Monday, August 15, 2016

Who wants self service ? Not employees or managers ! Customers ?

In the good old days before technology stormed the world, interactions were always in person; people met each other and remembered faces, names, salient points about professional and personal lives. Conversations were the way to engage, communicate, serve and ask for services. This was typically followed up with some paperwork to record the intent and agreement between the interested parties. Business was all about people connecting with people, building relationships and sustaining them over a lifetime.

Initially technology was all about automation, to create faster processes reducing execution time. It was followed by reengineered process automation with workflows to reduce paper movement between involved stakeholders and approvers. The internet revolution offered remote working capabilities extending the reach of technology enabled workloads; mobile data and smartphones broke the last barrier creating a mobile workforce that could work on the go anytime, anywhere, as long as they were connected.

First few deployments were selective with the devices being seen as status symbols to be proudly flouted when in meetings or with friends; as the price points dropped exception became the rule and almost every employee and manager was equipped with a device or connectivity. Expectations rose with every audible or vibrating message alert wanting to be attended to immediately intruding into life, breaking relationships, pushing the limits, creating compulsive disorders and medical conditions unknown thus far.

Technology continued to evolve, get better and smarter creating new possibilities; every manager now expected to know adequately every function that impacts their working. Start with Attendance, Leave and Travel, Vouchers, Expenses and Reimbursement, Delegation of Authorities and approvals, Budgeting and Expenses, Revenue and Profitability, Resource Planning, Manpower allocation, Hiring to Attrition Management, Outsourcing to Contractor Management, everything has converged in the new Digital World.

It was a matter of time that self-service became the norm, the default way of working; the rising bar continued to push the limits of workloads that could be transferred to the staff and reducing the “overhead” costs at Branch, Region and Head offices. The App world completes the delegation of work with no option; quicker, faster, cheaper being the mantra, the inflection point reached rather quickly with every new proposition adding to the checklist of the busy executive, manager and 24X7 worker, no option, no choices.

Cost cutting and optimization continues to challenge enterprises and their constituents pushing the proverbial envelope continuously; enterprise solutions were never designed for self-service, functionality that was added with evolution and time. After the initial set of training conducted with operationalization of the system, people were left to their own devices to understand and use the systems. As time taken for self-service tasks kept increasing, exceptions too rose simultaneously casting shadows on efficiency and effectiveness.

Managers having the option reverted to paper and delegated the chore to their Assistants creating a gap in the process and eliminating benefits that could have been accrued with solutions deployed. Organizations continue to push the change agenda in the endeavor to keep elevating operational efficiency. With limited connect to ground realities, the seeping inefficiencies go unnoticed until a new wave is created to review why the business growth or profitability is challenged in a growing industry or market.

Industry is witness to the fact that today customers are being cajoled into self-service of all types; drop boxes, machines and kiosks, websites, portals, and mobile apps. Did they embrace it willingly and thanked the providers ? Probably yes in a few cases considering the people based services were minimalistic and did not create customer delight; for the rest it was initial euphoria of owning your destiny and controlling the way you are served which later turned into frustrated experiences with unresponsive unaligned backend resources.

Today technology providers are building systems that obviate the need for technical resources to build and deploy solutions. Business self-service is the new mantra where functional users are being egged to drop their dependence on IT resources and implement business friendly solutions. History again appears to be repeating itself with most Business Users enthusiastically wanting to take up the offer, again based on past unsatisfactory experiences from IT and technology vendors; shadow IT is being touted as a good thing !

Attending the launch of a new disruptive solution, the pitch was all about self-service by anyone who wanted to use it; their journey next time…

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