Can we be of better service by providing less service?
“There is unrest in the forest”
During a recent Cloud Exchange event the discussion turned to business consumers bypassing their IT colleagues and acquiring cloud services on their own. Sadly this type of disintermediation, business users “going rogue”, is a phenomenon that we have been discussing for a while and it appears we may be doing so for quite some time. During the discussion I found myself saying “not all disintermediation is bad“. Though now, as then, some additional explanation is required.
Disintermediation as a force multiplier
During similar discussions at previous conferences it occurred to me that there were several times early in the development and deployment of our private cloud when we intentionally disintermediated ourselves. In fact, we came to learn that selective disintermediation was a strategic weapon. We found that if we made it possible for people to acquire specific services simply and without the intervention of our team, disintermediation was a powerful force multiplier. In fact, it was likely one of the top five economic levers we had. Furthermore, not only did automated self-service solutions help us to allocate more of our team’s time to strategic work such as high value automation, it also made our customers happier.
Happier? Absolutely. Think about a time when you may have wanted to acquire something without expending a lot of effort. Perhaps it was a book you wanted to read. Have there been cases where you bought that item online because you did not want to be bothered going to the local book store because it was a bit inconvenient? Have you ever bought something online because you thought the in-person experience would be unpleasant? When I asked this question of participants at the last Cloud Exchange, most indicated they had.
In the above cases you intentionally disintermediated the sales clerk because doing so delivered a better experience. Though disintermediation is not only a tool for avoiding the unpleasant… used properly, it can be a tool to provide additional value.
You’re always free to leave
As I considered this I was reminded of one of the earliest examples of disintermediation that had a positive impact on my professional life. Believe it or not, there was actually a time when people had to check out of hotels. Face-to-face. At that time I was a field engineer and traveled more or less every working day of the year (and then some). I rarely spent more than a day or two in one place so several mornings each week I would wait in line, luggage in hand, to settle my bill. This process was unpredictable, though it was likely at least 10 or 15 minutes at the best of times, but often it took longer. The net effect of this was, since I had to be certain I could arrive at my customers’ premises on time, I had to schedule a half hour on each morning of a check out.
Disintermediation to the rescue
Think about that. That’s a half hour, two to five times every week. In a single year that represents approximately 50-125 total hours set aside to accommodate hotel check-out. Now multiply that for years. Then came “Zip-out Check-out”, “No Hassle Check-out”, and many other similar services. These services let guests have charges automatically assigned to their credit cards and either check out via their television or by picking up a receipt from a slot in the lobby. It’s obvious that these services have evolved and most hotels offer an even simpler automatic check-out today. Guests need only visit the reception desk if there is a problem with the bill (in my experience, a very rare occurrence).
So, what’s the big deal? It certainly was not that I did not want to speak with the agents. I knew most of them very well. Think about what that meant to me. Thirty minutes 2-5 times a week – of my personal time – were again mine. That was a huge gift to me. Even at two check-outs per week, that would be more than forty hours of personal time returned to me each year. (It was likely twice that.) It also meant a much more predictable schedule. Check-out would no longer be a factor in whether I would be on time for a customer visit.
Disintermediation for service improvement
So, with “Zip-out Check-out” I have a much better service, and they have a much more efficient operation. Of course, we are all aware that this type of positive disintermediation is not limited to rapid check-out services. We happily and willfully select “positive disintermediation” each and every day through services such as online shopping, self-service retail check-out, and automated banking machines.
Technician, Disintermediate thyself!
So disintermediation can be used as a strategic weapon; both for IT and for the businesses they serve. We used “positive disintermediation” to deliver better, faster service while giving our team more time to focus on those high-value activities such as further automating our environment. It also enabled us to be more nimble and more responsive to our customers.
With proper focus, and selection of the appropriate services, disintermediation can be morphed from the mostly negative connotation it has amongst many IT professionals today into one of the most powerful economic levers at their disposal.
Have you done any novel or “positive” disintermediation? If so, please share your story.
*Image used under Creative Commons License courtesy of Witt Istanbul Suites.
This blog is cross-posted at Cloud Storm Chasers.