Kickstart(er) Your Enterprise

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October 16, 2013
Kickstarter Your Enterprise CIO

Four Lessons Enterprises Can Learn from Crowdsourcing

Media darling Kickstarter isn’t the only one tapping crowds. Enterprises are also mining the masses for ideas on new products and process improvements, but their targets are employees and supply-chain partners. Internal crowdsourcing has the spark of common sense. But what does implementing it mean for enterprises, and especially for IT?

With its captive audience, internal crowdsourcing sidesteps its public counterpart’s challenges of creating awareness, encouraging contribution, and maintaining momentum. Employees and partners are already invested in the outcome. The short-term innovation blitzes that companies favor avoid any problems of waning interest.

Here are four lessons enterprises have learned by putting crowdsourcing to work within their companies.

Lesson#1 - Employees are smarter than most companies think. Internal crowdsourcing draws on known experts of your organization’s business. Employees have front-row seats on your processes, brands, products and services.

What’s more, they like thinking big. One half of employees of a Danish engineering consultancy took the firm up on its offer to join an online community to jumpstart innovation—a rate that far outpaced the firm’s projections. According to researchers at Roskilde University, the employees were as motivated by the rewards of elevated visibility and feedback on their ideas as they were by the Apple iPad raffled off to those who participated. Internal crowdsourcing views all employees as innovators, and employees like that.

Lesson #2 - Forget the “eureka” moment. Much internal crowdsourcing is about process improvement. Making accounting procedures less cumbersome. Rerouting trucks. Modest factory-floor changes that can save hours of time when multiplied. The employee-suggested projects that AT&T’s internal crowdsourcing has funded include cost-saving measures and customer service enhancements as well as new technology offerings. It’s not sexy. But it’s important.

Lesson #3 - Keep it short. A one-off crowdsourcing effort eliminates the need to maintain momentum. To give its innovation process a jolt, Electrolux held a three-day internal crowdsourcing event. Employees poured 3,500 ideas into a database and followed up with 10,000 comments. Not bad for three days work.

Lesson #4 - Launching the conversation can have unexpected payoffs. To assess new products’ potential, German telecom giant Deutsche Telekom cast a wide net: It collected 18,000 opinions from employees and fashioned them into a custom decision-support tool.

But the four days it spent accumulating data on customer needs, competition, and market trends had an unintended ripple effect. Researchers who studied the effort found that when the survey blitz ended, DT’s employees continued talking among themselves about company decisions, products, and goals. Engaging employees can be hard to do. Internal crowdsourcing provides a mechanism for doing it.

Companies like AT&T and Electrolux rack up impressive numbers with internal crowdsourcing. But what about the rest of us? Tell us about your thoughts on the internal crowdsourcing’s potential and the role IT can play.

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