Crowdsourcing has evolved into a mainstream enterprise tool for problem solving and innovation, but many CIOs are not using it effectively.
By Samuel Greengard
The concept of drawing on the crowd to garner ideas and understand trends is nothing new. In a basic sense, surveys, polls and suggestion boxes have attempted to accomplish this task for decades. But in the digital age, crowdsourcing has taken on an entirely different meaning. A growing number of organizations are using the technique to gain deep and often real-time insights into an increasingly complex array of business challenges. Some are even putting crowdsourcing at the center of their business strategy.
"Overall, organizations are taking a more aggressive approach to crowdsourcing," states Lanny Cohen, global chief technology officer at consulting firm Capgemini. "They're using it to accomplish a growing number of tasks, including soliciting ideas for new products, obtaining immediate feedback about products and services, and better understanding underlying market trends on a real-time basis."
Crowdsourcing incorporates a wide range of technologies, including CRM, collaboration tools, web-based customer discussion boards, social media streams, dedicated SaaS products, and custom-designed applications that solicit specific information and feedback. Michael Maoz, vice president of CRM Research at Gartner, says that, with the right data collection methods in place, even sites such as Pinterest and Trip Advisor can serve as valuable crowdsourcing resources. The bottom line? "The idea of trust in an organization is fostered when you allow customers to provide input and shape the conversation about a company," Maoz points out.
Crowdsourcing provides a different—and sometimes far more realistic—view of a business or industry. It can transform an inside-out enterprise-centric perspective into an outside-in view revolving around customer or employee thoughts, ideas and expectations. As Cohen notes, "Crowdsourcing shifts the domain of expertise from inside the four walls of the enterprise or a department to outside." The power of crowdsourcing, Maoz says, is that "customers often know things about the business that the business does not yet know. The crowd is often an early detection system."
Tuned In or Tuned Out?
Unfortunately, CIOs have mostly remained out of the loop for crowdsourcing initiatives. "In most cases, the technique has been used by executives in marketing, customer support and technical support, and it has mostly existed as a cloud-based application that doesn't require CIO intervention," Maoz says. But as the digital age unfolds and IT issues become more consumer-centric, CIOs must take note and begin to approach the technique in a more systematic way. "There is relevance and opportunities to put crowdsourcing to use across the enterprise," says Maoz. "It can provide insights into how to prioritize and reprioritize projects and accomplish many goals and tasks."
While crowdsourcing has been used heavily for marketing and customer support, it also has relevance for IT, says Cohen. Some organizations are now using it to test software and apps and garner feedback about them. Others are plugging in end-user information to better understand performance requirements and how to adapt systems globally—all within an agile development framework. Yet, crowdsourcing can serve as a powerful tool for problem solving and innovation. "It can open the aperture for new applications and opportunities. It can support a faster and more dynamic framework for innovation and change," Cohen explains.
Increasingly, crowdsourcing intersects with a growing array of systems and tools, ranging from social collaboration applications and industry alliances to big data and games and contests. Some crowdsourcing initiatives may also plug in geolocation data and other forms of machine-generated data to provide even deeper insights. In some cases, rewards, incentives or recognition may be in order. In other cases, people may participate in a crowdsourcing project simply for the sake of engagement and a satisfying feeling of community. Either way, it's critical for CIOs to oversee and guide projects. "It's important," says Maoz, "to look for new and different ways to tap the knowledge of the tribe."
About the Author
Samuel Greengard is a contributing writer for CIO Insight. To read his previous CIO Insight article, "The CIO's Evolving Role in the Digital Enterprise," click here.