Apr 09, 2015

Intelligence of the crowd - Innovative applications of advanced technologies (Part III)

The prior two posts introduced the Intelligent Operations Exchange (IOX), a crowdsourcing platform, launched by Genpact and the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence to help large companies rapidly identify creative applications of new technologies in business operations. We described applications identified by the platform in three technology clusters: smart machines, smart crowds, and mobile/augmented user interfaces.

Now, we describe potential applications surfaced by the platform in the final technology cluster: social sensing. We wrap up by noting how companies can transform their operations through the application of advanced, digital technologies.

Social sensing
The emergence of the internet as a global platform and the widespread availability of inexpensive storage have combined to enable a proliferation of systems that gather and store data about the world. Sensors monitoring infrastructure and the built environment are at the center of the Internet of Things (IoT), which has received much notice. Less hyped, but equally or perhaps even more important, is the advent of social sensing, which gathers and stores information about people's activities, both online and off.

The first wave of social sensing collects information about people's virtual behavior, by tracking interactions online. This is the approach behind people recommender systems, which bring together those with similar interests based on their prior online activity. The most popular application of this technology in IOX involved using recommender systems for team formation. This would effectively apply the wisdom of the crowd, as ascertained by prior behavior over the Internet, in making team assignments, rather than relying solely on the judgment of one or a few managers.

Social sensing has also moved offline, through systems like social badges, which keep track of where people go, and whom they interact with, while undertaking their daily activities. The most-liked application of this technology on IOX was for post-merger integration. Specifically, social badges could identify common processes in less structured types of work that could be integrated effectively to achieve synergies and detect when members of the merged firm who should be working together are, instead, avoiding each other.

Another fascinating development in social sensing is sentiment detection, which assesses people's emotional states through the analysis of text or facial gestures captured via webcam or video. The most-shared application of this technology on IOX calls for the deployment of facial recognition tools in retail settings to see how shoppers react to displays, brands, and store assistants. This new information stream could be integrated with data captured through loyalty programs to increase customers' satisfaction—and thus sales—via improved product placement, in-store service, and customized marketing campaigns.

All of these new technologies can allow novel configurations of people and computers and get work done in new ways. We look forward to seeing more ideas from the IOX community on how to apply these technologies to improve business operations.

Digital technologies are transforming industries at an accelerating rate. We believe that large organizations need an efficient and effective mechanism to make sense of the rapidly changing technology landscape and identify useful applications of relevant technologies in their business. When coupled with appropriate analytical practices and operating models, these technologies can create a virtuous data-insight-action feedback loop. The resultant intelligent operations can sense, act, and learn from the outcome of their actions at scale, thereby out-competing incumbents whose operations are stuck in slower decision-making and improvement cycles.


  • Robert Laubacher - Executive Director, MIT Center for Collective Intelligence
  • Subroto Gupta - Vice President, Genpact