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March 14, 2014
The Borderless Enterprise
By: Ariel Bernstein

Last year, in the 2013 trend “Relationships at Scale”, we discussed how the penetration and maturity of social and mobile technologies are allowing companies to build a closer relationship with their customers than ever before. There is a natural progression from that trend, to the chapter found in the current edition of the Technology Vision titled “From Workforce to Crowdsource”. While last year we discussed how forward thinking companies can actively develop better customer relationships, this year we look at how companies can engage this network (and ones like it) to benefit from a workforce that consists of any user connected to the Internet.

Crowdsourcing is not a new concept. Airbnb has been in business since 2008, and has already proven the viability of a model that strategically makes use of the crowd’s assets. Billed as a trusted community marketplace where people can list, discover, and book unique accommodations around the world, Airbnb uses the crowd as the untapped source of places for travelers to stay. In effect, everyone can offer their own home or apartment as a kind of hotel. Now, without owning any of the destination properties, Airbnb is well positioned to disrupt the long-established hotel industry. With that said, there are two questions that remain: Why is crowdsourcing a trend included in the 2014 Technology Vision? And, more importantly, why does it matter to businesses?

To answer the first question, look at the increased maturity and complexity of crowdsourcing platforms – Crowdflower, Spigit, and Mechanical Turk to name just a few. Combine those platforms with the communities of shared interest that have organically formed around almost every product, service, or idea, and now you have the platform and people necessary to enable and orchestrate efficient solutions.

Further highlighting the need for businesses to be comfortable with crowdsourcing strategies is the accelerated pace of IT change. While it is what has facilitated the growth in maturity of these platforms, the increasing pressure to rapidly deploy new technology is also accentuating some of enterprise’s biggest pain points. To keep up with the rate of change, businesses have a need for better market insight, innovation, and specialized skills – which are all areas that crowdsourcing solutions are well suited for.

One of the subthemes in the Technology Vision this year is that “big is the next big thing” – that big companies are uniquely positioned to take hold and drive the next digital wave thanks to the resources and skills that made them leaders in the first place. It becomes all the more evident in this trend, as big brands have huge communities of passionate individuals who are motivated and excited to contribute to the company in any way their skill set allows them to.

Consider the strength of the case studies from early adopters. “Cheesey garlic bread” flavored potato chips was the brainchild of fans of Lay’s, a snack maker that used its consumer’s creativity to launch new flavors. GE, MasterCard and Facebook are all turning to companies like Kaggle to solve complex optimization problems ranging from airline flight scheduling, to selecting retail-store locations. Tesla Motors has asked for advance reservation fees from customers: $5,000 per car – not only confirming the extent of demand but providing Tesla with working capital to the tune of $130 million.

Crowdsourcing has proven to be capable accomplishing astonishing tasks – ones that could not be completed by even the most complex machines. Look at DARPA who leveraged Amazon’s Mechanical Turk platform to translate, from Arabic to English, messages that were communicated on social platforms, where traditional grammar rules are not used and context is paramount. Using the correct platform, precise planning, and the expanded workforce, DARPA was able to translate more than 200,000 words per week, for only 3 cents per word. That’s one-tenth the cost it would have been to hire a host of translation professionals.

Businesses need to learn how to develop a strong crowdsourcing strategy. Channeling these efforts to drive business goals is a challenge, but the opportunity is enormous. Such an approach can give every business access to an immense, agile workforce that not only is better suited to solving some of the problems that organizations struggle with today, but in many cases will do it for free.

For more, check out the 2014 Technology Vision at www.accenture.com/technologyvision

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