Every Crowd has a Silver Lining | Sherpas in Blue Shirts

We all hate crowds. We leave places early to beat the traffic, avoid flea markets on Sundays, and wrap up Christmas shopping before the last minute rush. But on the Internet, it’s far different. We follow high-volume Twitter posters, aggregate on pages with maximum “fans” and “likes,” are quick to view viral videos, and trust the content that’s vetted by most. On the web, crowd is a value proposition.

In business, crowd was initially used by Internet start-ups looking to tap a large pool of low-cost labor to contribute, create, and market online products. However, in the wake of the ongoing recession, corporations are increasingly experimenting with crowdsourcing in three ways:

  • as a model to support new areas such as content localization, translation, and advertising, in addition to low-end tasks
  • as an alternative to traditional BPO models
  • as an option to more quickly, and less expensively, access talent around the world

Besides the unparalleled access to rich skills and experience, crowd sourcing offers a compelling economic proposition. Crowd resources can cost 60 to 70 percent less per FTE than traditional models. And the on-demand nature of the crowd provides additional 10-15 percent savings due to full resource utilization.

Yet, as with any service delivery model, crowdsourcing also has its challenges. Given the amorphous nature of the crowd, organizations using crowd labor may well face accountability, quality, and timeliness issues. They also run the risk of initiative and/or intellectual property plagiarism.

Also, crowd workers, especially those with higher-end skills and work experience, are wary of crowd tasks and larger projects. With tasks, workers only receive minimal information until after signing up; if they then quit, their “completion rate” and follow-through employability is negatively impacted. With projects, employers can reject unsatisfactory work, refuse to pay, and yet still retain the right to use the work. These aspects coupled with low pay and benefits make this model yet unacceptable by workers.

The onus to drive crowd adoption rests with the crowd vendors. They will need to take greater ownership of understanding the client’s scope, staffing the crowd accordingly, creating wage levels that are win-win for clients and workers, and developing tools and platforms to ensure ease of delivery and service level compliance. They will also need to bring structure to the inherently unstructured crowd in order to accelerate the penetration and utilization of crowdsourcing. All these responsibilities are hard to undertake unless you already have the expertise.

For more information on crowdsourcing, its upsides and its downsides, please read Everest Group’s viewpoint entitled, Every Crowd has a Silver Lining.

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