Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Outsourcing To Crowdsourcing

Outsourcing is defined as the process of contracting an existing business process which an organization previously performed internally to an independent organization, where the process is purchased as a service (link).
The word 'Outsourcing' is highly emotive in the pubic domain. Loved by consultants as a means to cut costs, it is loathed by those whose industries and livelihoods have been "off-shored". More recently the term Crowdsourcing has entered the mainstream vernacular even though early Crowdsourcing articles appeared some six year ago (2006)

Interestingly the term Crowdsourcing does not appear to attract the negativity of Outsourcing even though the definition is almost identical. Crowdsourcing is a process that involves outsourcing tasks to a distributed group of people.

The difference between crowdsourcing and typical outsourcing is that a task or problem is outsourced to an undefined public rather than a specific entity, i.e. an external organisation (link).

Like Outsourcing, Crowdsourcing can generate significant cost savings. However a key benefit of Crowdsourcing over Outsourcing is scale. Using a hypothetical example, lets assume I wanted a new Logo or Website designed for my business. Due to various reasons the Marketing department has seen a reduction in employee numbers as a decision was made to outsource various previously helped in-house roles i.e. a Designer. Under the Outsourcing model, the decision would lead to preferred supplier arrangements established with Design agencies who would produce the work on an as needs basis. However using the Crowdsourcing model the business could turn to a site such as 99 Designs. Rather than a couple of preferred suppliers you have, potentially 10, 20, 30 designers bidding for the work. Rather than a handful of options the business will be faced with potentially hundreds of designs to choose from. And finally, rather than paying a design firm thousands in fees the business may incur a total cost in the low hundreds.

Just as Outsourcing is not limited to Manufacturing, Crowdsourcing is not limited to design. Crowdsourcing website examples including:

Company Name (link to website)
Domain Names Let the crowd help you choose a great url for your business.
Contracting (multiple services) Post your job / project description to thousands of potential hires.
Funding Have an idea that needs funding, then let the crowd at Kickstarter help you.
Funding Similar to Kickstarter.
Product Development We serve as a platform for everyday people who have a product idea that they don't know how to bring to market. We help develop them into commercial ideas with big market potential and Genius Crowd creators share in the profits.”
Product design and development Allows amateur inventors to put their designs into production, releases new products at a breakneck speed.
Data "Instantly hire millions of people to collect, filter, and enhance your data"
Content creation and data enhancement (charity) Large tech companies outsource small piecework that Samasource calls ‘microwork’ to people across the developed world.
Video Production Crowdsourced video production
Contracting (multiple services) "The Mechanical Turk service gives businesses access to a diverse, on-demand, scalable workforce and gives Workers a selection of thousands of tasks to complete whenever it's convenient."
Food The U.S. specific  site seeks to document the entire food system. The aim is to provide a reference tool that will tell you where the food on your dinner table comes from.
Software and usability testing The world's largest marketplace for software testing services

And do not just think Crowdsourcing is the domain of small businesses, contractors and entrepreneurs. Have a look at the Crowdsourcing effort www.kfcollaborationkitchen.com by Kraft Foods, a company that generates over US$50Bil in revenue (source).

Crowdsourcing is not going to replace all Outsourcing. For example in large scale manufacturing where the Outsource provider is required to make long-term capital intensive commitments with a requirement for ongoing / continuous production.

However there is no disputing the fact that Crowdsourcing is changing the face, or a significant part thereof, of Outsourcing. Small businesses have access to design capabilities of large corporations. New products can be development and sold with unprecedented time savings. Software entrepreneurs can have their code tested by an army of testers. When you think about it the opportunities that Crowdsourcing offers are amazing. Imagine a world where you could Crowdsource your business plan, marketing plan, logo and brand identification, new product concepts, product development,online sales platform etc. Whether you are a small business, mid-sized division fighting for attention in a large corporate or a sole entrepreneur the opportunities become equally available.

Like Outsourcing, Crowdsourcing provides the flexibility to save significant amounts of time and money. However unlike Outsourcing, Crowdsourcing can offer significantly more options when supplied by potentially thousands of service providers. Whilst detractors may point to the quality over quantity argument I prefer to turn to the French writer, Jules Renard who said, "Talent is a matter of quantity. Talent does not write one page, it writes three hundred."

Additional info:

A) Feel free to add other Crowdsourcing websites in the comments section

B) Other links you may find interesting:

Monday, July 16, 2012

Jargon: "Never use a long word where a short one will do."

Recently I circled back with some peers. We were trying to add some colour to deck the EIC had conceptualized. The intent was for a transformative break through but the numbers did not gel and the ultimately our collective was able to provide little value-add without throwing the EIC off course.

Translation: Who knows but this is the sort of nonsense I, and am certain you do to, come across often enough in the business world. Invariably it seems that when one word goes "out-of-fashion" it is replaced by two more in-vogue vocabulary busters.

Firstly, let me start off by saying that I have been guilty on many occasions of using jargon, in all its dubious forms. In part, I believe it is because the use of this language has become a norm in the corporate sector hence it is accepted with little to no resistance.

Before I delve a little deeper into the murky world of jargon let's look at the definition of the word. Merriam-Webster dictionary defines jargon as:

1.a: confused unintelligible language
  b: a strange, outlandish, or barbarous language or dialect
  c: a hybrid language or dialect simplified in vocabulary and grammar and used for communication between peoples of different speech

2. the technical terminology or characteristic idiom of a special activity or group

3. obscure and often pretentious language marked by circumlocutions and long words

But why did this become a norm? How did "confused unintelligible language" become so pervasive in our daily lives? Tragically it seems there appears to be a belief in the business sector that the more jargon used the greater one's intellect and ability. Conversely the greater the use of plain speaking the lower ones intellect / ability is. This ridiculous correlation appears more akin to a game of Scrabble than one's competence.

The good news is that there are many of you who appear to feel the same way towards the use of jargon in our daily work lives. The chart (Chart 1) is based on a survey from the Harvard Business Review blog titled "I Don't Understand What Anyone Is Saying Anymore". Over 9,000 votes later and "Thinking outside the box" takes first prize for meaningless expressions followed closely by one of my favourites "Synergy".  The survey is fairly limited in its choices and excludes such examples (to name a few) as:

  • right-sizing 
  • redeployment, 
  • mission-critical
  • goal-oriented 
  • best-practices 
  • paradigm shifts 
  • customer-centric 
  • low-hanging fruit 
  • value-add
  • keep me in the loop
  • optimize
Even with its limitations the survey does provide an insight into what expressions irk the most from a sizeable data set.

So how does one combat the barrage of meaningless expressions? Approximately 65 years ago George Orwell felt strongly enough about a similar topic that he penned the essay Politics And The English Language.   In the Essay George wrote, "But one can often be in doubt about the effect of a word or a phrase, and one needs rules that one can rely on when instinct fails. I think the following rules will cover most cases:
  1. Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
These rules sound elementary, and so they are, but they demand a deep change of attitude in anyone who has grown used to writing in the style now fashionable. 

So the next time you are about to string a sentence together that comprises an "optimize" here and a "goal-orientated" there, stop yourself. Whilst the gentleman who wrote Animal Farm may have been expressing his views about writing and politics, his words are equally relevant in the today's business world. After all it is difficult to argue with, "Never use a long word where a short one will do". Now that is value-add :)