Crowdsourcing is not a new concept, but until recently it was known mostly for raising money or helping the most tech-savvy groups solve technical issues. Now, businesses at all stages of digital maturity are exploring the crowd and finding it instrumental to growing and staying flexible.
Flexibility makes it easier to adapt, and adaptability is essential—now more than ever.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread uncertainty throughout the global economy, businesses are looking for ways to adapt their offerings and customer engagements to guidelines for social distancing. Individuals are looking for ways to adapt to remote working, and make themselves available for opportunities.
Crowdsourcing connects businesses and individuals, and provides the infrastructure through which they can engage each other. In this article, we’ll explore how businesses leverage the crowd to build resilient, remote workforces, and why that’s so promising for individuals.
What is crowdsourcing?
Crowdsourcing is posing a challenge or task to a group. The size of the group can change, so can the size of the challenge. What’s important is the act of opening the floor.
From an organizational perspective, crowdsourcing allows a business to offer work to a community of professionals—either internally (employees) or externally (independent workers).
Engaging a larger pool of talent opens the door to many benefits: Diversity leads to fresh ideas and new approaches; more people means more minds, which means a greater chance of finding the best solution, rather than the best solution one person can come up with.
Right now, the value of fresh ideas cannot be overstated. Businesses need innovative solutions to overcome disruptions in the marketplace. Crowdsourcing can help identify new paths forward and develop the tools needed to succeed.
The crowdsourcing model has evolved tremendously. Early applications mostly generated ideas, like a more ambitious brainstorm. Now crowdsourcing helps deliver tangible solutions and enables projects to be executed in real time.
There are two distinct models of crowdsourcing platforms, characterized by the delivery method they use: a distributed micro-task model and a contest-based model.
Distributed micro-task model
Sometimes tasks are broken down or atomized into smaller micro-tasks, which are then presented to the crowd, and members can select which micro-tasks they want to work on.
Distributing work like this helps maintain the pace of a project by engaging as many people as the project needs. The tasks are generally small enough that individuals can be briefed quickly (if necessary at all) and turn work around relatively fast.
A software company might atomize a project into several development, testing, and implementation steps, and then pose those tasks to the community, where members select and complete them without needing to be aware of details of the larger project.
Challenges are posed to the crowd, and members “compete” by completing the challenge. Often, there isn’t one winner but several—the top concepts for each challenge are recognized and rewarded.
Consider a company needing an app designed. With a contest-based model, the challenge to create the app would be posed to the crowd, and the top designs, generally three to five, would be rewarded. The emphasis here is on delivering more options and greater quality to the customer while still being equitable to the talent and ensuring multiple freelancers are awarded for their efforts.
These two models are not mutually exclusive. Ambitious projects often require atomization, followed by several contest-like challenges. An example is NASA’s International Space Station Food Intake Tracker (ISS FIT) app, developed to track food intake of astronauts in space. From concept to production is a lot of work, so the project was broken up into multiple rounds of challenges.
With so much uncertainty right now, speed and innovation are the winning combination. Businesses need all the help they can get to shift focus and execute big changes strategically. Crowdsourcing connects them with a world of talent and supports them in doing big things fast.
How can crowdsourcing supplement traditional staffing models?
Expertise on demand
Organizations use a version of the distributed micro-task model to quickly engage a larger workforce remotely.
With traditional staffing, a project is put on hold until the organization can find, interview, and hire the right candidate with the necessary skills. But crowdsourcing allows businesses to immediately connect with individuals (and vice versa) by breaking up functions of particular roles into manageable micro-tasks and broadcasting them to the crowd.
Talent as a service
Numerous online marketplaces connect members who are pitching their skills to businesses who are advertising freelance work. Organizations use these platforms to connect with top talent. Since the online marketplace allows organizations to draw from a deeper talent pool, the work is often higher quality, completed faster, and at lower cost.
To be part of these online marketplaces, applicants must sometimes pass a screening process that includes professional communication skills, along with a variety of technical exams specific to the applicant's area of expertise. It’s becoming increasingly common for businesses to use these marketplaces to find niche talent or assistance on short-term projects.
