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January 29, 2014
Local Motors among Startups Utilizing Expanded Workforce Model
By: Ariel Bernstein

Local Motors is an automotive startup and creator of the Rally Fighter. While the car may not be a traditionally beautiful car, there is a sublime beauty in how it came to be.

A harbinger of the future, Local Motors created a global community of car enthusiasts that included engineers, mechanics, and industrial designers and broke down the creation of the vehicle into a set of tasks that were widely distributed, via the cloud, to this eclectic workforce. In just 18 months, those individuals—working closely with the company’s employees—designed, manufactured, and delivered a car that this user community loves.

So intriguing is Local Motors’ social-plus-collaborative take on car making that it was noticed by another automotive company – BMW. BMW hopes to use the startup’s expanded workforce model to move beyond typical focus groups and inference, developing and testing new automobile interiors that reflect users’ true desires rather than incomplete and veiled answers

Local Motors provides a provocative example of leveraging an unconventional workforce to accomplish something previously thought impossible. And they aren’t the only ones doing it. Whether it’s turning to places like Kaggle to answer tough data science questions, connecting to Amazon’s Mechanical Turk or other services like Elance and oDesk, more companies are starting to utilize what Accenture calls the expanded workforce.

Given that so much collaboration happens through digital channels, there is the potential for almost limitless collaboration with everyone else who is connected to the Internet—regardless of whether they are “your” employee or not. Which raises a crucial question for business and IT leaders: “Are we missing out by not connecting to this ‘expanded workforce,’ everywhere and in all directions?” The short answer is “yes”.

Innovation is now at or near the top of the C-suite agenda in every organization. But it remains difficult to execute—difficult to scale up and to ramp up fast, and hard to ensure that the results are of the quality expected.

Name almost any challenge and there are often already communities of experts that companies can leverage to competently address it. The individuals involved may be around the corner or on the other side of the world; what they have in common is not only the experience and expertise to solve the problem but the motivation—in many cases the passion—to do so.

A crucial point to make is that the use of the expanded workforce is not another form of labor arbitrage. The current workforce is not going away and not every problem will be well suited to crowdsourced solutions. However, it is no longer enough to rely only on groups of in-house individuals to drive market research, innovation, and product-development activities.

Given the relative immaturity of these crowd-based services and platforms, there’s still much to be learned. This is why Accenture chose to include the expanded workforce as a trend in this year’s Technology Vision. In the full chapter you can find a wealth of examples, information about the tools and communities that exist, as well as useful guiding principles in planning and implementing this great addition to your workforce.

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