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Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Autonomous Economy

I walk into an airport, feed a credit card into the kiosk, which spits out a boarding pass. At the same time, my seat is blocked, my meal, beer, and pillow are released, TSA knows I am coming, the gate knows I am coming, the flight crew knows I am coming, the incoming gate at my hub knows I am coming, and I am boarded on my next flight.

I didn’t realize that until one time I was transferring in Philadelphia and the video board was down.

A human attendant looked at his clipboard, and told me to go to the wrong gate all the way across the airport. I got there and found out my exit gate was actually just two away from my entry gate.

When I got back to my gate, the airline was holding the plane. They knew I was in the airport somewhere.

Now before all this computerization, a small part of that data was communicated by harried humans with clipboards. They are mostly gone now. That’s why when the plane system burps, there is no hope of getting a fix by standing in line.

Switching a business from the carbon-based units with clipboards to the silicon-based units with screens takes time. Humans are better at improvising, and can communicate with other humans.

Computers are vastly cheaper, and when the system is complete, can communicate better with computers.

From an operating cost model, reducing your business to computer driven data makes sense no matter how difficult it is. The first in an industry to successfully implement an automated system gets an enormous advantage. The problem is when your system inadvertently maximizes customer prevention.

Banks and airlines know that a mal-system interlude can tank your customer sat. If the Internet never forgets, how long do angry customers hold a grudge?

When I read about the disappearing middle class, I remember all the people with clipboards outwitting their business systems to get me home. By the same token, anyone who hides a known system burp has to be taken out of the loop, as that burp often represents hundreds or thousands of instances that went unreported.

Open Source Leadership teaches us that more eyeballs get the problem fixed easier and faster. It used to be that we were trying to get a little more time before reporting to try to come up with a solution. Today that is exactly the wrong way to play.

Where do you see the autonomous economy changing your life, for better or worse?
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