Crowdsourcing platforms – Should you build or buy?

Over the past five years, in working on crowdsourcing programs with dozens of organizations and talking with hundreds more, I’ve encountered quite a few that were pondering whether to build their own crowdsourcing platform or “buy” one (meaning use one of the many existing  platforms through an SaaS type of agreement).  Since GoodCrowds doesn’t have our own technology (rather we make recommendations for our clients based on their needs, objectives and budget) we’re in a pretty objective position to talk about this.

With only a few exceptions, when we follow-up with organizations that made the “build” decision, they  usually say if they had to do it over again, they’d “buy”.  Almost without exception, these “build” organizations found that it took more time and more budget than they had planned for, and even then didn’t have what they expected.  They admit that while none of the platforms vendors may have exactly what they wanted, they would have been better off with the existing capabilities of the proven platforms than trying to do it themselves.

Why is this?  There are several key reasons – and if you are current contemplating the build/buy decision, you should take note:

1)      Getting comprehensive requirements up front is tough.  Good requirements are a must to develop a crowdsourcing platform well, and it’s also a really, really difficult to do for an organization that doesn’t have a lot of experience in crowdsourcing.  This is probably the biggest single reason for failure.

2)      It’s a lot more complicated than it appears.  Yes, the most common visible capabilities of crowdsourcing or community platforms look really straightforward – setting up a profile, submitting ideas and thoughts, being able to comment,  and vote.  How hard can that be, right?  Well, the under-the-covers capabilities of a robust crowdsourcing platform are a LOT more complex than you might think.  What about notifications and communications?  What about incentives?  What about access to the data and reporting for both the discussions, voting and the participants?   What about needing to use different crowdsourcing processes for different objectives over time, such as secretive submissions, judging panels etc?  What about wanting to engage different stakeholder groups – sometimes together, sometimes separate?  And I could go on… and on.

3)      Your needs will change as you learn.  When you start out applying crowdsourcing methods, you often have a single objective and process in mind, but if you optimize your platform around that, you will quickly get frustrated.  You’ll find more objectives and ways you want to use crowdsourcing in your organization as you experience the results, and most in-house built platforms are just not as flexible as those you can “buy”.

And of course the standard “build/buy” issues are there as well – such as time taken away from your core business, needing to do maintenance and updates, testing, keeping up with changes in technology, and so forth.

So if you are thinking of incorporating crowdsourcing into your organization (which is a great decision by the way), think long and hard before deciding to build your own platform, even if your internal IT group is saying they can do it quickly and cheaply. Talk with others who have been down that path.  Seek experienced advisors to help you assess your needs and help with requirements.  And feel free to give us a call, we’ll be happy to talk with you further about it.

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