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Asia has huge potential for crowdsourcing

Companies at home and abroad can be your workplace and people around the world your business partners. You can work freely, unbound by time or place. This new work style has become a reality for a growing number of people. 

     Crowdsourcing is a business model that gets things done much faster and at lower cost by maximizing the untapped potential of groups of people using the Internet. While the crowdsourcing market has kept expanding in the U.S. and Europe, Asia has not yet realized its potential benefits.

     Although crowdsourcing is the latest business buzzword, its business model is not completely new for companies who outsource their business processes. What is new is the idea of using collective intelligence and skills by distributing the tasks to outside groups of people. A typical crowdsourcing contract is usually less costly than a simple outsourcing arrangement.

     Based on data provided by Elance, one of the largest crowdsourcing firms in the U.S., about 570,000 Indians, 160,000 Pakistanis and 160,000 Filipinos are registered with them as freelancers. We are at the dawn of a new era where not only manufacturing but also white-collar jobs are shifting to Asia. The potential benefits Asia can reap are huge.

     While U.S. and European companies are already actively utilizing white-collar human resources in Asia, such a service does not yet exist in Japan, and that is why I established Workshift Solutions and started our service this year. I believe it will become the first company to connect Japan and other Asian countries through a crowdsourcing service.

     A wide range of work is considered in our service, including consulting, marketing, sales and secretarial. The crowdsourcing available so far has been mainly related to information technology and design, but we offer services that allow various types of jobs to be completed on the Internet, including market research and sales operations.

     The crowdsourcing service will be able to meet diverse needs of people. For example, young aspiring entrepreneurs who hope to start a business or enter overseas markets; skilled women who left their careers to concentrate on childcare; operators of small and midsize companies who are not good at foreign languages but want to expand into overseas markets; gifted engineers who quit their jobs to care for elderly parents; people who want to start a new business with limited resources and funding; freelancers in other Asian countries who want to do outsourcing work in Japan where prices are high; and women who live abroad with their husbands and hope to start a business using local workers. All these people are potential users of crowdsourcing services.

     In addition to a declining labor force, Japan has a serious shortage of young people with IT skills. It is crucial to have a system to assure companies when they are hiring IT experts from other countries. In Southeast Asian countries, such as Singapore and the Philippines, many people are fluent in English and also good at IT. By using crowdsourcing, it is possible to hire them without time or geographical constraints. 

     Crowdsourcing offers significant economic advantages -- up to 70% savings compared to similar outsourcing models, both domestic and offshore. Some companies use crowdsourcing for as much as 50% of their product-related projects, such as packaging, design, marketing, research, testing and engineering.

     Freelancer, a crowdsourcing firm in Australia that had its initial public offering last year, boasts more than 10 million freelancers. This gives talented people in Asia more opportunities for work using the Internet.

     Crowdsourcing starts with client companies posting job assignments on an online message board, which is done for free, and then people who have the expertise and experience required for the job take up the assignments. Unlike temporary staffing, a contract can be concluded on a project basis.

     One major concern for client companies is that they cannot determine whether the contractor is genuinely fit for the work. The difficulty of judging the quality of prospective contractors is a bottleneck for market growth. For this reason, we have made available profiles of freelancers, including past work evaluations and performance so that client companies can feel reassured. 

     The change in the work style makes us feel that the world is much smaller than before. I believe if we use the excellent knowledge and experience that have supported Japan's economic growth over the years and succeed in establishing transparent reward and evaluation systems, we will also be able to contribute to the development of Asia.

Shigenori Araki is president of Workshift Solutions.

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