How Crowdsourcing Makes Appirio Bigger Than It Is

Narinder Singh, Appirio
Narinder Singh

Cloud integrator Appirio probably has more MongoDB database programmers and Apple iOS mobile application experts than any other technology solution provider in the world, but that doesn't mean they're all on the payroll.  
The company's not-so-secret weapon is the crowdsourcing community Topcoder, through which it gains access to more than 650,000 designers, developers and data scientists, who can complement the skills of Appirio's own 900-person workforce.
"We can embed these skills into whatever project we are running. We have more access to this expertise than any one else, and this includes companies that are 100 times our size," said Narinder Singh, president of Topcoder and co-founder of Appirio, San Francisco, which is an elite global partner with companies including, Workday, Cornerstone, OnDemand and Google.
Appirio bought Topcoder last year and merged it with its own crowdsourcing organization, CloudSpokes, which it created to help scale its cloud integration projects more quickly. The approach is working: even though Appirio is just eight years old, it has worked with more than 700 enterprise accounts investing in cloud-sourced platforms, including the likes of Coca-Cola, eBay, Facebook and L'Oreal.
The Topcoder site hosts and runs competitions (or challenges) on behalf of companies that are seeking certain skill sets. Members compete for the right to participate, offering their solutions in exchange for cash prizes. Joining is free: those running challenges pay a fee based on the size of the challenge. For example, technology company Brivo Labs used the site to develop a Google Glass solution called OKDoor, which uses its access management software to control door access. It turned to the site because it needed the project handled quickly and didn't have the relevant skills on staff.
"To us, it felt like the natural new way of handling consultative work," said Lee Odess, general manager of Brivo Labs, of his Topcoder experiences.
But how do you know what a given developer or data scientist can really handle? While Topcoder has included a rating system for some time, Appirio is overhauling that approach with the recent acquisition of Coderbits. The system, which will be integrated into Topcoder by the end of 2014, will provide companies running challenges within the community a much deeper view into the skills sets of members as well as how well they have performed in the real world.
Topcoder actually already had a rating system in place, but it was specific to projects completed within its own community. What Coderbits brings is a consolidated view that incorporates information from GitHub, Stack Overflow, Behance, Codecademy and more than 60 other places where developers might be answering questions, contributing code, earning certifications and so forth. It doesn't crawl these sites looking for the information, rather, developers provide access to their profiles so that updates happen dynamically.
"What developers and designers are doing is using this as a resume," Singh said. "There are few places where you can look at this."
Two key individuals from Coderbits are among those joining Appirio as a result of the acquisition: Lead architect Thabo Fletcher will become part of the integrator's research and development team, while Maryam Norouzi was named vice president of community operations and strategic programs. Among other things, she will be responsible for outreach, including building closer ties with more women that have relevant expertise in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
Aside from allowing members to build more complete portfolios themselves and to research those of others, the new rating systems could eventually be used to help alert individuals about specific challenges that might be relevant for their skill sets, Singh said. "We can get better at matching supply and demand," he said.