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Wipro’s Topcoder & The Future of Crowdsourcing

We recently had a briefing with Topcoder, an entity acquired by Wipro in 2016. Topcoder is known for its crowdsourcing capabilities and its extensive community network and recognized for the wide range of services it offers across several areas of technology services, with a focus on agile development, digital design, and algorithms/analytics.

Topcoder’s four main operational principles

Topcoder has based its operations on four broad principles, which it adapts to its various activities. They are:

  • Scale. Topcoder has ~1.4m members in its community, and highlights that it needs a large community for accessing the right talent and for fast provisioning for the ~200 projects it launches per week
  • Breaking projects into pieces, largely for sourcing quickly and awarding the project to many members. The company highlights that this approach works well for application services in the context of agile projects, utilizing DevOps techniques to help with integrating the different pieces
  • Internal competition/gamification across members. This approach relies on rewarding members based on the quality of their work. To assess the quality of work (in application development and maintenance), Topcoder relies on tools such as SonarQube for static code analysis and Checkmarx for static security analysis, along with Black Duck software for open source IP infringement management. For digital product design activities, quality is assessed by the client based on its personal choice. Finally, for complex projects such as AI projects and algorithms, Topcoder will define, sometimes with the help of universities (e.g. Harvard University) what the success factors and correct level of incentives are
  • Driving work to the community. Topcoder has adopted a light structure and has a headcount of ~110, mostly focused on R&D, sales and community management. The company relies on this small team along with its community for managing projects, through its Co-Pilot approach, where co-pilots are essentially project managers. Topcoder is also using its community for development work.

Synergies between Wipro and Topcoder

Commercial expansion remains a priority and Topcoder continues to evangelize about the benefits of crowdsourcing. In response to one area of resistance to client adoption around security, Topcoder points to the work it has done for NASA as an example of its security capabilities.

Cross-selling into Wipro’s clients should help Topcoder in its commercial expansion. It is targeting the large BFSI client base of Wipro, with the intent of overcoming the traditional resistance to change in the sector. The alignment with Wipro goes beyond sales: Topcoder is using Wipro personnel for its crowdsourcing activities, targeting the 75k or so Wipro employees that are relevant to its activities. The company estimates it derives 45% of its revenues from Wipro’s clients, with Topcoder complementing Wipro for reaching out to talent, for instance. Also, Topcoder and Wipro have aligned their offerings in certain areas, notability in crowdtesting/QA as a service (QaaS). See this blog to learn more.

Managing the community

Topcoder feels it has the scale and is finding it easy to grow its community, currently by ~50k members per quarter. It is looking to promote the rise of crowd members to specialized tasks, such as co-pilot (i.e. project manager), for helping to break down projects into pieces or setting up the success criteria for a given project. Topcoder is creating a career path to help.

Further investment in IP and enabling tools

Topcoder’s most significant IP is its marketplace, which connects clients with the community and is used for managing projects, clients, and members. It currently spends ~30% of its revenues on R&D, and highlights that it needs to maintain this level of investment in R&D to stay abreast with technology innovation. Examples include application containerization to distribute applications across members, the use of AR/VR, and even quantum computing.

In the mid-term, Topcoder is looking at ML: the company has 15 years of data and 4m software assets it intends to analyze and start creating algorithms to help automate parts of the software development lifecycle. This should bring Topcoder to a whole different business model and bring IP to its human-intensive service.

We couldn’t agree more with Topcoder’s vision. The future of crowdsourcing vendors lies in bringing automation to their service activities. Automation is already there for activities such as project management, crowd member sourcing, and work analysis. Looking ahead, the future lies with ML to analyze the mass of data collected through years of work. This is an exciting time for crowdsourcing in IT services.

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