Enterprises Increasingly Turning to 'Citizen Developers'

The evidence is mounting that crowdsourcing is gaining real traction in the enterprise. In a recent example, a group of so-called pacesetter companies surveyed by IBM's Center for Applied Insights reported forming new partnerships with "citizen developers" to bridge skills gaps in their organizations. Turning to industry professionals operating outside the company not only helped to close those gaps, executives from the surveyed companies reported, but also drove "greater collaboration and innovation across cloud, analytics, mobile and social technologies."

The results of the survey, which were based on responses from more than 1,400 IT and business decision-makers in 15 industries, were published in "Raising the Game: The IBM Business Tech Trends Report." The report examined the common traits of these "pacesetter" organizations, which IBM defines as "leading organizations that are achieving tangible business results from cloud, analytics, mobile and social technologies." These organizations are also twice as likely to turn to colleges and universities for product development and 70 percent more likely to engage with start-ups for execution, the report concluded.

"Pacesetters are companies that are outpacing their competitors in the marketplace," Sandy Carter, IBM's general manager of Ecosystem Development, told ADTmag. "And they're leveraging technology to get that competitive advantage. They're driving better business outcomes, whether it's stronger customer service, better customer experience, stronger returns on investment, or reduced cost."

Gartner defines crowdsourcing as "the processes of sourcing a task or challenge to a broad, distributed set of contributors using the Web and social collaboration techniques." As Gartner analyst Eric Knipp described it in his recently published white paper, "Use Crowdsourcing as a Force Multiplier in Application Development," crowdsourcing is a call for a custom application solution from an external developer community, the members of which expect to earn financial or reputational awards. (See also ADTmag's "Crowdsourcing Application Development.")

A common thread among the pacesetter companies in the IBM survey, Carter said, is an openness to creative partnering. "They're not just playing with partnering or doing on the side," she said. "They've embedded it into their DNA."

One example Carter points to is Esri, a developer of geographic information systems (GIS) software (and IBM business partner), which regularly uses the GitHub open-source code repository to share and build apps for cloud, analytics, mobile and social technologies. The Redlands, Calif.-based company also conducts hackathons and application challenges. Esri recently sponsored a "climate resiliency app challenge," which was won by a student team from the University of Minnesota working on a semester-long project to assess solar suitability in Minnesota.

"Through our efforts in events like hackathons and application challenges that appeal to citizen developers, we ensure that we have a pulse on what leading edge developers would like to do with geospatial -- and all of this informs our own roadmap," said Robin Jones, Esri's director of platform adoption, in a statement. "The outcomes are fast, beneficial and interesting for everyone."

Companies that actively crowdsource ideas and technology assets with customers, partners and academia "drive deeper engagement for positive results," the survey report concluded.

About the Author

John K. Waters is the editor in chief of a number of sites, with a focus on high-end development, AI and future tech. He's been writing about cutting-edge technologies and culture of Silicon Valley for more than two decades, and he's written more than a dozen books. He also co-scripted the documentary film Silicon Valley: A 100 Year Renaissance, which aired on PBS.  He can be reached at [email protected].