Busting Monopolies

Have you ever seen somebody who loves their IT support?
How about somebody who can’t stop praising their HR?
Or somebody who would give their right leg for their facilities maintenance team?

I’m guessing the answer, on average, is a resounding “fuck”
You know why?
Because these centralized support functions are lasting political monopolies.

By lasting political monopoly, what I mean is that these organizations have been placed in a position of a monopoly without having earned it, and have no specified limit on the time for which they are allowed to function as a monopoly. Unlike, for example, a patent, which is a Limited Apolitical Monopoly where the owner earned the patent, and has a time limit imposed on the monopoly powers it gives him, the DMV, is a Lasting Political Monopoly, where from now until the end of time, only the DMV has the power to issue licenses to drive.

And these lasting political monopolies are terrible things. Generally they will result in
1. Higher Pain: Either in pricing, or in cases where pricing can not exceed a certain threshold (like in our centralized support functions), in the actual experience, the monopolies will create excruciating pain for most customers. Badly designed databases, insane forms, irrelevant categorization procedures and labyrinth-like procedures are all signs that your support group does not care about you.
2. Lack of Innovation: Monopolies don’t need to innovate. The market is their slave. They laugh at innovation. Even in creating horrible customer experiences, they will not innovate. They will do it the same terrible way every single time.
3. Inefficiency: Without pricing pressure and competition for their business, the monopolies become inefficient, sloth like, and apathetic. With time, these monopolies get infested with incompetent employees who can not so much as understand your problem, much less actually solve it. I think that in a few years, all support functions will be staffed by comatose people on life support systems. And whats more, nobody will notice the fucking difference.
4. God Complex: These paragons of inefficiency eventually realize that their customers have no power over them. As soon as that happens, these bastards will start bossing they customers around, telling them what they can do and not do (You can not use a taxi if the travel company is not authorized by me), telling them what they can have and not have (You can have a pen to take notes, but you can not have a black pen), and telling them when they can have it (The lead time for getting a hall organized for your team in 145 days), and finally, telling the customer what is wrong with them (Why don’t you invite ME to your review meetings. Maybe the perspective I have gained by my years of experience ignoring your requests for service will add value in a discussion about cloud computing)
And in companies in India that are remote sites or development centers for their parent companies, this situation is made worse by the fact that more often than not, the heads of these support functions are placed at an organizational level that is a few notches higher than the heads of their customer organizations. In addition to that, their American or European overlords more often that not do not care about little manifestations of the bigger problem. And even if they do want to talk about it, they are easily slowed down by the monopolies by throwing some region specific sand - like legal and regional compliance directives – in the overseer’s eyes

So is there a way out?
Is there something organizations can do to prevent their support functions from turning into torture chambers for the rest of us?

For starters the regional support functions should be clearly told that they are accountable to the regional business unit managers.
Second, for every regional support function, one business unit manager should be assigned as the outside reviewer to review progress and performance on at least a monthly basis. And this manager should change every year. This has two benefits. Not only does the support function get reviewed by a customer, the customer gets a feel for what the support functions need to be successful. (Coz lets face it, not all customers are right all the time either. There are incompetent bastards among all of us)
We’re trying this in our business. I’ll let you know if things change.

If any of you have any other brilliant ideas, lemme know!


  1. vivek jhunjhunwalaDecember 17, 2008

    Dude! Who are you? Yeah well I know you won't reveal that.
    As usual - fantastic stuff. Am sure you feel "aaj kuch sahi likha hai". I think every person who is in a position to contribut something useful to his/her org will relate to this post.
    The very basic point of the support functions not having customer reviews ails me [and the org obviously]
    Keep writing

  2. Vivek;
    Look around the blog.
    There are many clues to my name (or my popular nicks anyway).
    Keep reading! And thanks again