When I think about the current discussion about moving work off-shore I think of it as a cost saving tactic that will happen, but will eventually be overcome by events.
Having an on-site workforce is expensive and will continue to go up over time (inflation). You can find low cost locations. They start out low, but inflationary pressures (supply and demand) will force them up too. Once they pass the price point of another location, those resources will join into the mix as well. The management of this workforce will become more and more complex until a point is reached where the value generated is not worth the communications issues or other complexities and the environment stabilizes.
Automation on the other hand starts out as being very expensive to implement, but its costs continue to lower over time. It should result in higher quality as well. There are inflationary pressures for automation, but they’re offset in larger organizations by being able to leverage the techniques across a wider base for a relatively minor additional investment.
One perspective of this is that when I am saying “I am only human”, I’m really talking about how creative humans are. As an organization implements a more standardized and stable environment (automated), the need for creativity changes to focus on optimization and problem solving for unusual events. We’ll always need people to come up with new ideas and solutions, but it will be a different kind of role than what most individuals in an organization perform today.
I was talking with Randy Mears about this and he agreed that automation eventually will win out in areas that can be effectively automated, but many times the initial attempts are done poorly or for the wrong reasons. A great example of this is interactive voice response (e.g., press 1 for technical support). These can be some of the most frustrating man-machine interfaces we encounter on a regular basis. The drive for a lower costs solution is lowering the customer service bar to the point where this kind of service is almost an expectation. They’ve effectively translated their support costs into taking up our time navigating their bureaucracy – a time honored approach. With that said, IVR can provide me with information (e.g., bank balance) that would be cost prohibitive to provide, compared to almost any other means, on a large scale in a timely fashion.