By Peter Muya
Human life has historically been configured around interdependency and intermediation. Think of the human anatomy; specifically the digestive system. The moment food hits your mouth, digestion starts. The state of food on the spoon just before the mouth is different from the state of that food from the mouth down your stomach. The state from the mouth to the stomach is equally different from the state of the food from the stomach to the blood stream.
The human system at work has a complex intermediation mechanism. Those who cannot feed through the mouth cannot ingest stuff meant to pass through the mouth. If you disable one part of the system, you would have to improvise or mimic externally the role of this part otherwise you compromise the ability of the other dependent parts from functioning correctly.
Advancement in technology has opened up possibilities that in the past followed complex routes of intermediation. Take the example of communication. Postal system intermediated between a sender and a receiver. The process was long, fraught with errors and incapable of delivering instant messaging. Technology has revolutionized that. Instant messaging doesn’t need a physical stamp, a writing pad or envelope, a sender and a recipient converse with each other in real time. You may call this a post office-less conversation.
Transportation has long involved a carriage, an engine and a driver, be it a hand cart, a chariot or an automobile. The system has been built to intermediate such that each component is dependent on the other to make haulage possible. Think of financial services as well. Upon discovery of means to convert the value of assets into currency, humans have found a system of intermediation for trade.
Imagine as a consultant selling enterprise architecture services. The fees I collect from my client would say pay consultants I hired to help in delivery, pay for office space and renew professional subscription. If during my bidding process, I proposed to the client to pay for my rent and renew our subscription, I would be in a way removing the need for intermediation. Even in that, the respective payments would be means to an end which would require further removals and the complexity increases. In short, currency reduced the complexity of matching needs between a buyer and a seller.
In transformation parlance the world X-Less has become common. It has been said with a view to show the looming cessation of dependency of a component that has been part and parcel of a system. For example, driverless cars or cashless economy. The message is that traditional forms of intermediation are coming to an end just like the case of postal system. But does that mean intermediation is coming to an end? Is an autonomous car not a system of haulage similar to the traditional automobile only that it requires no human being to operate it? Does that mean it is driverless or the driver has taken a new form? Does autonomy take away the conception of intermediation?
Let’s examine cash. What exactly is cashless? Is it cessation of the need to use traditional paper or coin currencies recognized as legal tender or the death of intermediation between buying and selling? I think the meaning leans more to the former than the latter. If this understanding is correct then fundamentally, the means of intermediation are changing but not necessarily the architecture of intermediation. The architecture is only becoming more open, accessible, efficient and also vulnerable. Imagine if you had a platform where humans could share nutrition. For instance, if say I don’t like broccoli but I know it is good for my health yet I can get someone else to chew it for me and transmit the processed stuff via an API so I could inject it in my bloodstream. This is the open platform of ecosystem of intermediation that faces our x-less economy. The blood in this case being data.
This highly connected and real-time exchange of nutrients within the ecosystem exposes participants to risks of “blood poisoning”. Seamless exchange of data brings the risk of introducing micro-organisms that if undetected can be catastrophic to normal operations of the ecosystem. The fundamental architecture in this ecosystem must recognize these risks and find ways to minimize or eliminate the possibility of them occurring. Making this distinction is important for decision makers to know the key areas of focus in their x-less journeys.
About the Author
Peter Muya, is an award enterprise transformation practitioner, possessing 17 years experience conducting mid and large-scale transformation projects in the telecommunications, financial services and public sector industries. He is the co-founder and a managing partner of PTI Consulting, a pan-African consulting practice providing ICT related business advisory services