The Rise of Enterprise Crowdsourcing
By:Ben Zvaifler, April 7,2011
Crowdsourcing is a term tossed around loosely in several different verticals. The new technology continues to blaze a path while remaining virtually undefined, and apart from a few tech blogs, practically untouched by the media. The power and impact of croudsourcing on the future of the enterprise has been realized, but hardly scratches the service on a large scale. While cloud computing, social media and the rise of enterprise mobility has ben publicized and republicized, crowdsourcing combines the three of these technological revolutions to create arguably one of the most powerful enterprise tools of today. The process of outsourcing has emerged over the last twenty years as a hot button issue throughout political and social spheres. The rise of US production and labor in China and India has sparked many questions surrounding cost, tax, and employee rights. While I will not dive into these issue with my personal sentiment, in hopes that you continue reading my post, I do want to point out the relevant correlation that crowdsourcing has in the debate, and how it can shift corporations outsourcing practices to a new medium.
Crowd Sourcing At A Glance
To provide a little background to the less tech savvy demographic, crowdsourcing in it’s most basic form is Labor-on-demand. This can be better expressed through the help of three elements, first being “the crowd”, the ambiguous all encompassing noun that can only be defined as an enormous labor force that exists online throughout the world. The second element in the crowdsourcing equation is the task. The Task is the project that needs to be completed, and is best suited for jobs that have large data sets. In our increasingly digital age much of the work we outsource revolves around the categorization and classification of large data based projects. Crowdsourcing takes these data oriented tasks and farms them out through an open call to thousands of online workers. The end result is an extremely fast, cheap and reliable final project. But data is not the only thing that works well within the crowdsourcing model. Logo design and programming have recently been established as competitive industries within crowdsourcing. Having thousands of eyes on these types of project, and building off of the work of others can
produce a much higher quality product. Think of creating a team of thousands to work on one task. The third and final aspect of farming out work to “the crowd” is the platform. The service provider who organizes both the project and the workforce comprises the platform. A successful example of a platform is the up incoming startup CrowdFlower. Led by two fearless leaders Lukas Biewald and Chris Van Pelt, CrowdFlower has become one of the most successful and comprehensive platforms. With over 1 million workers and 85 million tasks completed CrowdFlower has emerged as an exciting driving force in this growing industry.
Benefits to the Enterprise and The Warrants of Criticism
With all new developments comes the inevitable skepticism and pessimistic whine of a handful of critics. The complaint has been filed that crowdsourcing continues to strip jobs away from American workers by handing out tasks that could be covered by a fulltime employee. Though there is some validity to this assertion, the fact remains that companies are going to continue to outsource these remedial tasks to other countries due to tax laws and labor cost. By implementing crowdsourcing within the enterprise corporations will be able to effectively use the best possible labor across international boundaries, at competitive rates. The jobs are available for anyone qualified to do them, and this competitive atmosphere will drive the tasks into the hands of those who are most motivated, American, Chinese, Indian or otherwise. The social issue of unfair and inhumane labor practices is also alleviated by the implementation of crowdsourcing. The major driver behind these practices is coercion, the claim being that large corporations force foreign workers into poor working conditions and low wages because of their lack of options. The availability of work and open call nature of the technology removes the coercive tendencies of the typical outsourced task and broadens workers options by giving them the power of choice; choice on project, employer and time commitment.
Cloudy with a Chance of Social and Mobile Social:
One major aspect of the crowd is it’s social implications. The rise of social media, both personally and in the enterprise, has changed the face of the world we live in. Aspects of daily life, corporate life and routine have reached a new level of transparency, a level in
which we not only put all of our sensitive information on the table for all to see, we willingly promote it. While I see this movement gaining steam on the edge of obnoxious narcissism, it does also have its usefulness, both in and out of the enterprise. While we all know what we use Facebook for on our own time, (creeping, stalking, and publicly humiliating those closest to us) the greater ramification of social media have branched out to incorporate product development and customer satisfaction. Crowdsourcing has taken the social aspect that has become a part of every corporation in the 21 st century and has brought it to the hands of the audience. Instead of simply buying products and using them, crowdsourcing enables users to become a part of the entire product. With millions of workers putting in their part on a particular task, the social enterprise has ultimately exploded to incorporate the public in every phase of business, from design to production, sale, and purchase. A truly amazing phenomenon, that when expanded will give a whole new meaning to Friedman’s Flattened world.
Connecting remotely and staying connected indefinitely is at the heart of enterprise mobility. Tablets smartphones and laptops have taken people out of the workplace and transplanted them into the many corners of the world. Crowdsourcing builds upon this growing cultural revolution and provides a stage for the work being done. As we watch the mobile market explode in the next 5-10 years, I also predict correlated growth in remote work and production. The connectivity that exists in our world market makes it cheaper and more efficient for employees and employers to work off site, and as this trend continues to grow in popularity, crowdsourcing will become a go-to option for companies looking to get work done. Crowdsourcing is quickly becoming the temp agency of tomorrow.
The Cloud, the dark looming force that makes it all possible. As ambiguous and convoluted as cloud computing may be, the fact remains that operating on an online platform that enables connection, development, and deployment is pushing everything forward. Crowdsourcing is no different then any of the other cloud based applications (CRM, Social
Media, Storage, Gaming, etc.) it runs through a cloud network linking millions of users to each other and to their work. CrowdFlower’s Lukas Biewald is presenting at the upcoming Cloud Control Conference and Exhibition in Boston on the power of crowdsourcing and the impact cloud computing has on the technology. The session is entitled “Crowdsourcing: The Human Cloud”. The discussion will look at the technology behind crowdsourcing analyzing the process of building a globalized workforce of integrated citizens and corporations.
The Future of Enterprise Work?
So now that I have shattered your view of the nuclear workplace and transplanted it with my vision of a Matrix like world with everyone connected to their devices, pulling tasks from the cloud into their living room/workspace. Let me set your mind at ease by saying that crowdsourcing is not going to drastically alter the world we live in. Yes I am excited about the technology and the many companies that are arising within the space, but at the end of the day corporations still need a strong committed workforce to succeed. Teamwork is one of the most sought after and crucial aspects of a successful corporation, and until crowdsourcing finds a way to better link all of the workers on a particular project and breed a sense of community it will be difficult to achieve full scale outsourced solutions. What crowdsourcing will do is deliver a more efficient option to both corporations and the workforce for a particular type of task. Right now the most value has been seen in tasks with large data sets, programming and design. But in the future who knows what is possible. Though I consider myself a full-fledged realist, it is intriguing to look at crowdsourcing through the eyes of an idealist. It has the power to reshape the face of outsourced work, bring jobs back to American workers, improve working conditions for millions, and most important of all create a competitive crowd of workers that turn out high quality work quickly and efficiently.