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Why Crowd Is the New Cloud

Demystifying crowdsourcing.


It seems like almost every day that a new structure of work is presented to the modern workforce. With options like freelancing and utilizing the “gig economy,” workers and employers have more options than ever when it comes to how we work, and how businesses can stay competitive in recruiting top talent as market demands increase.

One of the newest methods of work and in obtaining advanced skills is through crowdsourcing. The term itself is only 10 years old, and while utilizing the crowd is still a new idea, businesses taking advantage of this on-demand work format are seeing superior results in efficiency and cost savings.

While preliminary use of crowdsourcing has proven beneficial to workers and employers, as with any new idea or solution there can be a level of trepidation. When it comes to crowdsourcing, some of the fears and objections around why businesses are hesitant to implement this method of work are similar to ones heard a decade ago about using cloud computing solutions.

Similarities between cloud and crowd

Crowdsourcing offers proven benefits like flexibility, lower investment risk and the ability to tap into global resources. In addition, crowdsourcing can also work as a pay-for-results based model, eliminating the risk of rework because of poor deliverables. Crowdsourcing can eliminate the need for costly onboarding of new talent or training updates when there is an increase in market demand. Accessing a crowd community means that workers will compete for the project presented, with the top talent and most advanced skill sets rising to the top.

If the journey of the cloud to its current status as the only worthwhile network computing solution available is at all indicative of the path crowdsourcing will take, crowdsourcing may very well be the future of how we work.

In fact, because of its built-in access to talent, crowdsourcing is a viable solution to the current IT skills talent gap. In a recent Appirio survey titled “IT Talent Wars and Gig Economy,” 73 percent of IT staff polled stated they think that more than half of employees will be project-based by 2050, rather than full-time workers.

Like with crowdsourcing, upfront capital expenditures are typically nonexistent within cloud computing. Businesses pay only for what they need and use. Cloud computing offers an adjustable work setting and broader resources for enterprises that were not available from limited software-based environments previously. Despite these benefits, when cloud computing was a new concept there was a flurry of public objections, claiming that using the cloud was unreliable, disruptive to communications systems and insecure.

As the list of the benefits of crowdsourcing continues, there are still those who hold concerns about this system of work that mirror those initially voiced about cloud computing. Fortunately, former concerns to cloud computing were dissolved as the industry quickly developed into the powerhouse industry that it is today. This may end up being a similar journey for crowdsourcing, and in an effort to dispel lingering worries, the following are the Top 4 myths around crowdsourcing that businesses need to know.

Myth 1: The crowd can’t be trusted

Like the initial concern about housing sensitive business information in the cloud, some organizations have security concerns pertaining to crowdsourcing. In today’s business environment — where sensitive information seems to be under a constant state of attack — security is a reasonable concern. However, organizations shouldn’t be any more concerned with security when it comes to cloud or the crowd. In general, cloud providers are likely more secure than most companies’ own infrastructures, and with crowdsourcing, applications are broken down into components and anonymized such that IP is protected, surrendering all IP claims for what they produce when work is accepted. When it comes to crowd-developed code, the componentization of the software makes it difficult for developers to have full knowledge of an entire application and its intended use — making it especially hard for someone to take advantage of possible vulnerabilities.

Myth 2: There isn’t a need for development partners or new staff

A big objective to cloud computing was that because many businesses already had an infrastructure in place, there wasn’t a need to change up the process by implementing cloud solutions. Similarly to crowdsourcing, some businesses may reject the idea of tapping into a crowd of workers because they already have set staff in place. Something to consider is that as technology and expected skill sets evolve, companies will need to reinvest to stay current and competitive. Crowdsourcing provides access to the most modern technical skills and businesses will also benefit from speed-to-market work flows and reduced onboarding costs that come with crowdsourcing new skills and talent. Taking advantage of crowdsourcing does not require that a business replace their entire IT department, but instead allows for supplementing skills and services as needed.

Myth 3: Solutions will be inconsistent

Comparable to initial objections to the cloud, there are some who believe that crowdsourcing will provide vastly different solutions that will diminish the reputations of IT departments. There is the concern that if businesses communicate inconsistent requirements, the crowd will produce inconsistent results. In actuality, if common standards for design or development are provided when work is issued to the community, crowdsourcing communities strongly monitor for adherence in order to maintain the health of the community so that it continues to benefit members looking to take on project work or improve skills. Senior community members that work on customer projects learn the challenge requirements and coach the crowd to meet them.

Myth 4: Crowdsourcing isn’t for the enterprise

There is a misperception that utilizing the crowd is a solution for SMBs as a way to access talent they might not otherwise be able to attract or afford. In reality, the enterprise is utilizing crowdsourcing to scale innovation in lock step with internal teams. The likes of IBM and NASA rely on the power of the crowd to be a go-to, elastic talent pool of experts to tackle big business challenges.

Cloud computing has come a long way over the last decade, working hard to justify its place in the world of enterprise technology. With the many similarities between original concerns and objections to the cloud that crowdsourcing is now faced with, the crowd may too take time to establish itself as a legitimate method of work before the concept takes off. If the journey of the cloud to its current status as the only worthwhile network computing solution available is at all indicative of the path crowdsourcing will take, crowdsourcing may very well be the future of how we work.

Mike Epner is responsible for the vision, strategy and execution of Appirio enterprise crowdsourcing solutions, including business development efforts and managing the delicate balance of supply and demand in Appirio’s fast-growing top-coder crowdsourcing community. Reach him @appirio.

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