A couple of weeks ago, Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) announced that it was replacing its top advertising executive, Julie Roehm, and dropping DraftFCB, the advertising agency in charge of managing its $570 million advertising account.

By all accounts, there were a number of problems, but one thing is certain: Any time changes are made at that level, they are likely to be costly. Now, just imagine if there been a way for the retailing giant to avoid that problem by anticipating whether Roehm and DraftFCB were the right choices in the first place.

Well, it turns out that there probably is. And if Wal-Mart is smart and wants to avoid this problem in the future, it will find a way to access this valuable intelligence. And if it is really smart, it will figure out that it won't have to pay a dime for the information.

How, you ask? All it needs to do is tap into the collective wisdom that resides inside the heads of its employees.

CNET (NASDAQ:CNET) recently published a very informative article about how a number of companies, including Google (NASDAQ:GOOG), Hewlett-Packard (NYSE:HPQ), Yahoo! (NASDAQ:YHOO), Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT), and Pfizer (NYSE:PFE), are all using internal predictive markets to better operate their businesses.

The idea behind predictive markets was popularized by James Surowiecki in his best-selling book, The Wisdom of Crowds, and postulates that the probability of future events can be reasonably predicted by tapping into the collective wisdom of a wide variety of people.

It is a theory that The Motley Fool has taken to heart and is actively pursuing with CAPS, our new community-intelligence stock-rating service, which allows individual investors to predict the future direction of more than 3,000 different stocks.

To better explain how such a system might be helpful to companies, let me provide a few concrete examples of how companies are already employing such systems in-house. Google, for instance, has publicly indicated that it has designed a predictive market system among its employees to forecast product launch dates, new office openings and many other things of strategic importance. While I don't know for certain, it would not surprise me if the company used the system to the pick the brains of its employees in deciding what to pay for YouTube, and whether or not to close Google Answers.

Microsoft reportedly used a predictive market to determine when a certain product would ship on the assumption that those closest to the project would know if it was on schedule or not. (Not surprisingly, the project was behind schedule, and the system alerted executives to that fact.)

HP Labs is said to be putting together a system -- dubbed BRAIN -- for Pfizer. Among other things, it is likely to help the drug company assess which drug candidates are most worth pursuing and determine the likelihood that a specific drug will receive FDA approval.

Obviously, given the recent high-profile failure of its heart and cholesterol drug, torcetrapib, having a better idea of the probability of such an outcome could also help Pfizer better manage its business, as well as investor expectations.

And that, in a nutshell, is the benefit of such systems. They are not intended to divine the future with perfect clarity; rather, they are instead meant to provide people with a more reliable method for assessing the probability of various outcomes.

As such, I believe they offer company executives a powerful new managerial tool to better manage their companies. I further believe that those corporations that are already actively tapping into the collective wisdom of their employees are likely to fare better than their competitors who are not.

Disagree? Sign up for Motley Fool CAPS and share your thoughts on these -- and other -- companies.

Wal-Mart, Pfizer, and Microsoft are Inside Value selections. Yahoo! is a Stock Advisor pick. CNET is a Rule Breakers recommendation.

Fool contributor Jack Uldrich is currently ranked 9,011 out of 17,749 on CAPS. He owns stock in Microsoft. The Fool has a strict disclosure policy.