Disintermediation

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The Devil’s Advocate

“They say disintermediation is back in style. I say it never went out.”


In which the curmudgeonly old sod puts the world to rights.

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Disintermediation ˈdɪstɪntə(ː)ˌmiːdɪˈeɪʃən (n.)

The very promise of the digital revolution. A distributed network whose design cleaves to the end-to-end principle and that promises its users the ability, never before possessed, to reach their clients, friends, relations, countrymen, lovers, fighters, haters — in short, anyone — effortlessly and costlessly.

Hence, the great, grand, disintermediation.

Suddenly, aspiring but ungifted novelists could publish their bildungsromane direct into the teeth of a cruel world suddenly drowning in the sodding things, circumventing the galling disinterest of publishers who until then had guarded those gates of acclamation.

From nowhere, dreary middle-aged men could atone for the profligacy with which they wasted their own youths by recording, mixing and distributing their own dreary pop songs to the studied indifference of every soul on this barren rock, including their own families, not that they’re bitter or anything,[1] and have them at least sound like real pop music. No recording studio or record label required.

Unexpectedly, self-absorbed reality TV hosts could hot-wire their political aspirations into the nation’s deplorable consciousness, unfiltered by taste and undeterred by the cost of advertising or the mediated probity of party-political machinery.

Suddenly, a wild-west of mediocrity. The world is knee deep in the stuff, yet — yet — amongst all those swine, the faint hope remains of a pearl or two.

The digital revolution was, for those at the wrong end of the agency problem — a class of people generally called “clients” — a moment of beatific liberation, but only a fleeting one, for the same barrier whose collapse allowed them into this lush meadow of direct market access allowed every other bastard to rush in, too.

This turned said lush meadow into a tragic digital commons.[2] Chris Anderson’s long tail of hopeful aspiration — a supply for every demand; a demand for any supply! — morphed into a ghoulish chem-trail of worthless pap that no-one wanted to buy. The world was at once awash with quadrophonic noise.

The cry went up: “Help! Find someone to sort this out for us!

And, lo, agents were back in style again, branding themselves now as providers of “software as a service” and similarly fishy things.

And agents were back in style, too, in financial services though, as Jane Seymour might have put it, it isn’t like they ever truly went out. But now these firms, whose only role on God’s green Earth is to intermediate, began desperately to shed their own hideous operational burdens, flexing the very same power that the digital network vouchsafed to giftless amateur musicians: to disintermediate.

The cry rang out: “Go at once and outsource! Automate! Send the KYC team to Bucharest!”

“But, sir, how shall we disintermediate?”

“If you can’t work it out for yourself, find someone to help you.”

And, lo, businesses sprung from the fertile soil of that lush meadow, to intermediate the disintermediation. Legal process outsourcers; management consultants, providers of software as a service, and then a second wave of intermediating specialisms to police the first one: more management consultants, more negotiators, professional advisers, internal auditors, procurement specialists, negotiators, software as a service providers engaged implement the SAAS solutions bought in the first wave.

But unlike quotidian forty-something dads with their MacBook home studios and self-published kindle novels, the interdisintermediation of financial services has not been quite the same[3] roaring success. At least we dads have an MP3 to show for our effort, never mind that no-one will ever listen to it.

Where now are the MP3s of financial services firms? Where, indeed, are the business change managers who so assiduously costed out of existence that handful of quiet negotiators that were once parked in a corner of the compliance floor, now that they are replaced by a dispersed undertaking spanning three continents, four corporate service providers, an entire IT stack and a permanent operations and procurement infrastructure?

Onto the next project — it has something to do with distributed ledger technology, apparently.

See also

References

  1. I refer to none other than Dangerboy, of course.
  2. There wasn’t meant to be any “tragedy” in the digital commons, of course. But it turns out the scarce resource is not supply-side bandwidth — the good people at Amazon Web Services have got our backs on that — but demand-side attention and money.
  3. On a personal level, you understand.