Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Recent Personal Observations about a Specific Service System

Several years ago, when I was working at IBM, I enjoyed a video of Linda Sanford (IBM Senior VP – at the time she was the most senior woman VP at IBM and perhaps she still is) talking about turning enterprises on their sides (transforming enterprises). She is responsible for IBMs internal transformation. Her talk was actually about SSME (Service Science, Management, and Engineering), innovation and IBM’s jams and ThinkPlace (an interesting idea-generation collaborative tool through which I participated but which is now “retired”) but one of the points she made was about moving from a view of functional units within an enterprise to a client-view across an enterprise. The example she gave was banks. Banks have silo’d functions (mortgage, investment, chequing accounts, etc.) that work very well but clients want a view that cuts across the bank horizontally. The business processes are set up vertically within the functional units or silos instead of horizontally across all service offerings of the bank.

The bank example clicked with me and, not long ago, I experienced this silo perspective first hand. I withdrew money from an ATM which was inside my bank branch. The money came out but was short by $20. I walked no more than 5 metres to the customer service desk (did I mention this was my bank branch?) and explained what happened. I was told that the ATMs were a on different system and the person at the service desk couldn’t give me the $20 but would notify the ATM part of the bank about what had happened and the ATM part of the bank would contact me after they had reviewed the money-in / money-out of the ATM in question. From a customer perspective, this is a tad messed up. The bank service system should be one service system that allows me to withdraw the correct amount of money regardless of the channel I’m using (teller, ATM, Internet, etc.).

I recently encountered another more complex example. Before I start, I should say that this isn’t a rant but an observation (as a service science researcher) that there continues to be opportunities for fairly basic innovation in service systems. In December, I had surgery to replace a torn tendon in my ankle which involved breaking my heel and repositioning it with screws. This procedure required and will continue to require several service interactions with medical professionals and medical facilities (service systems). I had MRIs in the MRI section of the hospital and the way in which my surgeon is notified that I’ve had the MRI is by my calling his admin office to let him know. I also have appointments with my surgeon in his Orthopedic office in the hospital. I interface with his Orthopedic office through his assistant (via the phone) for surgery date information and follow up appointments in his Orthopedic office. I had a pre-op appointment with another unit in the hospital (the pre-op unit). They weren’t sure exactly what kind of surgery I was having done and had trouble reading my surgeon’s writing (on the paper requisition form). After the surgery, while my bone is still healing, I have a couple of visits with my surgeon in the Fracture Clinic part of the hospital. To set up and confirm appointments in the Fracture Clinic, I must speak with the Fracture Clinic appointment desk (which is not connected with his Orthopedic office). In another week or two, I will require physio-therapy in another medical facility (maybe also at the hospital, maybe somewhere else) but I don’t know yet because that information is not available anywhere.

From my perspective, I would like to interact with an “ankle surgery” service system that cuts across the different functional units in the hospital. Instead I have had to learn about the different individual functional units (service systems) and how they interconnect and work together. In some cases, they don’t. In order to change my appointment date with my surgeon (in the Fracture Clinic), I have to phone the Fracture Clinic unit instead of his Orthopedic office.

And speaking of phoning, it would be wonderful to be able to interact with the ankle surgery service system through channels that are more intuitive and convenient (such as booking appointments via the web or email, getting general surgical information online instead of on a paper pamphlet which I’ve already lost, etc.). Perhaps that’s a topic for a future blog post.

I want to restate that I’m not meaning this to be a rant. I couldn’t be happier with the quality of care I’ve received and the tremendous skill and talent of everyone I’ve encountered (especially my surgeon). This is simply an observation that there continues to be room for seemingly simple innovations and implementations within common and important (even critical) service systems.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

@prof_lyons Your description of silos in service systems leads me to focus on the human interaction over the organizational context.

Taking a language-action perspective, there are some interesting questions on the authority, scope and commitments that a front line bank employee or hospital receptionist are empowered or not empowered to make.

I've had an ongoing debate with my friend David Hawk for some years. He leans towards the side that it's individuals that make the difference. I lean towards the side that individuals take roles on behalf of an organization, and the commitments they make carry on even to a new person assuming that role when the individual moves on.

The appreciation of devolving authority to front line employees varies from industry to industry. As one of the better example, my usual experience with request to the front desk of a hotel don't involve escalations or unnecessary delays. In the better trained establishments, issues can and are dealt with immediately.