The Profits Are at the Perimeter
Technologies such as 3D printing and smart phones are allowing companies to push manufacturing and service delivery right to their customers' doorstep. It's a shift that encompasses everything from auto parts to family medicine.
In today's "right now" economy where no one wants to wait for anything, we're seeing more instances of businesses pushing the delivery of their products and services to the perimeter-- to the edge, or what might be called the closest boundary to the customer. This becomes infinitely easier as digitally-enabled consumers are increasingly seeking virtual products and services rather than physical objects. But it's an equally valuable and important idea for nearly every kind of business as well. Delivering what I want, when I want it, and wherever I am has always been the end game and as we continue to be more connected, our desires in this regard and the competition to respond to them continue to accelerate.
For consumers like you and me, books, games and music are just the beginning. Why travel to see your physician when your phone can bring the doctor to your digital door? Telemedicine is on the way and it's becoming clearer and clearer that time-wasting visits to the doc don't enhance the efficacy of the treatment in the vast majority (more than 70%) of cases. Let your fingers and your phone do the walking. You save time, avoid the costs of getting to and fro, and, in most instances, get a better, faster and more satisfactory result. And, if you still crave that human touch, (or you just sliced your finger open) urgent care facilities with better hours, shorter lines, and customer-centric practitioners are popping up right next to the nail salons and bank branches in your neighborhood.
For businesses, the potential savings in time and money are even greater because the embedded transportation costs imposed by multiple parties throughout the supply chain are a significant expense contributor to many products and services. My favorite example is the cost of hundreds of different plastic and composite parts at any car dealership or repair shop. The math is simply amazing; the cost to ship and deliver these myriad parts is substantially more than the cost of the parts themselves. If ever there was a clear and compelling use case for distributed 3D printing-- on site and on demand-- with basically NO transportation cost, this is it. And again, 3D printing is just the beginning of the analysis. Inventory costs are also dramatically reduced, waiting times for critical parts, which often delay the completion of many repairs, are largely eliminated. Any mistakes in the parts specified and required can be remedied in the moment rather than after delivery of the wrong pieces.
The compelling combination of constant connectivity and complete mobility is also freeing up large portions of the workforce previously constrained and/or tethered to offices, desktops, and proprietary environments. Not only can examinations, inspections, evaluations and even transactions now be done almost anywhere--in the field, in the home, in the factory--but they can be supported, supplemented and improved with resources, decision-support tools, and even visual supervision from afar. Forms of augmented intelligence like these will change our businesses far more quickly than artificial intelligence. Just as our phones let us be better and smarter shoppers, they will increasingly help almost every enabled worker perform tasks faster and more accurately.
Even more significantly, many businesses will push the process and the "work" out to their customers at the edge and let them take advantage of the same tools and systems to do a better job of serving their own needs. We can expect to see increasing instances of streamlined self-service, like JPMorgan Chase's mobile check deposit service, coming down the pipe. Every major automobile insurer in the U.S. will quickly copy Allstate's example and encourage insurance claimants to use their own phones to document and report vehicle damage using variants of the technology developed years ago by a Chicago-based startup--SnapSheet-- which is already working with a number of the major insurers. (See .)
And so the question for your business is pretty simple. How easy is it to do business with you? How can you simplify the process-- push the tools out to the end user, speed up the transactions-- and ultimately end up with far more happy campers as customers. If you don't do it and do it now, you can be sure that someone else will.