Price of Modernisation – technology encroachment and people displacement

November 17, 2011 — 1 Comment

An interesting dynamic has developed with the introduction of ICT in business. In the customs and trade environment there are a few fundamental objectives around which technology has proven to be effective –

  • Elimination of tedious labour intensive paper delivery and manual distribution processes.
  • The ability to generate more work, in dramatically shorter timeframes thereby improving customer expectation and service delivery.
  • Seamless replication of a common message or instruction across a broad spectrum of stakeholder’s networks to enable better planning and execution of ‘the next steps’ in the supply chain process.
  • Rules driven automated processes that eliminate human intervention and more specifically, human intuition. Why? Because people make mistakes.

We see this everywhere. Electronic trading with your bank, customs broker, revenue service, or online shopping store. All these enterprises have developed (and to a large degree perfected) complex rules-based systems which work effectively 90% of the time. Your trouble occurs if your transaction happens to fall into the 10% category. Once again companies have recognised that there is a role for people to play. It also happens to be a conditioned environment based on the principle of tiers and handovers – the Call Centre. This is where the ‘customer’ generally encounters an ignoramus at first; and hopefully, through the process of escalation, finally speaks to someone with the knowledge to assist and resolve the enquiry. All the same, this is a faceless experience and the chances are you may never get to speak to that ‘consultant’ again, in the time of need.

In time the branch offices will close, with online facilities having become the way of life. No more need for the maintenance of real estate, storage vaults for paper records, and costly expenditure on people you once grew fond of as your local branch manager and friendly staff. Peace of mind has given away to convenience. The extent of technological advancement in many organisations is such that with payment mechanisms all being electronic, any impact or potential for disruption to day-to-day operations is virtually negated in the event of industrial action. The cost to business benefit of a new system far out-weighs the onerous responsibility of maintaining a traditional branch office – it’s a no-brainer!

In as much as man has been weary of progress since the invention of the wheel, so today, the average employee questions the rationale of it all, and where his/her future lies. And herein lies the dilemma – what to do with all the displaced people. In the private sector it’s rather simple (if not tragic) – just retrench the excess. For government departments and parastatal organisations, i.e. semi-autonomous branches of government, it’s not that easy. Nobody can be put out onto the street. It is therefore up to individual employees to consider their options. It’s time to wake up, you are still fortunate. Bursary programmes are available, so seek out an opportunity to improve your lot in life, perhaps in a totally different field from the one you have become accustomed to.


One response to Price of Modernisation – technology encroachment and people displacement


    Hi Michael, you raise a complex issue.Government is not obliged to provide employment. It is obliged to employ people so that the services it is legislated to provide the public, are avilable to all and sundry. When these services are provided more efficiently, the income required by Government reduces, and it then requires less tax income. The knock on effect of this is a lower tax rate on business. Businesses can then employ more people, expand and grow, and hopefully generat products and services at lower prices. And if the populace added their bit by having fewer children, South Africa would be flying!! Chris

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