Cloud and crowd both caused a stir when they burst on the scene. Cloud, at first, for its ability to offer a way to save on hardware and IT, and then through access to a wide range of up-to-date applications, including artificial intelligence and machine learning, that few companies wanted to purchase and keep current in-house. Crowdsourcing’s appeal was its ability to find strongly vetted solutions—by running ideas and processes by many partners, a company could optimize and fine-tune a solution through the wisdom and experience of the crowd.
As both cloud and crowd have matured, they have provided a tremendous boon to collaborative product development. Cloud is the mechanism by which a globally dispersed ecosystem of partners can communicate and cooperate during an iterative product development process that almost always requires expertise in numerous disciplines—including engineering, manufacturing, electrical and electronics, and supply chain, among others—none of which are optimally housed within the confines of a single product-making organization.
That’s the crowd in cloud—a sourcing universe that can be harnessed to bring together the best ideas and capabilities across the partner network to ensure that a product is designed for a great customer experience, manufacturability, maintenance and durability, and sustainability across materials, packaging and logistics.
Crowd was an underdeveloped concept before cloud. Most recognized the wisdom of crowdsourcing, but the means to facilitate it was uncertain. A number of companies had unified, digital collaborative platforms on-premise, but the links and interfaces often didn’t have the bandwidth, reliability and usability needed to crowdsource many partners simultaneously and seamlessly during the collaborative product development process.
Cloud blew away that constraint. Now, by accessing a digital collaborative platform on the cloud, partners in the product development ecosystem can chat, submit, review and annotate documents and models, view and discuss part and assembly proposals, and iterate and troubleshoot in near real time at every juncture in the product development process.
Customers are more easily brought into the equation too. In a sense, they are the ultimate crowd. Most products seek an audience of millions of customers, who are more exacting and demanding than ever. A successful collaborative product development will invite their participation at select phases along the way as a key player in the crowd on the cloud.
Cloud’s next evolutionary leap will be a direct result of crowd. Every business today wants to capture more data, whether it be from customers, markets, internal processes, outside research and social media, etc. The bigger the crowd on the cloud, the more effective AI and machine learning can be, drawing from an ever-widening data lake to derive successively more nuanced understandings of product design, manufacturing, performance, demand fulfillment, and market acceptance.
The increasingly autonomous digital manufacturing future will be built around cloud and crowd—a breathtakingly large reservoir, growing bigger every second, where AI works its wizardry on expanding pools of data to unlock the elusive secrets of successful product development, rollout, and market embrace.