LEGO customers have always been product developers. Often discarding provided instructions, they seek to build original creations using blueprints drawn from the imagination. A proud and inspired bunch, they've been sharing these creations with the online community since the birth of social media, measuring their work against their peers. LEGO has taken notice and has decided to put this community to work, for free. The company built a platform, called Cuusoo, which encourages customers to submit projects online for community consideration. If a user likes a project, they click the "support" button. Projects that reach 10,000 supporters are reviewed by LEGO as viable set options and five new sets, designed by customers, can now be found in stores.
Cuusoo is just one example of how a growing number of companies are expanding their workforce beyond their organisations through crowdsourcing.
Crowdsourcing is the practice of obtaining services, ideas or content by soliciting contributions from large groups of people - online communities mostly - rather than from traditional employees or suppliers. Think of any challenge and there are strong odds that there is a community of experts that can help solve it.
According to the Accenture Technology Vision 2014, whether the task as simple as data entry or as complex as industrial design, working on a complete project or just piece of one, for straight pay or incentives such as prizes, companies can use digital tools - Twitter, Facebook, instant messaging, Wikis, activity streams and proprietary crowdsourcing platforms - to connect with the perfect group of outside experts. This creates an expanded, truly liquid workforce able to complete projects that otherwise may be too large, expensive or specialised to be handled internally.
Because the expanded workforce is, in most cases, made up of potential customers corporate marketing has experienced a permanent transformation. The barrier between company and customer is gone. Consumers now have a direct voice and suppliers a direct insight into how their customers see, use and consume their products. With the right model, and the right digital tools, companies can predict, with an unprecedented accuracy, how the market will react to what they are selling.
When it comes to product and service innovation, engaging the open-source community is essential. They are the original expanded workforce: a vast global resource of free labor and software development expertise. Companies that set a strong direction and provide the code to these developers encourage them to take on the role of product innovators, developing solutions to better meet specific consumer's needs.
There is never shortage of people willing to work for little or no money. Providing the opportunity to win rewards, prizes, recognition and fame through contests, challenges, online forums and promotions makes it fairly easy to build a qualified, motivated and inexpensive workforce. The use of it, however, requires diligent planning. Clear, shared objectives must be set, whether the project is solving engineering challenges or designing and developing new products. Tasks must be clearly divided to prevent inefficiencies and redundancies to ensure that crowdsourced efforts produce solutions that can be reintegrated into the larger product or project.
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