Mixing cloud computing with crowdsourcing can benefit development

Wayne Kernochan

Over the last few years, common techniques for implementing a public, private or hybrid cloud have become well-known. How does crowdsourcing work with the cloud?

Plugging your organization into the wealth of cloud expertise residing outside your enterprise can be a bit unnerving. There is a careful balance of the need to "vet" and monitor individual developers and the urge to seek maximum effectiveness by casting the widest net possible.

The result is a set of best practices that Sloan Management Review (Winter, 2013) refers to as "global crowd development." While these best practices apply across a wide range of product development efforts, they fit particularly well with cloud implementation. Involving, as it typically does, virtualization of existing software and customization of additional software allows it to play on the very cloud that supports the new global workforce. And it is definitely global. User case studies testify these development efforts encompass a wide area and are not country-specific, as in the days of offshoring.

Approaches to crowdsourcing cloud development

For those fully committed to out-of-company implementation, the "microsource" model often works. Software platforms allow intermediation between IT and the individual developers or small development firms, allowing some knowledge of the developers involved.

For hybrid cloud implementation projects -- where the need for global crowdsourcing is unpredictable -- the bid or competition model can be useful. Depending on the need for redundancy, the company can either ask for bids or simply let several developers get to work and let the winner get the reward.

For large-scale or complex cloud implementations, a workflow model is typically best. In this approach, software allows the company to coordinate the workflow of a global set of developers, with more "hands-on" monitoring of progress.

Applying crowdsourcing to cloud implementation

The particular effectiveness of global crowd development in a cloud implementation and upgrade happens because of the peculiar characteristics of those developers. They are, after all, creatures of open source and the Internet. They favor open-source software for development, are well in-tune with the latest software technologies in the cloud and are typically in touch with other Internet-savvy developers. In effect, the global crowd is a cloud crowd.

This is not to say that all is sweetness and roses when IT taps into this global crowd. As IT experience with hybrid development has shown, deadlines have little effect on the global crowd; it’s more motivated by technical interest in what is being developed. Therefore, knowing the individual developer's dependability when on-demand needs arrive is more important for enterprise development than in the hybrid case.

For the same reason, while globally crowdsourcing development can add to projects in many cases, it is perhaps best suited to development projects that don't have tight deadlines or complex implementations. Although open-source developers can often produce higher-quality code faster than with traditional development processes, this is not always the case. Also, due to the arms-length relationship with developers, process enforcement is more difficult.

Understanding the bottom line of IT crowdsourcing

Love them or hate them, development outsourcing and offshoring have a long history; it's surprising that the global crowdsourcing development approach isn't used more often for cloud implementations. Data suggests that hybrid development's successes owe much to its use of crowdsourcing, and that is what global crowd development adds to the outsourcing mix.

IT shops already familiar with hybrid development and outsourcing should feel comfortable including global crowd development in the mix. IT departments with less outsourcing experience should plan how to integrate crowdsourcing into present development practices before proceeding.

All of that said, however, global crowd development is clearly a valuable new tool in IT's cloud implementation arsenal. If you like outsourcing and offshore development, what's not to like about global crowd development?

About the author:
Wayne Kernochan is president of Infostructure Associates, an affiliate of Valley View Ventures. Infostructure Associates aims to provide thought leadership and sound advice to vendors and users of information technology. This document is the result of Infostructure Associates-sponsored research. Infostructure Associates believes that its findings are objective and represent the best analysis available at the time of publication.

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