Tech Firm Turns to Crowdsourcing for Technology Solution
By Mitchell York, About.com Guide
When most people think of crowdsourcing, the type of projects that come to mind are often creative but relatively simple things like logo development and web design. What happens when a company has a complex technology problem to solve and turns to the crowd?
Precyse Technologies is a provider of real-time location and supply-chain solutions that help companies track their assets using RFID technology. Its challenge was to improve mobile device performance and battery life. Precyse was looking for a way to "wake up" active RFID tags as they arrive from transit or enter a customer facility-without draining the battery's energy listening to these wake-up calls. The company did not have the technology resources in house to solve the problem and turned to crowdsourcing site InnoCentive.
Rom Eizenberg, co-founder and CMO of Precyse, gave About.com some insights into the crowdsourcing project.
Did Precyse try to solve the issue another more traditional way first, and then arrive at the crowdsourced solution?
We chose to use crowdsourcing instead of attempting to solve the challenge in-house, as this alternative provided us with shorter time-to-market, excellent access to the best talent around the world and with a stronger ROI and lower development risk.
How did Precyse find out about InnoCentive?
We were introduced to InnoCentive through a mutual investor, Spencer Trask Ventures. We had explored the use of crowedsourcing before on simpler challenges such as graphic design and even participated and nominated a finalist company on a challenge sponsored by the DOT and IBM seeking to identify technologies to reduce traffic congestion with a company called Vencorp. In this sense, we were first solvers and then customers.
How many responses did Precyse get from Innocentive and how did it make a selection?
More than 350 solvers opened project rooms on the InnoCentive web platform. Precyse received more than 300 ideas and we narrowed that down to 3 finalists from whom we chose one winner. We could evaluate each solver's solution based on the detailed proof and calculations provided by many of the participants. We worked with great engineers from around the world, each offering his or her unique approach to solve the technical challenge we introduced, and our CTO, Michael Braiman, who co-founded Precyse, evaluated the technologies proposed by the solvers to choose the best.
Were there issues of trust in having a solution offered from someone the company had never met and didn't know? Was there a vetting process?
We had no issues with trust as InnoCentive provides anonymity for the company through the filing process. The vetting process allowed the company to evaluate each individual submission to its full extent, choosing only those which were detailed and supported claims with hard evidence and in our case, mathematical calculations backing assertions.
Did Precyse pick one solver or solution, or several, and how did that affect how much it paid?
We chose only one solution because it was superior to all others, but if we had selected several solutions we would have been required to pay for each solution.
You estimate a cost savings of $250,000. Can you tell me more about where the savings comes from, and what you would have done ordinarily for something like this?
We estimate the savings by calculating the costs associated with assigning a team of engineers to evaluate the problem, performing background research and consequently developing the solution. This process entails management and other overheads, and does not guarantee success as we were after an innovative technology which was not available in the market at start-point. Being able to buy an "option" on IP and pay only if the challenge was solved allowed us not only to save on costs but also to mitigate R&D risk. Of course, the access we got, tapping into the best minds around the world was an intriguing advantage for us. Some of the participants held expertise in the specific areas relating to the solution we sought that we did not necessarily have in-house.
What was the time frame of this project?
It took approximately four months from initial concept with InnoCentive to selecting the best solution.