Instead of outsourcing or "insourcing," I think the real trend to pay attention to in the technology business is shared sourcing. In shared sourcing, you keep the parts of your business that are most important, hand off the parts that can be done more efficiently elsewhere and end up with a business process that works better, sends more money to the bottom line and gives your company a competitive advantage.
One shared-sourcing system that has received a lot of attention is an ordering application used by a McDonalds franchise owner. Customers arriving at one of the 11 McDonalds franchises run by Bigari Food Enterprises in Colorado, Missouri and Minnesota have a variety of ways to order their burgers and fries. The drive-through lanes are handled by a Bigari-run remote call center (located in the United States) that uses voice over IP and digital photos to link inventory and the food preparer to make sure the right burger ends up with the right customer. Orders can also be placed from the childrens play area, from phones at in-restaurant tables, from cell phones or via the traditional walk-up method. Sales have increased and mistakes have decreased at those McDonalds stores.
The system was developed by a company named Exit41 in Andover, Mass. (which, incidentally, is where I live, although I have no connection to the company). Exit41 and Bigari addressed the need for increased efficiency and improved customer focus by leveraging technology advances in digital photos, voice and inventory, along with increased bandwidth. The combination meant the business operations were "ripe for change," said Exit41 founder and Chief Marketing Officer Craig Tengler.
Bigaris experience holds promise for the technology marketplace. It doesnt require too much thought to see how digitization of drive-through lanes at fast-food restaurants could be translated to banks, coffee shops and supermarkets. Kiosks without a voice component often cause frustration when attempting anything beyond a simple transaction. Getting the order correct at a drive-through window has long been the staple of comedy routines. (What was the name of the burger place patronized by Garth and Wayne in "Waynes World 2"?) Eliminating ordering mistakes allows you to concentrate on quickly completing the orders, and it keeps customers happy.
Shared-sourcing functions take a unified technology (voice, video and data) approach to customer service, which enables a more comprehensive and satisfactory experience. How often have you asked a salesperson a question about a product, only to be frustrated by having the person answer the question by reading from the feature set printed on the box?
When I asked our eWEEK Corporate Partner Advisory Board to name some prime prospects for self-service or shared-sourcing applications, Judy Brown, emerging technology analyst at the University of Wisconsin System, had a quick answer. "The job performance area is very alive, with the objective of getting the right information at the right time to the right individual in the right format. With successes, acceptance is also growing. There are some interesting solutions in the retail area using mobile devices for a store salesperson to identify functions and features of different products using a bar code or [radio-frequency identification]," Brown explained in an e-mail exchange.
The rise of shared-sourcing applications offers a broad new area for technology development; although simple in concept, they require a substantial level of expertise. You need to be able to work with legacy inventory control applications and legacy financial applications, which may be only a little more modern than a stand-alone electronic cash register. Beyond the knowledge of legacy operations running in the backroom is a need to understand digital voice, video and data applications tied into user interfaces that are both complete and simple to understand.
In other words, you need to be able to meld legacy systems with modern ones and create a new business process that increases the bottom line, differentiates your company from the pack and keeps customers coming back. Isnt that the purpose of business technology in the first place?
Editor in Chief Eric Lundquist can be reached at email@example.com.