Why Automation is Taking Your Job

Robot Worker

Do you do know the difference between administrative work and gruntwork? Administrative work primarily consists of entering data and maintaining records, a task that doesn’t require decision making as much as it does following directions. Gruntwork is often tedious, repetitive, and lacks glamour, but still requires at least a small amount of skill or decision-making ability. Computers can only successfully replace one type of worker we just mentioned, which means if you work an administrative job, prepare for unemployment.

The Problem with Admin Work

DMV Logo

I admit my recent interaction at the California DMV inspired this post. I’m not writing this to pick on the DMV; it was just the perfect catalyst to begin a discussion about the impact of automation in the workforce.  My particular experience happens to be the perfect example of problems plaguing administrative work, and are the driving forces behind corporations pushing out more employees in favor of artificial intelligence and automated kiosks.

Humans tend to be okay with a lack of perfection, and when it comes to administrative work, that’s a problem. When someone calls someone else a “perfectionist,” it usually carries a negative connotation with it, implying a certain amount of annoyance with their inability to let things slide between the cracks. When your job primarily consists of maintaining and updating of records, which administration jobs do, organizations strive for perfection; something humans can’t deliver.

While computers will refuse to move to the next step of a process without proper verification, humans tend to find ways to complete processes that they shouldn’t always complete. In my case, I wanted to change the address on a drivers license that I had recently lost. A process that started smoothly, but went south because of a common problem when dealing with humans – Improper Verification

Improper Verification

Checklist

The first step in all administrative work is verification for eligibility. Whether you’re ordering food, calling into customer service, or applying for a car loan, there’s always some form of verification. McDonald’s takes your payment before preparing your food, agents verify your identity before discussing confidential information, and financiers run your credit before giving you a loan. All of the previously mentioned actions serve as verification of eligibility. The DMV is no different.

As a patron of the DMV, I had followed all the verification steps required to speak to a window agent.

– I checked in at the front desk.

– I completed the form to get my confirmation number.

– I returned to the front to get my service number.

– I waited patiently for my number to be called.

When they called my number, I approached the counter, the agent asked for my printed paperwork and began processing the request without asking any questions.

Everything appeared to be going smoothly as the final paperwork began printing, and after confirming its accuracy, I signed it. Then the agent finally asks, “what were you changing on your license?” “My address,” I replied. After quickly checking the address on my previous license, she explains it’s impossible to change my address to without a piece of mail displaying my new address.

I wondered how this could happen. There were plenty of opportunities for someone to catch a mistake in the verification process.

– There was a human at the door, who I explained to in detail the purpose of my visit. They handed me a form with checkboxes that could verify the documentation requirements, but didn’t ask about or mention that I needed any of them.

– There was another person at the testing center who I specifically called over to my kiosk to ask about my situation. They explained the need for me to select “replacement” from the drop-down menu to address the situation accurately, generated my confirmation number, and moved me along.

– Then there was the window agent, who didn’t ask any questions until the final step of the interaction. Upon realizing the error, I was sure I would be handed back my paperwork and told to return when I had the proper documentation. Instead, they reverted the information on the form to my old address and completed the request. There’s only one way this could happen – Inadequate Training

Inadequate Training

If I were on a computer, this would have never happened. A web designer would have placed a checkbox next to the change of address field that would have required me to upload the required number of documents (PDF or JPEG) to the website before continuing to the next step. Instead, a government employee just agreed to send my government ID to an outdated address, with obsolete information, well-knowing the requirements for this kind of document. I had just completed a process in a way that was detrimental to myself and the State of California. How?

As with all large organizations, a lack of a scalable training solution is most likely the culprit. Properly training employees is an expensive endeavor that doesn’t produce an objective return on investment dollars, and it is impossible to scale without serious investment. Taking the previous factors into consideration, it’s easy to see why organizations consider replacing employees with machines. They have a fixed cost of operation, accurately perform their tasks regardless of emotional factors, and have a positive effect on the company’s bottom line.

As someone who works at a company that specializes in digital learning solutions for situations like these, I was interested in seeing how poorly the system was constructed. The easiest way to confirm a lack of employee training is with the third problem that arises from humans performing administrative work –  Dissemination of Misinformation

Dissemination of Misinformation

To rectify the situation, I went home and did some research on the California DMV’s website, which wasn’t overly specific about the process, but provided me with most of what I needed. I knew I needed address verification documents, and since I was told that a leasing agreement would work, I made the poor assumption one document would do the trick. I then jumped by back in my car to do the unthinkable, make a second trip to the DMV in a single day. This time I was going with the intention of understanding what methods are available to fix this situation.

