A Speedboat, Not a Titanic: Crowdsourcing with CrowdReason

October 6, 2015 Jiordan Castle


Historically, we’ve always been skeptical of the unknown — a faceless phone operator, buying pants online without trying them on first in the store… For some organizations, this apprehension extends to crowdsourcing. If you’re hesitant about using the power of the crowd for your business, you’re not alone. But you’re also avoiding the inevitable; in their report “Predicts 2015: Sourcing Strategies Shift From ‘Built to Last’ to ‘Built to Adapt,’” Gartner predicted that 75 percent of high-performing enterprises (think Fortune 500 companies) will leverage crowdsourcing by 2018.

CrowdReason — a company founded on 2 words, “crowd” and “reason” (the latter of which speaks to the human brain making decisions) — has not only used crowdsourcing in software development, but also in their everyday operations. At Appirio, we have a crowd of talented designers, developers, and data scientists from all over the world. Recently, we co-hosted a webinar with CrowdReason about crowdsourcing at scale for the enterprise — specifically, how to gain efficiencies and execute on new product development.

Crowd meets crowd: CrowdReason and Appirio

CrowdReason currently focuses on one vertical: property tax. They specialize in “unstructured documents.” “Unstructured,” meaning that unlike your typical IRS 1040 tax form, these documents are difficult to machine-learn and template, and they come in different forms. CrowdReason’s biggest client is the world’s largest broadcasting and cable company, Comcast. Like any other company, Comcast has valuable infrastructures and they pay property taxes. They have to send a tax return to the county and then the county sends them a document saying what their property is worth (and a tax bill), and CrowdReason manages those documents — every single one.

CrowdReason’s ability to extract data off of those documents is based on crowdsourcing; they use human intelligence — not an algorithm — to lift different types of data off. Recently, CrowdReason worked with Appirio’s crowd to develop an app called MetaTasker in order to evolve the data extraction process. MetaTasker is configurable to a client’s needs and highly workflow-driven. By breaking data extraction down into tasks, CrowdReason’s global crowd of ~10,000 can easily follow instructions (e.g., “Give me a ZIP code off of this document”) and deliver great results on time; because an accuracy process is built right into the app, human logic is met with machine precision.

Carl Hoemke, CEO of CrowdReason, describes Appirio as a “partner [of ours].” He says, “We believe in the same kind of strategy, a cloud- and crowd-based way of doing business. [At CrowdReason,] not only do we use the crowd to build an application, but we also use them for operations.”

Crowdsourcing: an on-demand approach to labor

While scale is the most important element of any crowdsourcing solution, scale itself can mean many different things. Of CrowdReason’s stance on scalability, Hoemke says, “Our approach to scale is an on-demand approach to labor. You aren’t moving slowly over time, turning the Titanic; you’ve got a speedboat. With crowdsourcing, you can navigate around the need for labor at any given time. Instantaneous, on-demand labor is more valuable on an incremental basis than traditional labor. You get it when you need it.”

Crowdsourcing provides incredible benefits to enterprises innovative enough to seek them out — namely, speed, quality, and cost. Crowdsourcing is a proven, cost-effective way of solving talent gaps and delivering higher-quality results. Both Appirio and CrowdReason already know that crowdsourcing works, so as Hoemke says, “The challenge is educating the world about crowdsourcing.”


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