SSON Editorial

Hurricane Irma – Up Close & Personal

Barbara Hodge, Editor
Contributor: Barbara Hodge
Posted: 09/14/2017

Good morning from Florida, where the state is recovering from a massive hurricane, 6.5 million people are without power, but despite the “requiem” headlines, people and businesses are picking themselves back up as and where (and if) they can.

I happened to be on holiday last week (visiting family in Germany) and my return coincided unhappily with the arrival of Irma in my home state of Florida. As much of the state was evacuating in a panicky stampede [and the question of whether safety advisory is really doing the right thing by encouraging millions of people to hit the road needs to be asked] my husband and I were desperately trying to get back home in time to weather out the storm with our dog.

This was made difficult, if not impossible, by a series of random events…a missing crew member delayed our first flight, so we missed a connection, resulting in a real-life case of Planes Trains and Automobiles as we raced to get to Orlando before the airport closed. A train to Düsseldorf; a late flight to Manchester; overnight; and the next morning, the last flight to Orlando due to arrive 2 hours before that airport closed.

Not so fast. The Orlando flight was cancelled, and the only way back was via Boston. That’s not close to Florida, I know, but closer. One last (love #Delta) flight south to Atlanta (definitely getting closer now) and from there a drive through the night (“You’ll never get there,” a helpful attendant told us. “The police have closed the state border. They’re not letting anyone in.” #FakeNews) to get us home at 6 AM the next morning – 12 hours ahead of Irma.

The point of this rambling tale is that one missing cog caused unimaginable delay, cost, and stress for customers. I don't profess to understand the vagaries of airline travel, and there is no doubt that moving millions of people in tin cans across the global skies on a daily basis is awe-inspiring. And yet I had lots of time to reflect on whether the airline industry was keeping up with what Procter & Gamble's Next Generation Services team would call "exponential technologies".

Is there really no better way to get people onto a plane than by checking their passport manually three times? Should there be more than one access point onto a plane? Does cabin staff have to run through the plane three or four times with ecologically challenging, plastic-wrapped food only to cater to the whims of a moody clientele? (And I know I am going off track here – it’s been a long couple of days). If we can put rockets in space, have robots care for the elderly, and order a pizza by voice command alone, can the best of our brains not tackle airline travel? And although it is as competitive as any industry (but maybe not more so) is there no merit in exchanging best practices for the benefit of mankind?

But let me get back to business continuity planning. Words are easy, actions are hard. I loved the quote by Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn who, faced with an impending Category Grade 4 hurricane, told the press: “Everyone has a plan until they are punched in the face".

To entertain me on my two-day trip home (apart from whatching Planes, Trains and Automobiles clips on YouTube) I bought a fabulous book by the BBC North America editor, Jon Sopel, called "If Only They Didn't Speak English – Notes From Trump’s America." A highly entertaining read, although many may not like it! Apart from the obvious behind-the-scenes commentary, what Sopel, like many futurists, has understood all too well is that technology is changing our lives, but we risk leaving people behind.

In his travels across the US, Sopel witnessed the decline and destruction of industry: From Levi's jeans through to the Oreo cookie (biscuit), the US has lost production facilities and jobs as the decision is made to ship activity elsewhere (i.e. offshore). Five million manufacturing jobs have gone from America since 2000. According to a study by the Center for Business and Economic Research at Ball State University, however, 85% of those jobs were replaced by technology.

It's a topic near and dear to those of us who spend our days thinking about support services. Today, however, the higher expectations of customers for quality services is increasingly pushing back on cost aficionados. Indeed, Sopel points out that a recent survey by the Boston Consulting Group showed one third of manufacturing companies planning to add productive capacity to their US factories. A separate survey found fewer American companies were planning to go offshore for back office functions and many are planning to repatriate jobs. General Electric, for example, is bringing 4000 jobs back from China and Mexico.

What's my point? Simply that this trend aligns with the shift we have seen at SSON, recently, of cost not being the key driver, but, on the contrary value add, customer centricity, and business support taking a leading role.

This is encouraging. Not just because it harks back to more traditional values of good stewardship, but because it somehow seems more human.

Barbara Hodge, Editor
Contributor: Barbara Hodge
Posted: 09/14/2017

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