meaning "to network or to create a web of people," operates a database on the Web that lets an employer match its technology-staffing needs with someone who, say, attended the same college, joined the same fraternity, or comes from the same hometown.

    However, Watertown, Mass.-based Mogall is not the only company betting on this niche market. A slew of others, including SkillsVillage, Guru.com and ITSquare.com, are attempting to bring schmoozing to the Web to help companies find qualified workers to staff temporary projects. All of these players provide a similar service in which they act as a facilitator or broker.

    The companies competing in this nascent niche are primarily targeting professional services and consulting companies, along with high-tech companies and financial institutions that may not have enough qualified workers internally to staff a specific project and need to find help fast.

    "Five years ago, a company would put an ad in the newspaper (for a contractor) but spent weeks slimming and trimming that list (of responses) down," said David Hofferberth, an industry analyst at Aberdeen Group. These exchanges "take that process and cut it down to a matter of days. In a week, you can have five very well-qualified people in your office" ready to get the job done.

    But while demand soars, driven by a shortage in the IT talent pool, analysts who are embracing the idea have mixed reactions as to how many of the new companies will survive.

    "It's a little oversaturated for such a still-to-become kind of market...and that saturation is increasing with some bigger players," said Joshua Greenbaum, an analyst who heads Enterprise Applications Consulting.

    As large companies such as PeopleSoft and SAP add this type of service to their offerings, smaller niche companies such as Mogall may struggle to gain significant momentum, he added.

    Some companies that focus on professional services automation, such as Niku and Opus360, offer similar services to other sets of Web-based applications that automate needs such as billing and payroll. For example, Niku operates the iNiku portal, and Opus360 runs both FreeAgent.com and OpusXchange.com to help match qualified workers or experts with a company's project.

    Bill Martorelli, an analyst at Hurwitz Group, said the exchanges make sense. But he added that it is somewhat difficult to pinpoint an individual player's competitive advantage.

    Companies "are telling more or less a similar story in regard to the exchanges," Martorelli said. "It's a nice (idea) and important for services companies to have this capability...but it's tricky to tell the visions apart. They are all so similar."

    Earlier this week, PeopleSoft formed a partnership with Opus360 to provide PeopleSoft clients with direct access to external talent sources via Opus360's FreeAgent site, a community of independent contractors that Opus launched last year.

    For Mogall, the idea is to keep it simple. A company signs up for the service, and the available workers enter detailed information about their experience, including employment history and educational background. The service also helps people access the vast stockpile of social connections they have built over time.

    Mogall then sets up a database that matches job requirements with people with whom employers have some kind of common connection--for example, a homeowners' association, volunteer group or past employer.

    The concept is loosely based on the "six degrees of separation" theory, said chief executive Brian Leary, a former TV news anchor in Boston who co-founded the start-up.

    "Though you may be limited by your memory, Mogall allows you to tap the full potential of your social capital," Leary said. "Think of it as a Rolodex on steroids."

    Mogall, slated to launch later this summer, already boasts big-name clients including EMC, FleetBoston and Ernst & Young.

    Though analysts consider this area a hot sector, a challenge the players in the emerging market face is how to quickly expand their resources and build wealthy databases of qualified workers that will entice large companies to tap into their services.

    Companies will most likely face tough competition from large, old-line staffing companies, as well as from others bringing hefty databases online. Some analysts said that most companies, if they have not already done so, will consider going the partnering route in an effort to bolster their service by offering links to competing sites or complementary services.

    "You have to have the biggest number of bodies to sell (your service)," Greenbaum said. "In this market, bigger is better."