How MSMEs can access skills through crowdsourcing

A startup or an MSME is advised to look at a relevant crowd sourced model, see which of these models are relevant to them, deploy a SPOC (Single Point of Contact) to manage the requirements.

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Crowdsourcing is still an emerging model and enterprises are best advised to begin experiments with smaller lower risk projects and then gradually ramp up.
BY Manish Upadhyay

We are living in a human-tech age (technology helping humans), which is rapidly evolving to a machine age (massive machine penetration). This fast-evolving tech play is putting tremendous pressure on enterprises’ survival and success which in turn directly impacts how skilling and learning should be viewed.

The ability to identify right problems to solve and then getting them solved rapidly requires right skilled resources that are continuously incentivized to upskill perpetually. So how does an MSME solve this ‘new-age’ problem - the skilling challenge?


A Harvard Business Review study provides an answer in the form of an “Innovation Matrix” that maps two questions - how well can the problem be defined and how well can the “New Age” skill domain(s) needed to solve the problem be defined? The mapping of these two questions are clubbed into four types of innovation – Sustaining innovation, Breakthrough innovation, Disruptive innovation and Basic Research.

Sustaining innovation is the most common type of innovation which is largely deployed for building rapid competitive edge to capture more market share. The enterprise is clear about the problem that they want to solve and have the necessary skills required to solve them. Design thinking methods are often deployed for this type of innovation. Breakthrough innovation is deployed where problems are well defined, but skills needed to solve it are difficult to find and define.

Edward de bono’s lateral thinking approach is quite relevant for this type of innovation. Disruptive innovation is deployed where an organization needs to relook, rebuild and innovate their business model so that they can leverage their skill sets to solve newer problems. Basic Research is more on the lines of academic research to discover and solve for problems

So can a MSME, with limited resources look at the above-mentioned Innovation types without getting overawed by daunting skill requirements? Can a MSME attract and retain talent which can drive these types of innovation? The answer is – yes.
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Firstly, they need to evolve a decision-making framework for ‘build in-house vs buy or hire from outside’. For example, the framework can recommend keeping design inside while outsourcing everything else. Secondly, they should collect all relevant facts and analyze the data. The enterprise can take help of easy to use visual analytics tools like Tableau Public, Power BI etc. to build relevant insights.

Thirdly, they should also look at a broader set of criteria such as potential of lost opportunities, learning curve of the employees, hidden costs such as adding testing phase and customer support cost, etc. Finally, they should take help from emerging outsourcing and crowdsourcing online platforms.

According to some estimates, developed markets are seeking more than 20-33% of their work from independent workers and a good proportion of outsourcing is happening through online platforms where in the workers’ past work samples and competency ratings from previous work are available at the press of a click. Following are some emerging crowd sourcing platforms that are fuelling this trend:

Outsourcing work or RFP (Request for Proposal) based platforms – Example Upwork. An enterprise posts a project, through an RFP (Request for proposal) and the Upwork online platform then helps in finding right talent for the project, sends shortlist of likely candidates and then help close the requirement.
Challenges based platforms– Example Innocentive.

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Challenges are posted by the “Solution seeker” (largely enterprises), to the network of ‘Solvers’, who submit their solutions. The solutions are awarded that fully meet the challenge requirements. The platform administers all award payments and IP transfers or licensing etc.

Academia- Industry collaboration platform – Example WAIN. Worldwide Academia Industry Network (WAIN) is a platform where the problems can be posted as a challenge by an academic institution or a corporate for their identified business gaps. The students or a team of students-faculty-industry professionals collaborate to solve the problem together.

Crowdsourcing is still an emerging model and enterprises are best advised to begin experiments with smaller lower risk projects and then gradually ramp up.

Apart from total number of active contributors in a platform, one can qualitatively look at James Surowiecki’s work (Author of “The Wisdom of Crowds”). He mentions four conditions that characterize wise crowds – there should be diversity of opinion, everyone should have independent opinion not influenced by others around them, people should access local knowledge in a decentralized way, there should be an aggregation mechanism that turns all judgements into a collective result.

A startup or an MSME is well advised to carefully look at a relevant crowd sourced model, see which of these models are relevant to them, deploy a SPOC (Single Point of Contact) in their organization to manage the requirements and monitor the efficacy of the platform on an ongoing basis. They should also watch out for issues around early development stage exposure to competition, internal team conflict if the team has not bought into the idea, communication/language issues, time zone differences etc.
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this column are that of the writer. The facts and opinions expressed here do not reflect the views of www.economictimes.com.)
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