Microsoft: Startup brings science to workforce allocation

Based in Irvine, California, QMerit created an innovative, enterprise-grade software platform for service organizations based on Microsoft Azure. Managing direct employees, temporary workers, and subcontractors on a single cloud-based platform, the QMerit meritocracy-based engine allocates the best resources at the best value for every service request, motivates the workforce to deliver consistent service on every service job, and continuously measures performance to provide feedback. The startup has already secured industry-leading customers such as BMW North America, and it looks forward to creating workforce meritocracies for service organizations in multiple market verticals.

Although many debate the advantages of the growing gig economy, there’s no denying the benefits of hiring freelance or contingency labor as needed. For many industries, however, managing a complex labor pool of direct employees, contract workers, and freelance professionals can be challenging at best. To solve the problems of matching the right person to the right job and motivating them to perform reliably, and to provide real-time feedback on their performance, QMerit created an innovative, enterprise-grade platform based on Microsoft Azure.

Solving complex workforce challenges

The QMerit story began when a global building management company with more than 110,000 employees designed an internal solution that assesses and deploys workers by matching certifications, experience, fee rates, and other qualifications to job requirements. The company provides an extensive portfolio of services, and needed a more automated, objective way to allocate different types of labor. Recognizing that multiple industries faced similar labor challenges, it decided to spin off QMerit as a standalone business.

QMerit chose to focus on technical services and healthcare industries, which face some of the most complicated workforce challenges. Next, the company needed to find the right technology platform for wide-scale deployment. The company wanted both scale and flexibility. For any company that wants to introduce innovative products to the market, the rapid advancements in the cloud, machine learning, and mobile devices have raised the bar for selecting the best technology available. Manoj Puthenveetil, Vice President of Software Engineering at QMerit, says, “We needed to find technology that could provide high levels of performance and scalability, as well as support our ambitions in machine learning, artificial intelligence, mobile, and big data.”

Choosing the right cloud platform

For QMerit, going to the cloud was the only option that made sense. As a startup, the company wanted to avoid costly investment in geographically distributed datacenters. Time-to-market was a top consideration. “Today, the winners and losers are determined by speed,” says Puthenveetil. “If I choose the on-premises option, I’m never going to reach the scale of a cloud solution provider, or build out a datacenter that has all the necessary security features to support our big brand name customers. So to me, the cloud is a no-brainer.”

The company explored multiple options for the new venture. “We looked at Amazon Web Services and SalesForce, and because I have an IBM background, we looked at capabilities there too,” says Puthenveetil. “Ultimately, we chose Microsoft.”

Although there were features QMerit appreciated in the various options, the Azure platform had the most comprehensive offering. “When we looked across all the choices, it became really apparent that that Microsoft had all the tools and functionality required for building the best solution,” says Puthenveetil. “The platform as a service that Azure provides really appealed to us because it would enable speed-to-market.”

With Azure, QMerit would be able to rapidly integrate multiple data sources and provide the insight customers needed. “In most service organizations, the service and supply chains are siloed and there is a lot of subjective decision-making,” says Tracy Price, Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of QMerit. “The care continuum in healthcare and the service continuum in technical services experience the same prevalent pain points. “Our goal—to precisely match labor resources to the work required, provide frequent touches and performance feedback, and offer an economic overlay to always deliver the optimal resource—has been just beyond human capability and current systems to get right every time. Microsoft Azure was the perfect choice to deliver our solution to the marketplace.”

Support was also a critical factor in the decision. “From my perspective, choosing a vendor has as much to do with the level of support and collaboration offered as it does technology,” says Puthenveetil. “With the proactive, collaborative support Microsoft provided, as a startup we were comfortable betting on the same technology that serves Fortune 500 companies.”

Achieving speed and flexibility

Established in 2016, QMerit prepared to launch its new services within a year. Adopting a DevOps style of implementation, the company initially deployed on Azure Cloud Services. As the solution evolved, the company switched to Azure App Service and Azure Service Fabric.

