Crowdsource Your Cloud IT!

November 18, 2013 Appirio

Glenn Weinstein, CIO, Appirio (@GlennWeinstein)

When you oversee IT for a company best known for its dedication to 100% public cloud-based IT solutions for customers, you better bring some pretty good stuff to your own employees.

As “that guy,” running Appirio’s internal technology platform, I had a real dilemma with our “Dreamforce Champ” app.  It looked pretty shabby.  Our marketing team was – shall we say – underwhelmed by the user experience.  We had little time or resources in IT to spare.  Big problem!

The Initial Problem: An App to Track to Activities at Dreamforce

First, some background.  Appirio makes a major splash every year at Dreamforce, the huge user conference for  We usually send about 80-100 consultants, account executives, and others to San Francisco to spend time with our partners and customers, and meet new prospective customers.  But it’s hard to track what all these folks are doing, measure the impact they are having, and guide their energies to the right things.  So two years ago we decided to “gamify” the process of finding  leads, advancing opportunities, recruiting candidates, and drumming up publicity for Appirio at Dreamforce.  Appirians would enter achievements into a shared Google Spreadsheet, and earn points.  The winner was crowned “Dreamforce Champ,” with a pro wrestling style belt to prove it.

Last year we said “spreadsheets are great, but how about a app?”  That would let people score points more easily from their smartphones.  Now, I may have a high-and-mighty title as co-founder of Appirio, but I wanted to prove I could still “bring it!”  I whipped up a Visualforce page and Apex controller, figured out a scheme for using the Task object to record Dreamforce-related activities and points, and put up a Dreamforce Champ dashboard.  Just as I was patting myself on the back for getting us out of spreadsheets, I heard a few people murmur “hmmm, nice app, but not too pretty.”  Well, it was the day before Dreamforce, so we pressed on.  The app was actually a hit, Dreamforce ended, and we all moved on.

The Challenge this Year: Making our Dreamforce App Look Awesome

Fast-forward eleven and a half months.  Dreamforce ‘13 was just around the corner, and our marketing team decided to dust off the Dreamforce Champ app.  Our communications expert, Danielle Shoshani, innocently wondered “can we make the app look a little better this time.”  After swallowing my pride (I’m not sure she realized I was the original author!), I said “sure!” and then frantically called our top application development lead, Kym Le.  Kym and I both knew we had many other higher-priority IT items underway, and couldn’t afford to dedicate Appirio resources to re-skinning an app that already worked, and was only going to be used three days a year.

At this point, most traditional IT departments would be at a loss.  No time, no resources, and a disappointed marketing team.  Worse, it would be embarrassing for Appirians to be spotted around Dreamforce poking at an ugly mobile app – not much to brag about.  Wouldn’t it be cool if, instead, we could turn Dreamforce Champ into a marketing tool itself for Appirio’s technology prowess?

The Solution: Crowdsource a New UI

Appirio preaches the virtues of cloudsourcing via our CloudSpokes community, as well as Topcoder, which Appirio acquired in September.  I told Kym to “get it done,” but she wasn’t allowed to write a line of code – it had to be done by running CloudSpokes challenges.

That’s when the magic happened.  Kym ran our first contest, supplying the old basic Visualforce page and Apex controller, with a challenge of building a more modern user interface based on a responsive design stack such as AngularJS / Bootstrap, that would look just as great on a smartphone as a desktop.  We quickly had a winning submission, which we recycled for a few bugfixes until we had a new, improved, production-ready Dreamforce Champ app.


Our Takeaways

Problem:  You need to write an app in a few days, with no resources, or risk letting down the marketing team.

Solution:  Build your IT on a public cloud stack, and harness the power of crowdsourcing.

Lessons learned:

1.  Crowdsourcing works.

2.  Crowdsourcing + cloud = a heck of a combination.

3.  Crowdsourcing + cloud + IT = you look like a hero.

4.  Crowdsourcing + cloud + IT + marketing = even marketing thinks IT is cool.

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