If you don’t know the answer to a problem it’s generally a good idea to find someone who does. In the age of digital innovation, it’s often savvy start-ups that companies turn to.

To get the best ideas, businesses in search of specialist solutions often crowdsource by asking a large pool of start-ups to consider the problem.

Tata Consultancy Services has been at the forefront of crowdsourcing for 15 years and during that time we’ve learnt a lot about mining start-ups for solutions. The key is ensuring there’s a global reach. It’s self-evident that the most effective results will come from asking the biggest possible pool of start-ups.

Solutions at speed

Speed is another crucial component in ensuring you beat the competition when it comes to creating proof of concepts, or PoCs, that will hopefully be used to improve your business.

Turning a problem statement into a feasible solution – in the form of a PoC – used to be a frustratingly drawn-out process for many large organizations.

But through an international partnership approach it’s possible to develop tangible PoCs in a matter of months.

From problem to POC

While most large companies are already looking outside their own organizations for innovative solutions, a successful long-term approach has to be underpinned by a robust system.

The nature of the problem statement will be determined by the focus of the particular company, but invariably these involve high-level abstract themes including: ‘how could we apply blockchain into this thinking?’, ‘would artificial intelligence be able to support us on this?’ or ‘how should we be looking into the next generation of robotics?’

TCS recently worked with a large Asian financial company which had found its emphasis on ad hoc innovation exercises was not yielding results.

With our help, the company in question earmarked between 30 and 40 problem statements it wanted to solve.

From this foundation, it was possible to start crowdsourcing for ideas from start-ups around the world. Of the 257 start-ups initially identified, 128 presented their ideas and 68 were selected to produce demos.

Just three months after the problem statements were established, 39 PoCs were up and running.

Clearly not all of these POCs will make it into production, but even if just a handful see the light of day it will represent a radical shift in the way the company carries out business development.

What does a typical crowdsourcing exercise look like?

It’s a bit like asking ‘how long is a piece of string?’ – it very much depends on the specifics.

A problem statement for a bank, for example, might involve trying to solve an equation of how to run a voice control chat bot with five different languages so customers can make account transactions.

However, it’s often the case that problem statements are so vague that they are left open to interpretation.

A company might decide it wants to develop a raft of new services based on AI, Internet of Things and big data, but it’s not yet sure exactly what these services will be for.

In this instance, the company would look to relevant start-ups working in AI, IoT and big data that are able to incubate concepts that could one day be rolled out on an industrial scale.

The key is finding the start-ups that are able to take a use case and run with it.


Credit: TCS Co-Innovation Network

Cashing in with COIN

At TCS we take crowdsourcing seriously, which is why we’ve forged collaborative partnerships across the research, academic, start-up and corporate worlds. This is facilitated by our Co-Innovation Network, known as COIN.

Launched in 2006, COIN gives TCS and participating partners an innovation edge by coordinating the efforts and ideas of the different groups across industries.

At any point in time, we have around 1,500 start-ups as our COIN partners. These are spread around the world with companies in the USA, Canada, Europe, Australia, Singapore, Israel and India.

It’s this global reach that enables COIN partners to pull ahead in the race for business innovation.

Ultimately, scale and quality go hand in hand. Anyone can come up with a list of POCs by crowdsourcing local start-ups, but if you’re only fishing in a small pool you’re unlikely to catch a killer idea.

By casting your net across the planet you’re boosting your chances of landing the best ideas in the world and doing so as quickly as possible.