I am proud to bring you the third episode in a three part series culminating in a downloadable PDF of the whole piece on The Crowd Computing Revolution and the redesign of work that is now possible thanks to new technology tools and business architecture thinking that will allow man and machine to work more efficiently together than ever before. (click for Part 1 or Click for Part 2)
Investigating Examples of Crowd Computing
Moving from The Design of Business to Redesigning Work
Business Architects have the opportunity to plan for the organization how work can move from mystery to heuristics to algorithms to code. Business Architects (or people filling this role in an organization) have the opportunity to redesign work in the most efficient way possible to leverage both man and machine to get the work done at the lowest cost possible. Technology now exists to allow Business Architects and managers to move beyond allocating work on a job, project, or process basis, and instead design flexible workflows that combine the use of humans and machines to complete the tasks that they are best suited for, or even for humans to augment the work of machines.
For example, imagine that you work in the purchasing department at a large multinational and every month you receive hundreds or thousands of invoices from suppliers all over the world in all different kinds of formats – electronic, mailed paper invoices, PDFs, scanned paper invoices, and even faxed invoices. Your job as purchasing (or accounts payable) manager is to track all of the invoices that you receive, get them entered into your ERP system, and ultimately make sure that they get paid. You can hire or use an existing employee or contractor to manually key them all in, or sign a big dollar outsourcing deal sufficient to support the hiring, training, and management of offshore resources by the outsourcer, or you could try and use OCR software to do the job, but it would fail because of the great deal of variability in both the input sources and formatting of the documents and you’ll end up needing human resources to interpret the OCR output anyways.
Or, you could examine the workflow of the process and identify which micro-tasks humans are best suited to perform and which micro-tasks machines are most efficient and cost-effective at performing. Then assign the right micro-task to the right resource. In the case of human resources, this could be an employee, a contractor, an external expert, or even a resource you don’t even know or control (via a crowd workforce like Amazon Mechanical Turk, Elance, etc.). And finally for each micro-task, assign a level of confidence in the quality of the assigned resource’s output and a define a process for grading it. In situations where you have a high level of confidence in the micro-task’s output quality, you can move directly on to the next micro-task in the workflow, but if you have a low level of confidence in a particular micro-task output performed by a machine, assign an alternate process to validate that output (such as using someone via Amazon Mechanical Turk to validate that “yes, this is a purchase order number”).
But that is not all that is possible these days. It is now possible for systems that facilitate the management of this kind of atomized work structure definition and workflow management and assignment, like those from Crowd Computing Systems, to also use artificial intelligence to both learn from the corrections that humans are making to a machine-driven, micro-task execution to get more accurate in the future, but also to learn how to do micro-tasks that humans are currently performing without machine assistance and to help identify the best performing crowd resources to inform work allocation decisions and to perform overall output quality optimization.
In much the same way that outsourcing felt awkward 20-25 years ago and Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) felt foreign a decade ago, the time has come for crowd computing to begin to be a tool that managers and Business Architects can keep in their toolbox to better allocate work across man and machine. The time is now for man and machine to work together in ways that they never have before, and to learn from each other. The time has come for businesses and work to not just be operated and executed, but designed for maximum efficiency. Should we be afraid as workers that the machines are going to take away our jobs and leave us with nothing to do?
No. In much the same way that tractors and steam shovels began freeing man and beast from back breaking work nearly two hundred years ago, there are many benefits for man to gain from the crowd computing revolution – the biggest being freedom from an increasing amount of mind numbing work. Organizations that embrace crowd computing stand to gain not only to potentially lower processing costs for many high volume processes, but also will benefit from acquiring the ability to reassign analysts and other highly-skilled and trained employees to higher value work – better leveraging their existing human resources while simultaneously increasing employee satisfaction, retention, and knowledge creation in the enterprise. Are you ready for the crowd computing revolution?
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Thank you to Crowd Computing Systems for contributing to this effort.
Braden Kelley is a popular innovation speaker, embeds innovation across the organization with innovation training, and builds B2B pull marketing strategies that drive increased revenue, visibility and inbound sales leads. He is currently advising an early-stage fashion startup making jewelry for your hair and is the author of Stoking Your Innovation Bonfire from John Wiley & Sons. He tweets from @innovate.