Should Your Company Be Crowdsourcing? 4 Questions to Help You Decide

“Unlocking worker knowledge and creativity has been on the minds of executives for some time now, and some are taking a cue from techsavvy Gen Y and millennials, who grew up with the Internet and social sites including Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. These 'digital natives' routinely use collaborative sites and apps to share information, get news, and decide what products to buy. While many companies are aware of these tools, relatively few have embraced them internally.”

- pwc, Harnessing the power of crowdsourcing [PDF]

For companies looking to increase innovation and/or production while reducing costs (and who isn’t?), crowdsourcing can be an alluring strategy to meet those ends. The ability to tap into large, diverse pools of talent can be useful for companies of all sizes and across many industries.

Narinder Singh, a co-founder and president of Appirio's crowdsourcing development communities, offers these crowdsourcing examples in a recent article for

“... a company could crowdsource prototypes of the best ideas coming out of their brainstorming sessions on making the workforce more mobile instead of just picking one to try out. Or it could use a crowdsourced community to solve a big-data problem such as how to route trucks or how to position the solar collectors on your International Space System without having to invest in teams of researchers.”

However, while crowdsourcing can indeed play a vital role in achieving important business goals, it is no silver-bullet solution. Before your company tackles a crowdsourcing initiative, ask yourself the following questions to be sure that your company is up to the challenge.

How specialized is the task?

If your company would like to understand how tax accountants use your mobile app, that goal is likely compatible with a crowdsourcing strategy. By contrast, if your company needs help navigating its own thorny tax issues, you will likely need to select one tax specialist out of a talent pool of accountants.

Do you have quality control systems in place?

Like crude oil pumped from the Earth, the product of crowdsourcing always needs refining. Your company must have organizational structures in place that guarantee quality control and accountability as it leverages the results of crowdsourcing. Discussing quality control and crowdsourcing in a recent Forbes article, David Grier, crowdsourcing expert and author of Crowdsourcing for Dummies, says, “It is a managerial problem like any other. It’s not magic.”

Do you have time?

Crowdsourcing is often a time-saving strategy for companies, but not necessarily in the short-term. If your organization has run out of time to complete a project by the deadline, Jimmy-rigging a crowdsourcing solution might end up costing you even more time than if you had stuck with the original strategy. That’s because the crowdsourcing process will almost always require upfront investments in time and effort before all of the operation’s moving parts are running smoothly and efficiently. In short, crowdsourcing is a long-term strategy, rather than a short-term solution.

Are you ready for the truth?

If the goal of crowdsourcing is to gain insights that can drive product innovation within your company, you have to be ready for a healthy dose of truth. People don’t always use products how you’d like them to. Sometimes they don’t subscribe to the same rules of logic as your company’s CEO. In a word, people are often unpredictable. Don’t go mining for data until your company is prepared to objectively analyze the results before adapting to them.

As more companies begin adopting crowdsourcing as a viable business strategy, it will be interesting to see how certain applications succeed in fostering innovation and delivering quality to customers--and where others fall short.

Does your business use crowdsourcing? Where have you experienced pitfalls, and how have you achieved success?