Under what circumstances should a startup or established company use a crowdsourced development site like Appirio's 600,000-member topcoder organization to supplement its own programming expertise?
For Brivo Labs, which is pioneering "social access management" applications that link social identities with physical access control systems, the motivations were twofold: the need to find experience it didn't have internally, fast; and the necessity to squeeze the costs associated with looking to outside help.
Under the topcoder model, projects become competitions or challenges, with programmers vying to offer the best components or approaches for solving the problem at hand. Participants are subject to peer reviews, but the goal is to keep the community as open as possible to encourage fresh ideas, said Dave Messenger, topcoder's Chief Community Officer. "It's all about adding leverage to your delivery model," he said.
An example of one of the products that Brivo Labs was able to create by turning to topcoder is OKDoor, which uses a Google Glass application to control door access. Brivo Labs' flagship product is the Randivoo system, an iPad configured with a visitor management application that checks in guests in corporate office buildings.
"To us, it felt like the natural new way of handling consultative work," said Lee Odess, general manager of Brivo Labs, when we spoke about its topcoder experiences.
Aside from getting out four applications within six months, Odess said working with topcoder helped expose his development team to new skill sets.
To manage the projects, the company assigned an on-staff Java developer as a technical community manager. Odess cautioned companies thinking about using topcoder to ensure that requirements for the projects are well defined and that someone is appointed to oversee progress. "The model can help you identify issues within your organization," he said.
According to topcoder and Brivo Labs, the cost of using the community to help with its applications was approximately 40 percent less than for alternate approaches. The video below demonstrates OKDoor in action.