Appirio was recently highlighted in CIO magazine in a great article about on-demand staffing in IT. Pat Brans did an excellent job setting up the current advantages and perceived disadvantages of this model. But my favorite part of the article? The title: When will on-demand workers start to replace IT staff?
Pat’s view on crowdsourcing (aka, one form of on-demand workers) mirrors that of Appirio’s, which is that the concept is an inevitability for IT. It is already becoming part of the normal resource mix in both startups and Fortune 500 companies — alongside internal staff, onshore and offshore contractors, as well as outsourcers. As with any resource option, it won’t meet every need, but it offers enough benefits that it will certainly be a significant part of the mix. The ones that Pat mentions — programming, user testing, configuration, and support services — Appirio already provides, along with design, architecture, UI/UX, documentation, code optimization, and data science. All of these areas have emerged as viable crowdsourcing territories, particularly in technologies like web, mobile, social, and cloud platforms.
Crowdsourcing has advantages and disadvantages, depending on what you’re trying to do, but it also carries a fair amount of mythology because of its newness. Pat is spot-on with the advantages he mentions in his article, including access to expertise on demand and lower costs. I would also add speed, innovation, and quality to that list. The disadvantages he mentions are partly myth and partly a by-product of the learning curve that exists for IT to use crowdsourcing effectively.
Myth #1: We can’t trust the crowd
One of the common myths is that it’s hard to trust the crowd. We don’t know the base of experts, we don’t know what we’re going to get back and how they rate. While we can only speak from an Appirio perspective, our crowd is not faceless; we have active relationships with our members, we invest in their skills development, and we have visible ratings indicative of our developers’ relative strengths. Members also earn badges as they stack achievements, so you can see proficiencies based on what they’re actually doing — which is much more telling than a typical industry “certification.”
Myth #2: Communication will be poor
Another perceived disadvantage is that communication is harder than it would be amongst a team working in the same physical place. Sure, communication is easy when developers are colocated. But thanks to similar economic value benefits, offshore development centers have already proven that remote teams can be just as effective. And crowdsourcing is arguably more efficient, as several people are reviewing your specification and asking questions — surfacing vague or unclear requirements early.
Myth #3: Solutions will be inconsistent
Lastly, there is the myth of inconsistency. This belief is that crowdsourcing will provide vastly different solutions that may eat away at your IT’s reputation. This certainly ties into the poor communication myth — that if you communicate inconsistent requirements, the crowd will produce inconsistent results. The reality is that if common standards for design or development are provided when work is issued to the community, the community itself polices for adherence (arguably more so than an internal or outsourced team). In Appirio’s crowdsourcing model, we use a role called a copilot (working alongside the customer or pilot) to reinforce those standards. Copilots are proven, senior community members that are often working on customer projects, learning the unique requirements they have, and coaching the crowd to meet them.
As an industry, IT is piecing crowdsourcing into its resourcing mix, and new entrants will have to adapt. But with a clear understanding of where it fits, the benefits will ensure that it becomes an integral part of their talent equation. Crowdsourcing is essentially the next step in an evolution to a fully distributed development model, which has already been shown to work with open source development. There can certainly be growing pains for IT, but it’s growth that needs to happen.