New York City has launched an ambitious internal “crowdsourcing” project, aimed at getting ideas from city employees to help the giant metropolis function more efficiently. The program, called Simplicity, is being powered by Spigit, which makes a Software-as-a-Service platform that companies and governments can use to crowdsource ideas. New York mayor Michael Bloomberg announced the plan during his annual “State of The City” address on Wednesday afternoon, and the company said that it will initially be rolled out to 15,000 city workers before being extended to the city’s entire workforce of more than 300,000.
Spigit provides a software platform that allows a company or government to set up an idea-submission site relatively quickly, and incorporates reward-based incentives, idea voting and trading, as well as providing analytics that can help anyone using the software to track submissions and those who provide them. A number of companies, including AT&T and Southwest Airlines, have used its software to get ideas from their employees. Other companies such as Dell — which was one of the first to launch a crowdsourcing effort called IdeaStorm in 2007 — and Starbucks, which launched a similar effort not long afterwards, have used the Salesforce.com platform to get ideas from both inside and outside the company, while Jive Software and BrightIdea also offer similar platforms.
Spigit said that the Simplicity platform has been in beta testing with a small group of NYC employees, and some of the ideas that have been suggested include:
- A central research and development unit that can help NYC agencies find more information about new programs and initiatives.
- A web-based portal that would allow city agencies to bid on items that have been “relinquished” or made redundant by other city agencies.
- A “just in time” inventory-management system that would prevent the over-stocking of supplies.
- A way to identify internal experts who could train other employees at their desks in computer hardware and software, rather than sending employees for training.
- A web-based help desk for employees, so that they could contact someone in another department about a particular topic within their expertise.
Whether the Spigit-powered program will actually help New York become more efficient remains to be seen. It could become just another dumping ground for ideas that never see the light of day — something collaboration experts call the “suggestion box problem.” But at least the city government is trying to use social tools to improve the way it functions, which is an encouraging sign.
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