Topcoder, the popular crowdsourcing platform, is a great example of talent as a service. Organizations engage Topcoder’s global network of designers, developers, data scientists, to connect with hard-to-find talent and solve big challenges.
For example, ConsenSys Diligence, the smart contract arm of the blockchain company ConsenSys, works in a very specific segment of an emerging technology, and finding people with the knowledge and skills to help them develop is challenging. But with the help of Topcoder, Diligence connected with individuals from around the world who have those niche skills, and formed a team of experts they can rely on to help with projects going forward.
Taking crowdsourcing a step further
With the help of Topcoder, Wipro developed an internal crowdsourcing platform for training, then later elaborated on that model to revolutionize talent resourcing internally and for enterprise clients. The platform helped build new lines of communication throughout our organization, and encouraged a culture of collaboration and cross-functional teams.
Top Gear: A crowdsourcing training model
Top Gear began as a learning platform. We first leveraged Topcoder’s contest model of crowdsourcing to create an engaging, game-like approach to learning for our employees through fun, low-stakes competition: Wipro poses challenges to employees on Top Gear, and employees apply their skills to compete for prizes. Over time, we shifted to a more work-focused approach and began posing real challenges from live Wipro projects—crowdsourcing talent from within our own organization.
The contest model allows employees to evaluate their skills against their peers, but the open, informal nature of the gamified training encourages communication and support. Why was the winning solution successful? How does it differ from other proposed solutions? Seasoned experts can help junior or novice participants answer these questions, creating a kind of organic, informal training that is the foundation for a culture of support and constant learning among employees going forward.
We had an employee who worked primarily on Java projects and who was interested in developing himself. He wanted to learn Angular and Spring Boot. So, he started using Top Gear, completing small assignments to build his skills, then moved on to challenges and live projects that allowed him to put those skills to use. His first live attempts weren’t so successful, but with feedback from mentors he increased the quality of his work. He submitted a winning solution. Then another. And another. Once only considering learning new languages, this developer is now being recognized as a multi-challenge winner and competing in regional competitions.
How does this apply to client projects? A project team came to us for help with a massive workforce transformation that involved everyone from manual testers to automation engineers. Our project team leveraged Top Gear to develop and implement a learning plan that up-skilled 80% of the account team, resulting in a 20% increase in productivity and a 14% improvement, year-over-year, for the department.
In another instance, we worked with a project team in a platform migration, a process that required more than 2,000 stories to be automated and executed. Traditional approaches were falling short, so our project team turned to an internal crowd to source the talent they needed fast.
By engaging Top Gear, the project team connected with a team of automation experts, who supported the existing team in analyzing user stories, Selenium testing scripts, and executing them. This crowdsourced team executed an additional 127 user stories over the course of eleven days, helping the account team clear the backlog and stay on schedule.
Top Gear demonstrates how structured, internal crowdsourcing efforts can increase individual and organizational adaptability. Employees are supported in learning and applying skills to a range of projects. They share their expertise. They support each other in the pursuit of new opportunities.
Hybrid Crowd: An evolution in enterprise staffing
Hybrid Crowd elaborates on the success of Top Gear, providing a way for all enterprises (not just Wipro) to connect their internal talent teams with the more than 1.5 million members of Topcoder’s global community. The platform integrates these talent pools, allowing enterprises to supplement their teams, on demand, with experts from the crowd. And because the platform screens all participants, organizations can be sure that intellectual property is protected, and they’re only engaging individuals for projects who meet the necessary security and certification requirements.
Through Hybrid Crowd, enterprises engage three crowds: private, certified, and public.
In traditional staffing models, employees are recognized by the narrow skill sets for which they were hired. Designers design, writers write, coders code: Only the project-specific skills are utilized. The secondary skills of these individuals are completely ignored, which is problematic. To keep pace today, businesses need all hands—and skills—on deck.
Hybrid Crowd acknowledges these broader skill sets by opening the floor to contributions from individuals who might have a working knowledge of a topic but aren’t recognized as experts in the strict sense of the word. Workers self-select projects that fit their interests, expertise, and availability.
