Australian governments could tap into millions of highly qualified experts and slash consultancy “fat” by opening up their tender process to crowd sourcing, Freelancer chief executive Matt Barrie says.
The ASX-listed Freelancer platform – home to more than 50 million registered freelancers – last week announced it was working with the US Bureau of Reclamation to help find the experts needed to automate parts of American hydropower plants.
The partnership is part of a joint US$25 million tender Freelancer won from NASA to deliver a series of innovation “challenges” on behalf of US government departments.
Matt Barrie told InnovationAus that the crowdsourcing model is more than viable for Australia too, and the company has begun conversations with the federal government on similar initiatives, although he says it is still early days.
He argues Australian government departments could tap the global talent market for innovation projects when local talent is scarce, or access local skills in a more cost-effective way than the current outsourcing approach.
“Ultimately, the people who do the work at the end, as you get through a lot of the fat in these consulting firms, are the same people we have on Freelancer,” Mr Barrie said
“We have all the analysts and the programmers and designers and the researchers that have the same if not better quality than they [consultants] do.”
Currently the crowdsourcing company is pitching to test the approach in Australia for several “moonshot” projects with agencies like the Digital Transformation Agency, CSIRO and its digital arm Data61.
In the US, the model is being run as a competition in the hopes of attracting the best and brightest engineers.
Under the Automated Maintenance of Protection Systems or AMPS Challenge, Freelancer is offering cash prizes for prototypes and whitepapers. According to Mr Barrie, the prize model leads to more innovation than traditional tender process.
Winners then have the chance to sign a government contract with the US department.
NASA is bullish on the potential of crowdsourcing generally. A 2018 whitepaper by the US agency on crowdsourcing and micro purchasing concluded the approach can achieve “extraordinary” cost savings of between 80 per cent and 99 per cent compared to traditional methods.
“Furthermore,” the whitepaper concludes, “NASA implemented a majority of the[crowdsourced] solutions (97 per cent) across a wide range of its federal space programs. By matchmaking needs with skills on-demand in areas where NASA teams did not have the expertise nor resources available, crowds delivered high quality and creative work.”
According to Mr Barrie, the approach is effectively what leading management consultants already do in Australia, albeit on a large scale that nets the biggest firms hundreds of millions of dollars in government contracts each year.
“How would you build a Deloitte for the future? Well, you can just go to Freelancer, pick out the best talent and build your own little workforce and then go and basically market that up and go sell it to government,” he said.
“That’s effectively what Deloitte does [already], and BCG and McKinsey do: they find good people in the market and on sell them.”
The Freelancer chief executive said the crowdsourcing model is gaining steam regardless.
“The defining characteristic of the 21st century is the competition for intellectual capital,” Mr Barrie said, pointing to declining rates of population across the western world and drops in discretionary spend on education.
“Intellectual capital is becoming more and more scarce. And if you want niche skill sets, increasingly you need to go online to find them.”
Freelancer is urging more engineers to sign up to the platform and compete for the US prize, joining the 2.5 million already onboard, including 260,000 who specialize in electrical engineering.