Asian firms well-poised for internal crowdsourcing

Crowdsourcing could potentially boost Asian businesses by being an internal platform to generate ideas and solutions to challenges, driven primarily by the high use of mobile devices and social media among the region's workforce.

The high uptake of mobile devices and social media among Asian workers mean companies in the region are well-positioned to carry out crowdsourcing internally to make better business decisions. Clear and firm strategies and rules are necessary to ensure the process does not devolve into a hindrance though, industry watchers say.

Scott Stewart, research director at ITNewcom, said crowdsourcing shares certain similarities with the rise in mobility in that it is user-driven and a casual experience built on short bursts of attention, social incentives, and rapid yet varied feedback. These aspects get people "hooked" on the experience without them even realizing, he said.

Given Asia's preoccupation with smartphones and tablets and how mobility fuels social networking, Stewart expects crowdsourcing will see considerable uptake among companies in Asia-Pacific. This process is particularly useful in situations where they want to quickly solicit ideas to improve processes or materials such as training, business and IT requirements, and user needs, he added.

Crowdsourcing unlocks innovation from existing staff who knows the topic in question well, whether it's a product, service, or industry development, but may not be approached for their input as the information required may be deemed beyond their scope of knowledge or job role, he noted.

The concept also taps on people's motivation to improve their own working life and make their jobs easier, so there's an incentive in sharing real, practical views and suggestions, the research director added.

Chris Ip, a Singapore-based director at consultancy firm McKinsey & Company, similarly pointed out that internal crowdsourcing has the potential to take off within Asian organizations because people in the region are early adopters as well as avid users of social media and mobile technologies.

Japanese car maker Toyota was one company which tapped crowdsourcing to improve the accuracy of the translation service used in its internal social network, Ip noted. It makes use of employees' linguistic expertise to correct the translations made by machines, which will in turn "learn" these corrections to finetune its own software.

McKinsey, too, has used internal crowdsourcing to gather ideas on user requirements for choosing IT tools, he shared.

Crowd control
The adoption of internal crowdsourcing will depend on the organizational culture and its maturity in social collaboration though, said Steve Hodgkinson, IT research director for Asia-Pacific at Ovum. He said crowdsourcing will unlikely be successful if there is no prior network of people ready and willing to contribute their ideas.

Ip warned that such initiatives will also falter should they degenerate into "brainstorming on steroids" activities or if "groupthink" sets in. The former might derail the process by producing too much "noise" from various self-anointed experts, while the latter could result in relevant but different ideas being downplayed for the sake of fostering group harmony, he explained.

Hodgkinson concurred, urging companies to have clear policies in soliciting ideas and how it plans to implement the suggestions into the business.

He said: "The process could turn from wisdom of the crowd to stupidity of the mob or even the ranting of one-eyed evangelists. You need to have a clear strategy of how user suggestions will be moderated and how decisions will be made using the input, and also understand how your employee network behaves.

"If these are ignored, then the whole exercise can do more harm than good…and unexploded bombs might inadvertently be triggered to blow up in your face," the Ovum research director added.