Is it time to embrace crowdsourcing into your business strategy?

Organisations are de-layering to improve flows of information and thus knowledge within the enterprise. At the same time, externally they are focusing on driving individual interactive relationships with increasing numbers of customers to better understand their requirements and learn how to satisfy them profitably.

The use of social media within the organisation is growing – but too slowly

Organisations have started to leverage social media to better share and retain knowledge and at the same time to use these techniques to drive better customer insight and one-to-one customer relationships. However the take up and use of social media across an organisation is still limited and the corporate culture needs to change to fully enable this to happen.

Organisations are removing bans on corporate blogging and restraints on employee participation on social networking sites and replacing them with corporate guidelines. This potentially unleashes a massive army of participants from within the organisation to enhance marketing’s efforts to understand and better serve its customers.

Marketing is taking the lead using social media – although tactically

Marketing, driven by the necessity to implement accountable marketing campaigns, is often the champion of the use of social media, increasingly including a ‘social’ element using for example Twitter or Facebook. Organisations are beginning to see real benefits from using social media in these tactical campaigns.

However many are missing the opportunity to truly embrace social media which needs to be supported across the entire organisation and which often requires a cultural change to support new ways of working. This is where implementing a crowdsourcing strategy can truly make a difference.

Crowdsourcing should be built into the culture, the very fabric, of how a company works

Sharing some insights from our own experience, at IBM we started to adopt crowdsourcing back in 2001 when we ran our first internal ‘Jam’, a crowdsourcing event amongst a known crowd – our own employees.

The Jam is an online event for audiences ranging in size from a few hundred to hundreds of thousands, consisting of multiple forums with hosts and facilitators to guide participants to build on each other’s ideas. These online events are used to capture the pulse of the group or to solicit specific ideas to critical business issues. Real-time text analysis and data mining is used to highlight emerging trends and distil actionable results.

Crowdsourcing using Jams has transformed IBM internally and our face to the world

WorldJam2001: our first Jam was used to capture best practices and insights around 10 important business challenges. An experiment using crowdsourcing to harness the collective wisdom of the company’s priority focus areas and identify immediate improvement opportunities.

Values Jam 2003: an in-depth exploration of IBM’s values and beliefs by employees re-established the core of IBM’s culture and brand.

WorldJam 2004 – focused on pragmatic solutions around growth, innovation and bringing the company’s values to life.

InnovationJam 2006 – clients, business partners, academia, employees and family members explored emerging technology that could benefit business and society. As a result 10 new businesses were established within IBM.

Innovation Jam 2008 – leading thinkers from thousands of companies helped advance the vision of “The Enterprise of the Future” and jointly create industry roadmaps for use by all participants on “how” to best move forward.

Sourcing a crowd around the world at 40,000ft

More recently IBM has been involved in crowdsourcing events for clients looking at areas as diverse as sustainability, collaborative innovation (for a leading global pharmaceutical company) and contributing to public policy for the Security of Europe.

The latter event having participants from over 120 countries including four thousand military, diplomatic and civilian experts. The Supreme Allied Commander of Forces in Europe opened this Jam while flying to Istanbul and the final debate included contributions from an Ice Station in Antarctica – thus covering all the continents of the world in the one event.

The resulting proposal based on the output from the Jam contained 10 specific recommendations and was presented to the EU and NATO for input to Europe’s defence strategy.

The various communities that form during a Jam are often turned into dynamic forums for ongoing debate after the Jam has concluded. Having seen the tangible benefits of collaboration in the Jam, employees are encouraged to work more collaboratively in the future and clients also experience first hand the real value in the effective use of social media to build closer relationships.

Crowdsourcing, if carefully channelled, can make significant contributions to evolving corporate or public strategy. So the question is ‘When will you join the crowd?’

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Richard Mound is a senior managing consultant within IBM's Strategy & Transformation practice. Based in London, Richard leads IBM’s crowdsourcing offering in Europe, advising clients how to fully integrate crowdsourcing and social business into their overall business strategies.