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Crowdsourcing is Gaining Traction and Influence

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Amazon, which launched its Mechanical Turk crowdsourcing marketplace in 2005 to help employers find workers for tasks considered unmanageable for computers or single individuals to perform, claims to have about 1 million workers from countries around the world. The companies requesting the work set their fees for each task. Compensation is often just a few pennies or a few dollars per task.

Gaining traction and influence

Modern crowdsourcing has gained a foothold and is building traction and influence. Its advocates argue that the practice is destined to grow in today’s economy, in which companies must do more with less while still innovating to remain relevant and competitive.

Job Trends“We believe that companies need to invest in the ability to take advantage of everything that is outside in the world, that is outside their four walls, including all the experts that don’t work for them,” said David Ritter, chief technology officer at InnoCentive. “That is a skill that all great companies will need to be competitive,” he said.

As more companies embrace crowdsourcing, it’s poised to further globalize the workforce, commoditizing certain types of skilled work and reducing pay for common tasks. While IT workers may have been concerned previously that their jobs might be outsourced to another firm or sent offshore, they must now worry that their jobs might be broken up into several tasks, each of which can be crowdsourced individually to independent contractors.

Crowdsourcing will also be looked at as a means to solve technology challenges with a company’s workforce. Ritter, for example, said InnoCentive recently helped a company challenge its internal staff to create an analytical model for a data conversion project. The company’s IT department had expected that it would take several months to come up with the solution it needed, but after the challenge was issued to company staff, an employee contributed a solution within about two weeks. As it turned out, the employee was a member of the IT department. She said she was able to solve the problem in about 20 minutes.

This experience “should challenge the notion that any part of IT will be unaffected by crowdsourcing,” Ritter said.

Esposti, of crowdsourcing.org, advises IT professionals who are currently employed to pay attention to this new business model and the impact it could have on their careers. He suggests that individuals should try to determine if crowdsourcing will be constructive or destructive to their organizations and how it might relate to their own particular jobs. He noted, for example, that companies don’t crowdsource entire functions, they crowdsource work that can be broken up into manageable tasks. The more a person’s job is activity based, therefore, the more their job could be at risk.

On the other hand, he noted that IT professionals themselves might be able to find opportunities to use crowdsourcing services to improve how they perform their specific jobs and impact the businesses they work for.

Ritter concurs. Those whose job it is to solve problems, whether that is creating new code or developing a new architecture, should view crowdsourcing as a way to find solutions to problems, and companies should reward individuals who use the approach to find solutions, he said.

“Everybody who solves problems on the job should think about novel ways to do this,” he said.

At the same time, crowdsourcing is creating volumes of freelancing opportunities. IT and computing professionals can use the approach to supplement their day jobs; gain skills, experience and feedback in new fields of personal interest; generate income during periods of unemployment; or replace their full-time jobs.

In fact, it’s entirely feasible now, if someone wants to focus on freelancing via crowdsourcing sites, that “they can make a good living by identifying and participating in crowdsourcing opportunities,” Ritter said.

Contributing ideas

While task-based or problem-solving challenges represent most crowdsourcing projects, a newer form of crowdsourcing is emerging that involves the use of specific social communities to produce creative ideas or product enhancements that help advance a company’s various strategic goals or tactical objectives.

In these cases, a company might create an “ideation” site for access by business partners, customers and others in a specific community. The members then use the site to generate and share feedback and ideas about product features and functionality for existing products. The site can also be used to generate ideas about bringing a new product to market.

Companies mostly use the “ideation” approach for customer-focused products, but ideation sites might also be relevant to IT, according to Doug Williams, an analyst at Forrester Research.

Embedded systems vendor National Instruments, for example, has created a site that its software users can visit to discuss the solutions or share ideas or make recommendations about specific aspects of the software code.

“It allows the company to connect with the customer quickly and on an ongoing basis to continually improve the product based on what the customer wants,” Williams said.

Ritter at InnoCentive said his firm has some experience with this approach, which he refers to as an “electronic version of an employee suggestion box,” but he is not convinced that it will be effective for companies that are seeking specific ideas or solutions to specific problems. While that the approach generates a lot of material, “nobody owns it,” which can lessen its value and applicability. CW (19 March, 2012)

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