It's nothing personal, but some day we'll all be forced to make way for the dreaded computer
Barclays Bank reported some excellent figures recently, but it also shed 4,000 jobs over the past year. Was the bank's improved performance a result of cost-cutting or was it down to improvement in productivity?
IT shouldered much of the blame - computers are doing most of the jobs that people used to do. As a result, Barclays needs fewer people, its costs are lower, but its services, if anything, are better. The only losers are those that lost their jobs.
Yes, it's a sad thing, but everyone, whether employed by a firm or working for themselves, must surely realise that times have moved on. There are few, if any, jobs for life today. It's like a dealer saying it's unfair when Dell or Gateway 2000 steps into the market and starts giving users what they need and want direct. If the dealer were offering the user something more, the user would go to the dealer. If the users have got it wrong, it's up to the dealer to make them see that - it's called marketing.
The recent goings-on of the Post Office are a great example. Its monopoly on mail under u1 has been suspended for a month. This won't bring in any real competition, but doesn't everyone realise that one day, the Post Office's monopoly is going to be broken.
When that time comes, the Post Office will have to be ready. It'll have to be leaner, meaner and more efficient. Even before the monopoly is scrapped, it's going to be seriously eroded by the Internet and the growth of high-speed messaging services.
It's already common for resellers and vendors to communicate via email, to download utilities and place orders through the electronic link. It's faster, cheaper and safer. Post is still important, but as integrated X.400 messaging systems and groupware with add-on workflow applications start to make it possible to move colour images and video across the network, businesses will use the terminal adaptor more often than the franking machine.
It may not happen tomorrow. It may not look like a revolution, but as sure as night follows day, it will happen. In future, these applications could even be a threat to transport. We all love our cars, but how much time do we really want to spend stuck in a traffic jam?
Banks have the same problem. Cash won't be necessary in years to come.
We'll download credits on to our smart-cards in the comfort of our own homes. There will be no need for staff and branch offices. If Barclays, Lloyds and the rest don't get into electronic banking, someone else will.
Our industry will provide much of the technology that will make all this happen. But that does not mean that dealers can stand still and wait for the business to arrive. Electronic distribution of information and software is already starting to happen. As for hardware, well, we all know that story.
For dealers there is more to it than adding value. Dealers must be really useful. They must be capable of delivering the kind of services these organisations need. They must be able to sort out electronic banking systems and handle groupware and workflow applications. But not just on a grand scale - smaller and medium-sized businesses will want electronic communications, video messaging and integrated computer and telecoms systems as well.
It's all there in black and white, everyday. People are embracing technology and the increased efficiency and choice it gives them with one hand and beating it off with the other. There is outrage when jobs are lost in banking or when the Royal Mail's monopoly is threatened. But no one complains when bank statements and secure money transfers become available online or when email becomes available to everyone in an office.
Resellers can find themselves in the same trap. There is no objection to businesses buying computer systems to render themselves more efficient and cut out a lot of the expensive resources - the people in the middle and the customers. But there is uproar when a more efficient route to market is found for those computer systems.
Technology means that we now need fewer bank tellers and sorting office workers. It also means we need fewer traditional dealers. Dealers must carve a niche for themselves in the future because no one is going to do it for them.
Those that are unwilling to change may someday find themselves out of a job. Yes, that'll be a sad thing, but that's the way it is.
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