The architecture enables the company to create a modular platform for targeting both technical services and healthcare industries. With Azure App Service, QMerit can create web and mobile applications that meet data security and privacy requirements such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). And by using Azure Service Fabric, the company can separate back-end functionality from user interfaces through a robust set of APIs. As a result, QMerit can easily create and modify solutions for diverse business scenarios without changing the underlying infrastructure. The company is also taking advantage of several other services, including Azure Messaging ServiceAzure SQL Database, and Power BI.

Using Microsoft Visual Studio including Visual Studio Team Foundation Services, QMerit works in two-week sprints. “We have two teams delivering new capabilities every week,” says Puthenveetil. “The Azure platform enables us to be that flexible and to incrementally bring out functionality that’s important to our customers. We can quickly introduce sophisticated functionality leveraging existing Azure services, instead of spending many months building them on our own.”

QMerit’s user interface is based on the open source JavaScript framework React, and the company recently began using Power BI for data visualization. The company also created an iOS mobile app and is working on an Android app too. “Our commitment to our customers is to deliver capabilities as quickly as possible,” says Puthenveetil. “So the flexibility to use different technologies with Azure enables me to deliver new features faster in areas where they’re needed most.”

Transforming service industries

In February 2017, BMW of North America announced its partnership with QMerit to launch the new BMW Installation Services digital platform. Drivers can use the platform to engage a certified technician to install a home charging station.

Included in a portfolio of premium, value-added services to electric car customers, the installation platform is a selling point for BMW dealers. Drivers can begin the installation process online and quickly receive free quotes for the installation service. In the future, car owners will be able to compare installers by using the QMerit Contribution Index (QCI), a perpetual performance score based on metrics such as contractor performance, quality, user satisfaction, and cost. Service providers can also use the score to evaluate the performance of each of their installation technicians.

By enabling objective, data-driven choices, QMerit anticipates that the QCI will have a profound impact in the healthcare industry too. “Matching the right caregiver to a patient is essential to improving patient satisfaction and healthcare outcomes. Providing visibility into caregiver performance using the QMerit Contribution Index score will motivate caregivers to excel and give their managers a real-time method for helping them improve, “says Brett Knox, Chief Operating Officer for QMerit. “We’re gathering information to match patients and caregivers based on multiple factors, including patient requirements and preferences along with caregiver skills, preferences, and cost. For example, an elderly, Hispanic female patient suffering from Alzheimer’s needs someone who speaks Spanish and has strong empathy and mental health skills. Azure enables us to deliver on this strategy.”

QMerit teamed with Macadamian, a Microsoft partner with deep experience in the healthcare field, to help ensure that its solutions comply with HIPAA and other regulations. Macadamian will provide ongoing guidance as QMerit expands in the healthcare market.

As QMerit gathers more data, the company plans to use sophisticated analytics services like Azure Machine Learning to combine real-time and historical information. The data can be used to further refine the platform for even bigger benefits to QMerit customers. “We believe strongly that service companies win or lose at the point of service,” says Puthenveetil. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a direct employee, a freelancer, or any other type of professional. It’s all about the last mile of service. Our differentiation is that we understand what it takes to achieve that outcome, and with Azure, we’re able to pull together a number of different factors to provide a solution.”

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Our goal—to precisely match labor resources to the work required, provide frequent touches and performance feedback, and offer an economic overlay to always deliver the optimal resource—has been just beyond human capability and current systems to get right every time. Microsoft Azure was the perfect choice to deliver our solution to the marketplace.
Tracy Price: CEO and Chairman
QMerit
Providing visibility into caregiver performance using the QMerit Contribution Index score will motivate caregivers to excel and give their managers a real-time method for helping them improve. We’re gathering information to match patients and caregivers based on multiple factors, including patient requirements and preferences along with caregiver skills, preferences, and cost…. Azure enables us to deliver on this strategy.
Brett Knox: Chief Operating Officer
QMerit
When we looked across all the choices, it became really apparent that Microsoft had all the tools and functionality required for building the best solution. The platform as a service that Azure provides really appealed to us because it would enable speed-to-market.
Manoj Puthenveetil: Vice President of Software Engineering
QMerit