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Crowdsourcing: Utilizing the "Human Cloud"

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Although the terms crowdsolving and crowdsourcing are frequently used interchangeably, the latter term increasingly is being used to describe the concept of staff and resource elasticity that provides the underlying structure which makes crowdsolving feasible. Solving a business problem, especially staffing issues, by utilizing the talents of a large group of people can definitely be a smart business strategy for small and medium-sized businesses, says Steven Gomez, vice president and chief technology officer of Arise Virtual Solutions Inc., a provider of virtual business process outsourcing and contact center services. “From a service perspective, the fixed infrastructure and staffing constraints of a brick-and-mortar environment prevent businesses from making real-time adjustments to staffing in order to accommodate planned and unplanned business needs.”

Tapping the “human cloud” as part of a strategy to staff up quickly and effectively on an as-needed basis can make sense for many SMBs. Consulting firm NineSigma has been using a similar approach, which it calls Open Innovation, for more than a decade. Open Innovation helps NineSigma’s clients fill gaps in their research and development departments efficiently and cost-effectively by leveraging existing solutions and capabilities from other innovators around the world. “This approach can be used to address an urgent technology problem as well as a long-term strategic issue that requires external thinking and new expertise,” says Dr. Al Malouf, the firm's senior program manager.

The main benefits of crowdsourcing are flexibility and cost savings, says Chen Amit, CEO of Tipalti, a cloud-based payment solution for crowdsourcing and crowdsolving networks and other users. “An SMB may need different resources at different times. If your alternative is recruiting someone, you end up spending too much (money) on idle time,” he argues. Also, while larger companies may have global resources that allow them to draw on international talent, most SMBs in domestic markets do not. “Crowdsourcing opens up international talent to smaller businesses,” Amit says.

SMBs can easily use the crowdsourcing model to extend their customer reach, applying it only to those projects that make economic sense for the business. For example, a full-service Web development company might not find it cost-effective to offer its entire suite of services through the crowdsourcing model, but it could regularly bid on graphic design opportunities and use them to open doors to broader Web development work, explains Christian Buckley, director of product evangelism at Axceler, a company that specializes in mitigating the organizational risks that come with collaborative platforms.

A growing number of service providers on crowdsourcing websites are highly specialized and want to focus exclusively on certain types of work. SMBs can use those sites to leverage the experience and expertise of such professionals on behalf of their own clients, often making it possible for the SMB to compete with much larger entities at a fraction of the cost, says Livingstone Mukasa, founder and CEO of Archability, an online crowdsourced marketplace for architectural and design services.

“Crowdsourcing can be used in less technologically-demanding ways, such as putting proposal packages together-;a time-consuming task that smaller firms can outsource directly to professionals, freeing up their own time to focus on existing projects,” Mukasa says. “Cloud labor can also provide the added benefit of contracting work for the long term, giving SMBs consistent, remote-based talent that is permanently on their payroll and at their disposal.”

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