I received a nice note from John Jainschigg over at CMP Metaverse this morning about last week's Future of Work blogpost. He had resonated (as had I) with the idea of 're-intermediation' that was put forward by one of my colleagues (who at this juncture should feel free to chime in on the comment roll and remind me, pretty please with sugar on it) at the MetaverseU a few weeks ago.
Someone once said that every challenge is also an opportunity, and the converse is true as well. The workforce is being rapidly globalized, and roles you would have never envisioned being outsourced are migrating to Bangalore or Beijing at a breakneck pace. I was personally shopping prices on personal assistants from three different shops in India earlier this week, something which would have seemed insane half-a-decade ago.
At the same time, you have the demographic mass of baby-boomers who are frustrated with the first generation of outsourced service, and are demanding a higher-touch model of customer care. This is going to have two effects if it 'gets legs', which isn't such a BIG IF:
1) Operational Expenses (OpEx) of the firms switching to providing 'domestic' customer care is going to go up in most cases. Despite the vaunted examples of JetBlue and others in having stay-at-home-moms-in-Utah provide call center support, US labor is inherently more expensive than other parts of the world can currently provide. The rising cost of living in India and China combined with the falling value of the dollar are driving those forces towards some equilibria, however it's not going to resolve for another decade or more.
2) A gray-dawn contract workforce. The boomers aren't ready to sit back and accept a uni-directional money flow. They want to work, and wouldn't mind if you offered some health care while you're at it. There are some amazingly well-trained people in the boomer generation just now retiring, like 12 percent of the engineers and 21 percent of the scientists at NASA for starters, who are ready to tackle whatever technological marvels you throw at them.
If you don't think that the AARP (American Association of Retired Persons) isn't already the strongest lobby in Washington D.C. already, wait until their numbers swell with the boomer bolus. They will be in a position to not only harangue your CEO for making them wait an hour for a call center representative, they will also exert pressure in the form of regulatory measures and tax laws to drive macro-level patterns of business. Think of how large of a group of people this represents, how well-educated, and how much free time they will have on their hands to do nothing but what fix the aspects of their life that annoy them most. Pretty much the customers from hell.
So the latte-slurping freelance workforce I posited in the last post, while agreeing with all of Prokofy's comments that delivering babies, pizzas and taxis will always exist in meatspace and are immune to the transition from manufacturing to knowledge workers, will be both servicing the baby boomer generation, and will also be comprised of a number of those boomers who will work-at-leisure to finance their vacations and second-home-property taxes.
And for those that are concerned that boomers and seniors will be discriminated against directly or indirectly because of their age, how about their avatar? Their Brad Pitt/Angelina Jolie looking one.
A metaverse outpost would allow them to provide value to the workforce from their snow-bird homes in the desert or on the Gulf coast. In the Metaverse, no one knows that they are a retired engineer sitting on his/her back deck enjoying a margarita while resolving your customer service problem.
More later, the treadmill beckons.