2000: The Year of Professional Services

(Originally published in the November 1999 issue of AFSMI's The Professional Journal.)

By William K. Pollock

There has been the Year of the Dog, the Year of the Cat, and the Year of Living Dangerously. However, there is no question about it - 2000 will be the Year of Professional Services.

The services industry has undergone many transformations since the first unit of equipment failed and the first customer called for technical support, but no change will be as pervasive as the movement toward a full professional services environment - a movement that has already begun as we head into the new millennium.

Over the past 25 years there have been enormous changes impacting the way in which customers receive support for their business systems and equipment. At the start of the high tech services cycle, most repairs were performed at the customer site by services engineers dispatched from a central city location. The time it took the engineer to reach the customer site was generally too long, and not every engineer was able to carry the right part to the site on the first visit. Service calls were expensive in those days, and not particularly sophisticated.

In the 1970s, the big services "revolution" focused on "call avoidance", or the ability of the more sophisticated, and generally larger, services organizations to preclude the need to dispatch a services engineer on-site through an often tedious and lengthy decision-tree process of questions and answers administered to the customer over the telephone. It was not long before the largest of the services organizations also implemented remote diagnostics capabilities that did not even involve direct human interface with the customer.

The proliferation of telephone-based hotlines and help desks during the late 1970s and 1980s represented another huge step forward for the services industry. For the first time, customers had become empowered to diagnose their own equipment and software problems, in real time, over the telephone. This, of course, required the assistance of a "friendly telephone voice", leading them step-by-step, through a series of specific tasks and activities. The process was generally slow, and the results not always satisfactory. In today's market, the ability for customers to accomplish these same activities themselves, directly over the Internet will soon be replacing many of the telephone help desks that now seem exceedingly slow in comparison.

The movement of the industry to a professional services focus, however, will begin to shift the pendulum back toward more human interface - not necessarily with respect to basic break/fix and technical support services, but for the development of more customized services and capabilities designed to support the entire business enterprise. This will become the services industry's next great "revolution" in the decade of 2000.

Many of the changes that have transformed the course of the services industry in the past have, in retrospect, simply made existing processes work more efficiently, expanded channels of distribution to include new types of players, allowed services engineers to complete their repairs quicker, facilitated users' ability to track performance activity better, or permitted self-maintainers to obtain documentation faster over the Internet. However, the movement of the industry to a professional services focus is likely to not only change the way in which services are packaged and delivered, but the numbers, names and types of providers as well.

As is always the case when services are involved, the main stimulus will come from the user, rather than the vendor side. Many of the largest services organizations have already found that their customer bases are demanding higher levels of service, over and above traditional break/fix maintenance, telephone help desk support, and systems integration. Increasingly, they are also requiring a full complement of design and engineering, site survey, installation and implementation, consulting, training, facilities management and outsourcing services to supplement the "core" levels of support they have historically been receiving.

Even smaller and medium-sized services organizations have "heard the call" from the marketplace. However, since most of them, at these sizes, do not have either the infrastructure or the resources required to provide full levels of professional services support to their customers, many have entered into strategic alliances with other organizations in order to "share" their respective core competencies. The larger services organizations have already walked down this road, in many cases, years earlier.

However the "dust" settles after the Year 2K fallout, one thing will remain clear - users will want to move forward faster than ever, and they will be looking for enterprisewide support that can only be delivered in a full professional services environment.


William K. Pollock is president of Strategies For GrowthSM (SFGSM), the Westtown, Pennsylvania-based services consulting firm specializing in strategic business planning, services marketing, CRM consulting, market/survey research, and customer satisfaction measurement and tracking programs. Bill may be reached at 610-399-9717 or via e-mail at wkp@s4growth.com.


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