Broadband and the Internet have already impacted on the lives of many people, but we have, as yet, seen only a little of it’s the real potential for employment and training.
In fact, with the arrival of broadband, location has become pretty well un-important. And that is precisely the point. Perhaps we no longer have to make a choice but can both live in the countryside and do an interesting job?
Let me give you a real example of how it is working. A local lady ran a recruitment agency in central London. She got fed up of commuting. We worked out how to change her recruitment process using a team in India for her business’ back-office tasks - and we also web-enabled her software so that it could be worked on over the internet.
As a result she now has more resources all round – more support by better-qualified and highly motivated people, none of staff management responsibilities, more time for clients and business development - and her working life changed dramatically … for the better.
One evening she knew how well it worked when she finished speaking to her candidates and passed the notes to her team in India. They prepared all the back office tasks so that by the morning in England all the information on the software system was up to date. She then added her expert comments and judgement - and passed it back to her client in Saudi Arabia. It was then time to go off to breakfast in Oundle. She came back, picked up the responses from Saudi Arabia, added her instructions, passed it back to the team in India who, overnight, sent new messages to the UK candidates to gather additional information and to set up interviews. Next morning she had the responses from the candidates and the recruitment went ahead. She went off and had her walk at Wadenhoe. Job done!
That model has now become an established pattern for a number of Recruitment and HR Consultants. I am not suggesting that these opportunities are open only to entrepreneurs having their own businesses. What I will try to show is that this approach opens the way for people to create worthwhile jobs and opportunities, to participate from home on a flexible basis utilising their skills and experience as a part of team whose members can be spread around the globe.
All of that capability is now in reach to most of us. We now have access to a world of opportunity where people who feel otherwise deprived can become a part of a great, global intellectual factory where ideas, services and products of the mind are devised, developed, assembled and taken to the market. A world where, regardless of your status – age, gender, mobility – you can, if you have a brain, the desire, commitment and the motivation create opportunities to make use of your skills and experience, contribute and ”add value”. Let me explain.
In many businesses, manufacturing for example, the job requires you to be on site and able to play your part with the rest of the team who are on site also. However, in services and businesses which are based on intellectual added-value, the opportunities made possible by changes in technology have already had a great impact on where your work can be done.
It is in these areas we hear about “home-working” and “internet access”. Some businesses have facilitated their employees to work at home and, in some cases, have encouraged that change by the introduction of “hot desking”. (Being allotted a desk when you turn up at the office rather than having a desk of your own). However, such arrangements have in most cases been the prerogative of large companies and corporations and it is, largely, their employees who have benefited.
We have come to accept also that some professionals – designers and architects for example - are able to work from home. But, somehow the impression that prevails is that such opportunities are for others, not for us.
To see where we are going next let us continue the analogy and take a look at the process of making a car.
Parts may come from around the world but at some point, somewhere, people and parts come together so that final assembly can happen. (Similarly, we see wings and fuselages moving around Europe to an assembly plant somewhere in France from whence a finished Airbus emerges). Every time someone puts on a new part or adds a bolt they are adding value to the product a physical process – with each action the car takes shape until it leaves the factory to be bought and paid for.
What happened in the recruitment example I talked about earlier is actually the same thing but with not a physical product. If you like, the factory becomes the server and broadband is a very long spanner that allows you to add your bolts to the product in the ‘factory’. Each additional piece of data, each answer to every question becomes a part of the process to match a person against a job. The product in this case is a match - and getting to that point gave satisfaction for a job well done and people get paid for making the match happen.
So you see when the finished product is information or a service the factory or assembly point – a computer or computer network - can be “virtual” – by which we mean that it does not actually exist in the same way as an actual factory or a “real” office exists.
What made this possible were, of course, changes in technology – especially computers, software, networks and the internet. Today, the factory where ideas and services are developed and assembled can be located wherever we chose to locate the computers - which is an easy decision: they can go anywhere where power supplies, security and all the other necessities are in reliable supply.
Next came something really exciting. With the arrival of high-speed communications – broadband – the workers at the intellectual factory no longer needed to “turn up” to work on the site where the computer was but could simply dial into it. Providing they could access the computer they could do their job - add their intellectual nuts and bolts to whatever was being made by their employer.
An example is what has happened to bank accounts and banking. Once computers took over from tellers and ledgers your bank account became nothing more than electronic data held on a computer. In the first instance if you wanted to know the details of your account you could ask the new bank clerk in your branch to look at her computer. Soon you could ring a call centre to ask the same questions and then, quick as flash, you were talking to a call centre in India or elsewhere that the bank had set up to do the same job.
Some of us may hate the results of what has happened but it is part of an inevitable process that happened because it could.
Now known as BPO – Business Process Outsourcing – it is all around us and not a day passes without reading of a large company transferring processes and jobs to India, China, Eastern Europe etc.
The fact is that, so far, this has again largely been the prerogative of large companies – banks, insurance, utilities and the like, who have the power to impose these changes on customers and users whether we like it or not. Even if we do not like it, it has happened because, frankly, the benefits, costs, availability of skills etc. are such that they could not ignore it once others began the process. In other words the benefits for large organisations were such that these changes became inevitable.
Now comes the next generation of business change. Surprise, surprise! Amongst those best placed to benefit are those who might be forgiven for thinking that the process of change would place them at a disadvantage, denying them the opportunity to go on contributing in their jobs or careers.
What is making this possible is the arrival on the scene of businesses like GBOPS – a Guernsey based BPO with offices in India – who are gradually bringing the benefits of what large corporations have previously kept for themselves within the grasp of SME’s – Small Medium Enterprises; businesses that need those benefits too and need to change and improve the way they look after their customers to compete successfully, but who could not afford to set up overseas and to go the BPO route.
As a result many ‘professional” businesses are re-thinking and re-engineering not just their business processes – but also the commercial model on which their business is based. A business like GBOPS helps other businesses change the way they do things so that what they do becomes a production line that allows people to contribute their best skills to the process. Everyone plays a part by doing what they do best.
By breaking their processes into these component parts, like the Airbus or the car examples we talked about earlier, these new wave enterprises and employers are making it possible for bits of what they do to be done on a more flexible basis by others who are sitting where they want to sit, working when they want to work, doing their bit to add value to the process.
In the next few weeks we can look at how this is already happening in HR (Human Resources, Recruitment, Accounting, Property Sales (Estate Agencies) and the Law (Solicitors and many more areas.
We can also look at how this process offers interesting, rewarding and challenging opportunities for lots of people with experience in HR, Recruitment, Accounting, the Law, Design, Engineering and Commerce to name but a few. And it's not just for bright young techies. In this case the technology is only the equivalent of bus or the spanner. It exists only to help you get your contribution to the ideas factory.
Thus the technology is useful but not important – you are! So, Wrinklies (like me), Mums who want to resume a career or folk who have retired and just want to “use my mind again” - can all look for our part in this cornucopia of opportunity. Imagine the global economy coming with the reach of those of us who hate commuting and who chose to live here amongst the splendours of Northamptonshire but who wish to keep our brains sharp and who would also like to make some money! WOW!