Upon arrival, I stopped at the same checkpoint designed to provide the first line of verification. After explaining my situation in detail again, the employee did a very noble thing, admitted they didn’t know the answer but committed to finding one for me. Great. They left for about five minutes, and while still in view, I saw them have a lengthy conversation with a person who seemed like they were very knowledgeable. They returned with a particular set of instructions:

– Return to the specific window where you were helped [because they had previously taken my money]

– Have them void the application

– Resubmit the application

I was surprised by the confidence in the solution, and I walked right over to window 27 to have it done. When I reached the window, it was a different story. I handed the agent the instructions, and they immediately seemed frustrated. They asked aloud, “Why would they send you back here when they know I’ll need their codes to do this?” I thought to myself; at least it can be done.

The agent disappeared for a couple of minutes and returned with bad news; I need two pieces of mail to complete the process. Considering they were the person that told me a single document, the leasing agreement, would suffice, I thought the newfound reasoning was strange. When I explained my concern, the agent left again for about five minutes, this time returning with a different answer. The number of documents was no longer the issue, I had to wait until I received the card before I can change the address. Again, strange considering their website displays a specific note that reads:

“If you have applied for a REAL ID Compliant driver license or identification card and not received your card, you must visit a DMV field office, complete a Change of Address (DMV 14) form, and present proof of residency to change your address.”

I’m just a simple man that follows directions, which I was doing, so I was beginning to get frustrated. The situation seemed to be turning towards one where I perceived my request was too inconvenient, and no one wanted to provide the level of “customer service” required to resolve the situation. Which brings us to the heart of the problem -Customer Service is Expensive

Customer Service is Expensive

Customer Service Rep

What we all perceive as customer services is a series of steps designed to resolve human errors that arise from improper verification steps, inadequate training, and misinformation. Somewhere along the way, a mistake was made. It might be on the customer’s side or the vendor’s side.  Either way, how disputes are resolved determines how people view your brand. More importantly, they determine the value we place on the people responsible for interacting on an organization’s behalf.

When people perceive their time or money is being wasted, they’re unlikely to place a high value on the people with whom they interact, or on the services, they provide. When this happens, people are no longer an asset for an organization and become a detractor. When enough people are viewed as detractors, organizations have to decide if human interactions are worth the time and money they consume.

Ultimately, we question the value of humans every time they don’t tell us we’ve signed up for a trial service, or are getting an introductory price. We want better technology every time we lose our phones, and the person at the store won’t transfer our contacts because we aren’t buying anything. We want people fired when they open fake accounts to hit management quotas. Every time an employee does what’s easy, instead of what’s right, they are one step closer to losing their job to a machine.

How Violence in Digital Media Causes Mass Shootings

Police Response

A New Normal

In an unfortunate turn of events, the US experienced two mass shootings within 24 hours, which some politicians will undoubtedly use as an excuse to reignite the debate on violence in digital media. Before I add fuel to the fire, let’s state the obvious. My heart goes out to those affected by the events that transpired in Gilroy, El Paso, and Dayton. Although, I’m sure those affected by the events that occurred are tired of “hearts and condolences” sound bites, and instead, would like to see action taken. Believe it or not, that’s something with which I can help.

Gun Pointed

The object of this post is not to argue the finer points of scientific studies on the correlations between violent media and society. Instead, I think we can all agree; there’s no perfect amount of violence for any media platform; it will always be a matter of taste, and “there’s no accounting for taste.” The objective of this post is relay information on actionable items we can undertake to end this part of the gun violence debate.

While the tech industry hasn’t recently done much to swing public opinion in their favor, when it comes to content control, they got it right. As someone without kids, I’ve always had a strangely keen interest in the subject of parental controls. I always find myself having emotional conversations with parents who claim we haven’t done enough to help them limit what their kids watch. On the other hand, history documents overwhelming responses whenever outsiders criticize the industry on the subject.

Industry Accommodations

Fortnite Player

Since there seems to be such low awareness regarding the amount of control modern devices enable over content, let’s discuss some of the industry’s key elements.

– Parental Controls – limit the type of content that users can access on digital devices. It’s become a generic term to describe the limitations imposed through a variety of applications and systems. You can find control settings in the Play Store, App Store, Xbox One, Xbox 360, Playstation 4, and Playstation 3, Apple TV, and Roku, to name a few.

– V-chip – is a system designed to limit the type of content viewers can watch on television based on its content rating. The chip has been mandatory in all television sets since 2000 and remains one of the most underutilized features of all time.

– Content Rating Systems – “rate the suitability of tv, broadcasts, movies, comic books, or video games to its audience.” When used in conjunction with parental control systems, they effectively block audiences from viewing content which may not be suitable for them.

