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Customer crowdsourcing a growing trend for product design?

I recently heard an interesting twist on crowdsourcing. It wasn’t about the marketing group combing social media sites for new promotional ideas, or businesses having online contests to gather new product ideas from consumers. It was about CIOs and their business peers gathering with customers to come up with new products and services.

Called customer crowdsourcing by some, the idea is to get customers involved in the product and services design process. Now, this is nothing new for software vendors. Customers are often involved in the development and patch cycles, especially in these days of frequent Software as a Service release cycles. What I haven’t heard of as much, until recently, is a push by businesses outside the technology area to involve customers in product design and conceptualization. Talk about having the inside scoop! These customers are being treated almost as extensions of the product maker’s workforce.

Harvey Koeppel, executive director of the Center for CIO Leadership in New York, brought the subject up recently during a call with The center taps its 2,100 members to conduct research on the latest permutations of the CIO role and technology trends. He said that customer crowdsourcing is a “hot topic” among his members, and one that we will surely be hearing more about from CIOs.

So I asked the very next CIO I talked to, Frank Wander, CIO of Guardian Life Insurance Company of America. And sure enough, Frank said that Guardian was hip to crowdsourcing — actually for some time now. While the company is not using a crowdsourcing platform or system to collect data, he told me that gathering input from customers has been part of Guardian’s product development process for years.

“Through sales, we’re always hearing what the customers are asking for,” and those ideas are incorporated in the development process, he said.

I’m wondering just how involved customers are becoming in the product design process — outside of software development. There are crowdsourcing vendors that will connect you with thousands of potential customers online for new ideas. But will we soon see a crop of crowdsourcing platforms that automate the collection of your own customers’ ideas?

It’s already interesting to watch the effects that the consumerization of IT is having on the way technology is now delivered to employees. Perhaps customer crowdsourcing will fundamentally change the way companies develop new products. If anything, it’s another opportunity for CIOs to foster and automate such a process, and directly contribute to the company’s bottom line.

Let us know what you think about this blog post; email Christina Torode, News Director.

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