I tend to think of public sector in the broadest of terms, as being comprised of all industries not included within the scope of private sector. The public sector has become increasingly concerned with driving impact for its stakeholders — a broader objective than the private sector’s focus on growing profits. This broader focus on impact, which often varies from organization to organization and from government work to nonprofits, allows us at Topcoder to be really creative with our public sector offering and value proposition.
This is what I like most about my role as General Manager of Public Sector at Topcoder: the curiosity of public sector clients and the scale at which they operate. I’ve spent most of my career innovating for the U.S. Federal Government. As I discussed at Crowdsourcing Week in D.C., It’s a space that I know well, and it will continue to be a major focus of our public sector strategy.
Topcoder’s history with the Federal Government
We were originally known to the Federal Government for our recruitment of top developer talent. As early as 2005 through the recruitment lense, the NSA sponsored Topcoder Open — our largest annual in-person competitive coding and design event — as well as some early software and algorithm challenges through the 2009 time frame that included the legendary enigma marathon match.
In 2010, we began to work routinely with the NASA Tournament Lab through a subaward from Harvard on various R&D and algorithm challenges. Around the same time we also started contract work with Air Force and DARPA for crowdsourced software development.
Today, after over a decade of supporting the Federal Government, we have added the following crowdsourcing clients to the roster: Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity, and U.S. Special Operations Command, U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
The major contrast between then and now in terms of public sector customer acquisition is that now we spend much less time explaining what crowdsourcing is, and more time on what crowdsourcing can do. Our use cases have included recruitment, software development, R&D technical services, marketing, and workforce development. Here are a few powerful examples over the last few years:
VA digital memorial
The Department of Veterans Affairs, National Cemetery Administration, has been working with Topcoder to change how we remember Veterans by immortalizing their memory in an online memorial platform called the Veterans Legacy Memorial. This online memorial will create not only a lasting legacy for veterans and their families, but a truly interactive place for friends and family to continue to share, talk, and honor their memories.
NASA mobile health tracking on board the ISS
The health and wellness of our astronauts living and working aboard the ISS is of paramount importance to NASA. Understanding the impact of diet on both (relatively) short-term and future long-flight space missions helps NASA better plan for and serve our brave astronauts. The NASA ISS Food Intake Tracker iPad application was designed and developed with Topcoder and is deployed and currently in use aboard the ISS. It was also given the JSC Director’s Innovation Group Achievement Award by NASA.
U.S. DOE SunShot digital innovation program
The DOE had identified that soft costs and gaps in consumer knowledge were hindering the uptake of solar energy across the United States. In only 14 weeks, 20 promising business concepts designed and prototyped their unique digital solutions — all through crowdsourced delivery on Topcoder. This award-winning program helped DOE much more quickly and robustly evaluate which concepts could have a big market impact.
Energy pipeline threat detection: computer vision algorithms
The U.S. government wanted to develop an algorithmic solution to detect and classify objects within a certain range of energy pipelines, and make monitoring more efficient and secure. Through Topcoder, the agency received state-of-the-art algorithms featuring advanced computer vision detection techniques, accelerating the goals of the program.
Why crowdsourcing is relevant to public sector
We continue to deliver for our public sector clients due to three key differentiators: speed, scale, and skill. Having worked in the U.S. Federal Government, I am familiar with some of the bureaucratic challenges that our clients might face — particularly driving rapid, programmatic impact with fixed resources. Having been a past Topcoder client before joining the team here, I can also attest to what a force multiplier our platform and services are.
For example, past Topcoder programs at the DOE have seen 17x improvement in ROI in half the time when compared to traditional approaches. With such a track record, new agencies are eager to transform existing programs or explore new use cases with our crowdsourcing methodology.
We are currently in the process of making it even easier for government clients to contract with us. This includes becoming a GSA Schedule holder again and working with a great set of teams and partners — from small and large businesses to partnership intermediaries. With these expanded procurement channels, we will meet the growing demand and effectively augment public sector impact through crowdsourcing.