In summary, the tech sector has delivered all the components necessary for completing a functioning system, enabling individuals to make informed decisions about the content they access. I admit, they could step up their training and outreach programs about the availability of these features, but one thing they can’t control is participation.

Ultimately, it will be up to us to take the time out of our busy days to learn how to implement these controls on our devices. That accountability always lies with us; there is no one to point fingers at regarding our own responsibilities.

The Content Control Challenge (CCC)

We’re at the part where we attempt to start positive change. Instead of correlating some random act with a good cause, I’m going to try to create a challenge where the actions taken during the challenge have a direct effect on the problem. The challenge is called the Content Control Challenge, it’s on our Facebook page right now, and it requires everyone to set up content controls on at least one of their digital devices. Here’s how to participate.

– Take a photo or screenshot of parental controls screen on the device you’re setting it up.

– Post the picture to Facebook and mention the name of the device

– Tag 5 people you know to take the challenge and raise awareness around content control.

We’ll start…

The Gig Economy’s Death Cross

Financial Charts

Financial markets have some predetermined signals that are supposed to alert investors that the bottom is getting ready to fall out of the market. One of the more popular indicators is the “Death Cross,” which happens when the short term average value (usually 50 days) of a stock falls below the long term average value (usually 200 days). Some financial advisors argue this means a stock has peaked and you can expect a long term downward trend to begin, and we’ll theorize a similar indicator exists for the gig economy.

Market Share Over Profitability

Burning Money

The gig economy is Silicon Valley’s most extreme version of the Software as a Service (SaaS) business model. A business model that, as noted in a previous post, we think offers no long term value to the economy or the consumers that are using it. We’ve concluded this based on the fact the those who participate in this type of business model are offering services well below fair market value to gain market share, without concern over how the business will eventually reach profitability.

Because these businesses are offering services at an unprofitable level, they are easily identifiable by their high cash burn rates and the fact their operations are usually subsidized through private investment capital or early-stage Initial Public Offerings (IPOs). The list of notable companies we consider to be a part of this group is Uber, Lyft, Instacart, DoorDash, MoviePass, etc., and a variety of scandals have emerged over how some of these companies are paying their “contractors.”

Each one of these companies facilitates a connection between an end-user and service provider with the hopes of receiving a piece of the action – the very definition of a middle man. The problem is a middle man can’t earn any money in a non-profitable endeavor, and the results are beginning to show, something that should worry anyone associated with these companies.

It Can’t be that Bad

Borrowing Money

Take Uber for example, which has a well-publicized issue with driver wages falling below, or being just above minimum wage. With labor rates so low (a goal of so many organizations), many would imagine Uber must be a highly profitable business, but according to self-reported earnings, Uber’s losses are widening, and growth is slowing. These reports are leaving some early investors wondering if they will ever see a return on their investment, with the only possible fix to the situation being a significant increase in service rates.

In other news, MoviePass’s recent spiral has also been high-publicized as it continues to restructure pricing and access for its users to shave their massive losses. The most recent changes resulting in a lower number of users on the platform and higher prices for those customers that remain, although the only metric anyone cares about is the 126 million dollars in losses.

Even Lyft, which seems to attract fewer negative public relations mentions than the previous companies, has been forced to make some changes. Since Lyft also doesn’t have a profitable structure, recent changes in minimum wage laws have forced them to raise their rates to guarantee their drivers earn a living wage.

How to Create a Death Cross

In case you haven’t noticed the trend, time vets all business models, and the fix for all of these businesses is the same – they have to raise prices. The problem is most of their users have been acquired based on the price point of the service, not on its quality; therefore, the inevitable result of raising prices is a decrease in users.

It’s quite simple when you boil it down to most simple mathematical elements. On the hand, you have the price of the service, and on the other, you have the number of user on the platform. As the price goes up, the number of users comes down, and at some point, these two lines will overlap creating the “Gig Economy Death Cross.”

Death Cross

The Gig Economy Death Cross represents a sobering reality for these business models. At its core, it’s the maximum rate they can charge for their service before the user loss becomes unreasonable, and the resulting evaluation will determine if the company is dead on arrival.

Take the dollar amount at the point of intersection, multiply it by the number of users to estimate the revenue earned, and then subtract the company’s expenses. If the resulting number is in the red, I suggest you start polishing up that resume.

It’s always convenient for believers in these businesses to argue that an evaluation of this kind is too simplistic, we would counter by illustrating most of the business community’s longest standing principles are along these lines. Beliefs like, supply and demand, or word-of-mouth is the best advertising, have long stood the test of time, so it’s hard for us to comprehend how something like needing to generate more money than you spend could have slipped through the cracks.

