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The mechanised service invasion

Jared Heng | Aug. 26, 2008
With rapid technological developments, machines are increasingly replacing people in service delivery, but how far can this go?

Tim Burtons movie Mars Attacks! sent chills up my spine, despite its amusing side as a dark comedy. It paints a popularised scenario where little green creatures with oversized brains and death ray guns take over our planet. Despite its fictional storyline, the movie reminds me of a different invasion actually happening today.

IT and the internet have pervaded every aspect of our lives, from broadband television to internet banking and mobile devices. The iPhone 3G launch in Singapore sent waves of excitement throughout many locals, reflecting peoples fascination with technology that has become so much a part of social experience.

This makes me wonder if technology will one day fully replace human beings in providing services. Fifty years ago, replacing human pilots with a machine was unthinkable. Today, we see unmanned aerial vehicles on missions in Iraq, which can fly autonomously, based on pre-programmed flight plans. Such machines are even now armed with weapons!

Unified communications has enabled more personalised services, where customers calling into a contact centre may be almost immediately directed to appropriate expertise for problem solving. Automated phone services can also address basic enquiries and bookings without human intervention.

Mobile services are now available to some users wishing to conduct transactions on their devices, reducing the need to visit banks. Self-service kiosks allow easy bill payments even after office hours. The list goes on.

Despite the attraction of technology, the human touch remains important to high-value and highly personalised services. For example, insurance agents may still be needed to physically explain and follow up on specific offerings to customers. Even when sophisticated technologies facilitate services, human expertise is currently needed to, at least, monitor their effectiveness.

However, it would not be unreasonable to foresee a future where machines would dominate service delivery, given the rate of technological advancement. A key lesson can be learnt from the original Star Trek series in the 1960s. There are people who have seen much of what was portrayed as science fiction in the series then become reality today.

Jared Heng is staff writer for Fairfax Business Media, where he covers hot topics in the IT industry such as green computing, unified communications and software as a service.


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