Similar to Top Gear, Hybrid Crowd encourages flexibility and a higher quality of work by giving individuals more agency. In turn, workers are more invested in projects. They perform better, and employers come to recognize them and their skills, encouraging further innovations for the organization and opportunities for employee growth—a positive feedback loop promising a sustainable future of work.
How can businesses integrate crowdsourcing successfully?
Get informed, be supportive
What skills are in demand in your industry, and which are immediately relevant to your business? The crowd might be self-motivated, but it needs some direction to be most effective.
Work with employees, or assign mentors, to facilitate self-selecting projects and learning opportunities. Ease the organization into the idea of crowdsourcing, and guide them through the transformation. If your employees feel supported, they’ll be encouraged to make the most of the freedom provided by crowdsourcing.
Focus on quality
How do you ensure workers are qualified? This is one of the most prevalent crowdsourcing challenges, and it leads to a lot of wasted time and money.
Some online marketplaces ask applicants to pass a screening process that covers professional communication skills and a variety of technical exams specific to the applicant's area of expertise. Topcoder tracks reliability and quality ratings for all participants. At Wipro, we create communities with these top participants to leverage them for particularly challenging or sensitive projects.
Consider what skills are non-negotiable for a specific project and make these clear from the start. This will narrow the focus of crowdsourcing efforts and help you engage only qualified subsets of the crowd.
Staff legally, sustainably, humanely
As you begin to integrate crowdsourcing and other flexible staffing arrangements, consider the potential effects on the existing workforce and the individuals you will be engaging with through these platforms. The rise of the independent workforce (gig workers, freelancers, part-time employees) is leading to important reconsiderations of how workers are classified and how their rights are protected. It’s essential that employers are familiar with these developments and work to ensure they’re conducting business fairly and sustainably.
Nurturing healthy, respectful business partnerships across these platforms will ensure that your organization has a reliable workforce, that your full-time employees get the support they need, and that everyone involved is taken care of.
At Wipro, we adhere to contracts and prerequisites and ensure that all terms and conditions are met. We have crowdsourcing challenge architects and project managers who work together to ensure project tasks are broken down into pieces that can be managed without affecting normal workflows, and that individuals working on these tasks are compensated appropriately. We also ensure that our employees volunteer on their own and participate for their own interests.
Tailor your approach
Like all big innovations, crowdsourcing is disruptive. The question is whether that disruption will be positive or negative. Gradual implementation and constant recalibration will ensure positive disruption and support everyone involved for a successful transition.
Before fully implementing crowdsourcing, consult an expert to identify the projects and skills suitable for this model of delivery and plan to scale up from there. Start crowdsourcing for small, less critical projects and adapt your approach as needed. As you get more comfortable, you can shift gears, start adding more people to this model, and leverage the crowd for mainstream challenges to drive revenue.
Topcoder uses data analytics to examine and manage organizational structures, offering users a global view of where talent is coming from. The platform also tracks fulfillment rate, the percentage of challenges successfully closed on time. At Wipro, we measure the amount of effort that has been crowdsourced, the completion rate of crowdsourced tasks, and how many are completed on time. Now that we’ve been crowdsourcing successfully for some time, we have an organization-wide mandate to source a percentage of suitable projects through Top Gear.
What’s important when exploring crowdsourcing models is to remain open to adjusting your approach. Pay attention to the changing demands of your industry, your business, your workforce, and open the floor to creative solutions.
To learn more about flexible staffing, and how to support a dynamic workforce, contact us.
Crowdsourcing lead at Wipro
Smitha has 23 years of experience covering delivery, pre-sales, competency building, innovation and change management. For the last four years, she has led Wipro's Top Gear program, creating a pull factor for employees to pick up and learn new skills, and gain hands-on experience. Smitha works closely with Topcoder, and has been instrumental in evangelizing crowdsourcing as a new delivery paradigm. She is passionate about high performance, innovation, skill-building and workplace diversity.