We all know the story of Bob, the Verizon employee who outsourced his programming work to China. After a couple of years, he got caught when security questioned why he was Virtual Proess Networking from China. Bob shipped his token to a programmer in China and paid him less than one-third of his salary. Meanwhile, Bob was relaxing in a cubicle, getting great reviews and regular raises for his programming prowess.
I have now met three people who told me they outsource their work. So, do you really know whose finger prints are actually on the keyboard? About six years ago when crowdsourcing was in its early days, I wanted to see what it was like from the employee side of crowdsourcing, so I signed up to be a crowd sourced person. No one questioned me about my application, about why a CEO wanted to make an extra $20 an hour in her spare time. After a few hours of doing task work, I handed my computer to my 13-year old son and asked him to try it. Of course, he caught on in no time and was able to produce work tasks. No one questioned that my work style had changed slightly. The company who hired me is one of the largest corporations in the world, and they never knew that this task was being performed by child labor. Being the ethical person that I am, I didn’t let this charade last long. I resigned in under two weeks… although my son begged me not to. I did it to test the system for my own curiosity and to understand the crowd sourcing model better.
Crowdsourcing is something that people fundamentally understand when it comes to things like getting something designed...but few people really get how procurement organizations can use it with some of their business processes. I decided I needed a little more firsthand knowledge, so I "applied for a job" as a "crowdsourcer." And wouldn't you know, as soon as my application for the job was accepted, I was almost immediately laid off. They had filled the position before I could even start the work! Imagine my surprise a week later when I got an email that the position had opened up again. I quickly accepted and then received some very very lengthy emails, essentially requiring me to sign my life away in order to register as an official "crowdsourcer." I was very impressed to be sent a video that walked me through all the documents I would have to complete for the registration process. I also received a short FAQ sheet, which I was told I had to review before sending any questions to the support desk. What with a few college degrees behind me I figured it was a straightforward process and I would complete it and get on to the testing quickly. Little did I know that the actual registration process was dramatically different than what the video explained. So after three hours on Saturday of Labor Day weekend, and referencing the FAQ many times, I finally broke down and emailed the support team. They made it very clear that any question submitted had to be concise and with screenshots. I carefully constructed my request asking where to find information so I could complete the registration process and begin my testing. My husband was surprised when he returned home from some Saturday afternoon fun, to find that I was still sitting at my computer some two hours later, still trying to simply register.
Crowdsourcing is a disruptive force that may affect some traditional outsourced relationships over time. If a company can have quality work performed by crowdsourcing, we have eliminated the overheads attached to a typical outsourced provider and potentially increased the expertise by a large percentage over what a single provider might provide. While I don’t think crowdsourcing will ever fully replace outsourcing, we still need to understand and figure out how it fits in our normal sourcing activity. The advantage of crowdsourcing is the ability to move massive amounts of work without the handcuff of working hours with traditional employees. Per a recent webinar featuring Lionbridge and massolution, we shared the dramatic impact that crowdsourcing will have to supplement our workforce as baby boomers leave the system. With 6.29 million crowdsourcing workers as of 2011 (according to massolutions) and over a 100% growth year over year since 2009, we can tap into some incredible talent through crowdsourcing. To quote Jeff Howe, “It’s also a perfect meritocracy, where age, gender, race, education, and job history no longer matter; the quality of the work is all that counts.” As companies begin to experiment with crowdsourcing, whether in a public or private crowd, it will be interesting to watch as it evolves. Have you tried crowdsourcing? If so, in what capacity? How do YOU see crowdsourcing as it relates to outsourcing? Is it something companies should start paying more attention to? Please share your thoughts and ideas!