Self-Fulfillment—Not a SHAM

A Vision from Down Under
By Michael Poole

The other night, I made my usual stop at the supermarket to pick up a few things for dinner. I am doing this more often now that my son has moved in to be nearer his University. I also am finding that his 18-year-old’s appetite and eating habits are something akin to those of a herd of locusts passing over a particularly attractive stand of wheat!

So, with my laden basket, I approached the “checkout choice” moment. There’s choice #1, the normal queue, where you get the full human experience but have to wait behind the shopper who is buying for a family of 12 for the next 12 months; choice #2, the “12-items-or-fewer Express” queue, where I inevitably get behind the innumerate shopper who has 35 items stuffed into the basket; or choice #3, what I call the “Self-checkout” queue, where you get the chance to scan, weigh and bag and then swipe your card for payment. I, of course, went for “Self-checkout’.

Now I think I foolishly revealed a couple of blogs ago, that I recalled with some warmth the days of punch-cards and paper tape in the EDP (Electronic Data Processing) industry. I am also old enough to remember the transition—that should be called a revolution—of the grocery store, through “cash and carry” to “self-service.” Gone was the smiling grocer with his long grabbing implement to get items from the high shelves prior to bagging them and later delivering them to your door.

Self-service revolutionized the grocery industry and then went on the do the same for clothing, shoes, hardware, white and brown goods to ultimately end up in the supreme embodiment of self-service—IKEA—where you not only self-serve but self-construct the items you have purchased. The “flat-pack revolution” with the  “Allen-key” replacing the gun.

So, back to the self-checkout.

After self-scanning and self-weighing vegetables and selecting the appropriate ones from the screen (I can’t help but wonder how many people click on potatoes when they are really weighing an exotic and expensive imported fruit? Not me, but I have been tempted!), self-bagging my item, and finally self-swiping my credit card for payment, I took the receipt, picked up my shopping bag, and was free to go. As I left, I heard the plaintive sound of the scanner thanking me for visiting the store.

A little while ago, no matter what the amount of my purchase, I would have had to wait for a customer service representative or perhaps retail experience facilitator to check my signature and authorize the card transaction. But now it seems that they are either tracking my previous self-check-out experiences, have a face-recognition system that thinks I look honest, or have a minimum purchase level that is automatically approved. A sensible idea in any case and it reduces the cost to the chain yet again.

So, you may be wondering what my shopping experiences have to with Kinetic Data or the Self-Help and Actualization Movement (SHAM) catch-cry of self-fulfillment.

Well for the former—i.e., Kinetic Data—a great deal; for the latter—SHAM—nothing. So feel safe, I am not launching into an Anthony Robbins moment!

While in the meditative posture adopted by the neophyte scanner, I realized that I was not just involved in an advanced form of self-service, I was SELF-FULFILLING—completing the evolution that began when the local full-service grocer’s shop became the cash-and-carry store.

Just as social networking has been credited with major developments in the Internet, I believe that the supermarket sector has driven the way purchases of goods are fulfilled.

We are now really in the land of self-fulfillment every time we enter a supermarket, K-Mart, or Wal-Mart and their ilk.

How is this related to ITSM?

The push towards service request management (SRM) is, in my opinion, at the start of the revolution that has nearly completed in the retail sector. Whereas in IT we have implemented picking the stock off the shelves—initiating the “service request” in ITSM parlance, we are yet to embrace the idea that the customer can do scanning, bagging and payment transaction themselves—the complete fulfillment process in ITSM.

Why is this so? As a TV physicist of the ’60s used to say.

We have spent a lot of time and effort designing service request systems, service portfolios and catalogues, and service request portals, but they are still just delivering orders to a prerevolutionary fulfillment process that involves multiple tasks, approvals, and work-orders that are, in most cases, still handled by a person.

Think of the common “new starter” request. While we may have an intelligent web-based request form that allows all the necessary tasks and approvals to be started, at the end of the day, all that is produced are tasks yet to be performed—set up login, print security card, order lap-top, configure applications—by people.

The self-service process ends when the request is submitted and the old processes take over to do the fulfillment.

We should be designing not service request systems, but service fulfillment systems.

I don’t think I am alone in this. I may be the first to give it the name self-fulfillment, but at Kinetic Data, we have been involved with a number of thought-leading clients to develop end-to-end SRM processes that are really self-fulfillment systems.

What does a self-fulfillment system look like?

At the front end, the requester end, it looks very much like any SRM system. A portal with a catalogue of services available. It is when you select a service that the differences begin to show. Intelligent forms guide the user through ONLY the options and questions that are necessary for the version of the service he or she is requesting. Upon submission, all the approval rules are assessed and the request is either approved automatically or referred. Once approved, the same intelligent task engine will communicate with all the other applications and create the required records and tasks. Only when something cannot be done by the systems alone will a human be involved and, even then, when that task is completed, the task engine will be ready to take up the rest of the fulfillment process. All the while, the requester will be kept informed of each stage and step of the process.

The major result is the requester being the main actor and as much of the process as possible being triggered and completed by the requester’s action alone.

This is self-fulfillment—it is not a SHAM. It is the next era in the evolution of enterprise and IT management.