Wednesday 4 February 2015

Planet Self-Service or Planet of Amateurs?

By Pavel Ollitervo-Murphy, Principal Consultant

Are we a Planet of Self-Service or a Planet of Amateurs?

I have recently read a few articles online that have touched upon this question. We keep hearing this everywhere in the media; ticket offices closing, more airlines moving services online and automated terminal kiosks. Whilst is now common practice to book our hotels online, we still expect to meet a concierge at the reception desk when we arrive. Yet, even these bastions of service are beginning to embrace self-service check-ins and check-outs (even the hotel room door keys are making the move to our mobiles). Banking has been using web for decades now (first terminal based interfaces appeared in the 80’s).

An area that has seen a particular explosion of new tech is healthcare. Many of us are measuring various aspects of our health and lives via apps and wearable devices. A small device on your wrist tells you (and in some cases your social media circles) all your daily activity in minute detail. Weight scales now monitor not only your weight, but also your body composition, heart rate and even the air quality of the room you are in. Blood pressure devices are also now connected to your online account that already stores more information about you than your records at your GP’s surgery.

Now, this is all fine and dandy when it works, but often problems arise when any further assistance is needed. This need could be due to an inherent fault in the technology that you want to use or it can be due to user error. Whilst it is generally positive to see businesses wanting to implement new technology, one cannot help but wonder, with the number of actual employees reducing, whether we, the consumer/client are in fact becoming the workforce; exerting an effort that a few years ago we would have baulked at.

In regards to working life, I have seen few studies where the results show that employees in the companies are spending more time managing tasks that were previously handled by professionals with all the knowledge to get it right the first time (anyone else had trouble getting their expenses report to match the receipts or trying to get a fault with their laptop sorted). It has been estimated that the increase of these self-managed tasks actually has a negative effect on productivity. Recently my boss recommended a book called “Will It Make The Boat Go Faster?”. This book is all about the evaluation of tasks that are important to the performance of the team/company. Now, I need to admit that I haven’t had the chance to read the book, but just by browsing the accompanying website, I can instantly see that some of the activities I have mentioned above are unlikely to make the boat go faster.

Another interesting sign of everyday automation is the renaissance of the “Cult Of The Amateurs” in the media. These days everyone has a voice thanks to multiple mediums such as social networks and blogs (here I am writing one just now!). It is no longer only the people in the traditional media that have a voice, anyone can bring their ideas to the table via their own blogs. However, this raises an interesting question, is all this blogging and user generated content destroying professionalism? Are we already questioning the authority too much via the enabled technology?

So, where does this leave us as users of the technology? Faced with an increasing number of automated services, it is all too easy to just switch off and go on auto-pilot, which surely cannot end well. I believe the success of service automation boils down to increased individual responsibility. Each of us needs to make decisions throughout the day allocating our time in most effective manner. There is a lot to be thankful for in the tech we have. We now have access to most services 24/7, whether this is for personal or work purposes, however,we must make our own informed decisions around how we interact with the virtual world around us.

Is this then a Planet of Self-Service or Planet of Amateurs? I believe that an evolution is taking place (again), aided in part by the users getting savvier and also the technology companies producing better technology.  Better technology can help companies to create better solutions and improve (sometimes) cumbersome processes previously put in place. These improvements can range from enabling employees to handle their expenses and ordering office stationery to complex sourcing projects with large number of stakeholders. Smarter tech can enable us to save time (and money) both at work and in personal life (making the boat go faster). Social Media is showing us all way how to effortlessly communicate with our family and friends. This same trend is now moving to the corporate world enabling us to collaborate better with our peers, stakeholders and even suppliers. All this thanks to the tech we all enjoy in today’s all-you-can-eat tech buffet.

Whilst we may not be there yet, I believe that humankind is evolving, via Planet of Amateurs, into fully fledged citizens of Planet Self-Service.

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