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Keeping people with the right technical skills on staff and having enough work to extract the full value out of those skills is a delicate balance for solution providers.

Increasingly, VARs, integrators and IT service providers turn to independent contractors to temporarily hire workers with the skills as they need them, partnering with firms such as SmartSource, which maintains a database of IT consultants available for contract work.

SmartSource, based in Chicago, matches the consultants with the channel companies for specific client work, such as software deployment, integration, and network design and implementation.

SmartSource President Joe Iovinelli said he sees his company’s role as part headhunter, part staffing firm.

The goal, he said, is to assist VARs and integrators in keeping their costs down by giving them the means to pay for labor as they need it, as opposed to keeping full-time technicians whose utilization rate may fall well below 100 percent.

“At the end of the day, we’re … lowering the costs for the partners that we work with,” Iovinelli said.

To further that goal, SmartSource has just expanded internationally. The company already has multiple locations in the United States, and has now opened an operation in the Philippines to server as a backup for the work being done domestically.

The Filipino staff’s tasks include running database searches to match consultants to projects, helping with project planning and providing backup technical assistance to engineers on the ground in the United States.

“This will allow us to fill our clients’ requirements for IT talent faster while keeping costs as low as possible,” Iovinelli said.

SmartSource keeps an average of 300 contractors working at any given time, including 10 in the new Filipino operation, and the company taps a pool of 150,000 available consultants.

Click here to read about why partnering is key to software as a service.

More than 90 percent of the consultants are actually W-2 employees of SmartSource. The company pays them and charges its VAR and integrator partners for the work the consultants do. The partner directly pays the clients for whom the work is done.

Many of the consultants on the database previously had jobs with large IT companies, but were laid off. Some of them find full-time employment with one of SmartSource’s partners after working with the company for while.

“We definitely encourage that,” Iovinelli said.

One consultant retained by SmartSource who said he has no plans to join a company full-time is Mike Buechs, a 25-year IT veteran who would rather move between different sites and projects than get stuck with repetitive work someplace.

Buechs started out as a PC technician, has done various IT jobs, including software programming, and now he focuses on network design and installation.

“You get more exposure to different types of environments,” Buechs said. “You get more exposure to the newer technologies.”

Paul Freeman, president of Coast Solutions Group, a provider of IT services and consulting to channel companies, based in Irvine, Calif., has been tapping the SmartSource consultant pool for about a year and a half.

He said SmartSource gives CSG access to a pool of as many as 1,000 consultants with the right skills for the types of pre- and post-sales technical projects the company undertakes. CSG, he added, maintains a list of about preferred 100 contractors with good customer satisfaction ratings.

The SmartSource service allows CSG to have consistency in its bench of technicians, something that would he hard to achieve otherwise, Freeman said.

In business since 1996, SmartSource views its recent international expansion as an important milestone. In addition to the Philippines, Iovinelli said, the company plans to open other offshore operations, most likely in Eastern Europe.