Please leave any comments or questions about this post in the section below.

 

 

The Net Neutrality Paradox

Net Neutrality

Concept Explained…

White Board ExplanationFor those who aren’t as familiar with the topic of net neutrality as us hardcore techies, I’m going take a minute to summarize (in Layman’s terms) what it is, and why you should care about it. If you’re reading this post, you’re probably one of the millions of people in the world who access some kind of multimedia via the internet. If you subscribe to NetflixHulu, Amazon Prime, SpotifyApple MusicPandoraDirectv Now, or any other streaming subscription service, you fall into the category of people I’m addressing and should make sure to read this article in its entirety.

If you have one of the subscription streaming services mentioned above, you probably enjoy access to thousands of music and movie titles via an internet connection that’s provided by a cable or phone operator, and until now, that hasn’t been a problem. Since the inception of streaming services, these companies that have been happily providing internet connections to your homes while adhering to a simple principle called Net Neutrality.

The principle goes something like this, as long as you are paying for the broadband service they’ve been providing, whatever you decide to download via that connection is up to you, and the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) won’t interfere with it. But more recently, the content consumers are streaming has inhibited the ability of those same companies to monetize their content, so now they’re lobbying the FCC to remove the rules that formalized the Net Neutrality principles in writing, enabling them to charge more for content coming through their pipelines that originates from competing services.

History Repeats Itself

Infinity Sign

You’ve probably been hearing a lot of techies trying to convince consumers that net neutrality needs to stay in place, and taken at face value, that argument would appear to be correct. But if you dig a little deeper, you’ll see that the abolishment of Net Neutrality could be the best thing for those of us who choose to access our favorite media via the internet. Let me explain.

Due to the fact it’s much easier to change services and equipment between wireless carriers than it is switch between ISPs, the wireless industry has always moved faster than the “wired” industry, and it’s generally pretty safe to look toward them for indications of how strategy changes will affect markets. It’s a bit of a canary in a coal mine situation, which I’ll sure the wireless industry would prefer wasn’t the case, but never the less, here we are.

It wasn’t that long ago that conversations with wireless executives about unlimited data plans resulted in executives stating, with 100% confidence, they would never have to offer unlimited data plans to their customers. Less than five years later things have changed, with wireless agreements including unlimited talk, text, and data, in addition to offering consumers the choice between Netflix, Hulu, and HBO. And now, depending on with whom you sign on the dotted line, a whole range of extras are available because of the addition of a new point of competition.

Unlike with ISPs, wireless providers compete head-to-head in almost every region, and the result of “true competition” has benefited customer across the nation, as the average cost of wireless bills has lowered when compared to 5 years ago. The removal of net neutrality on the wired side of the business would create a point of competition between ISPs similarly to how unlimited data plans affected the wireless industry. This assertion isn’t made without merit, as I remember the days before unlimited wireless plans were everywhere, and cell phone service providers were picking and choosing which particular content to include as a part of “data free” streaming. Can you see the similarity?

The 4K Factor

The availability of Ultra High Definition (UHD or 4K) content will probably be the tipping point for all of this due to the amount of internet bandwidth it requires and the lack of ability for traditional cable providers to offer it. If imposed caps and limitations on streaming content to our homes remain in place (there’s already a 1TB cap), consumers with 4K HDTVs and streaming source content to match will quickly start looking for ISPs that aren’t tacking on extra charges for owning the latest equipment and wanting to take full advantage of its capabilities.

The delivery of 4K content has become a more significant point of emphasis now that HDTV manufacturers have been ushering retailers towards selling UHD televisions in higher proportions than 1080p sets, and the transmission of these signal puts an enormous amount of stress on an aging internet infrastructure that streaming providers like Netflix aren’t responsible for maintaining. We can argue about the fairness of this arrangement later, but for now, we’ve reached the core of the Net Neutrality dilemma.

As the amount of data used to deliver 4K content to homes increases, inevitably, consumers will realize their home internet service plans more closely resemble the restrictive wireless data plans of the past than the newer unlimited data plans of the future. This dilemma will force the cable industry to choose which strategy to pursue in the same manner as the aforementioned wireless carriers.

The Rub

On the one hand, cable and internet providers could leave home internet services and Net Neutrality as it stands, collecting overages whenever customers surpass their streaming limit, hoping they can hold on long enough to figure out their own content system.

On the other hand, they fight to abolish Net Neutrality, unleashing an immediate flurry of competition that will undoubtedly lead down a rabbit hole to including everything but the kitchen sink to maintain video subscribers. So what can they do?

Let me know your thoughts in the comments section and time will tell if any of us had the right answers.