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In the physical world, disruption usually means tackling the problem of friction and gravity, like when you disrupt a large rock with your car. But in the digital world, as pointed out in a session on Disruption Untangled at the E2 conference now taking place in Boston, there is no gravity and anti-friction is the driver. 

The session, subtitled A Business-Focused Breakdown of the Categories and Companies Disrupting the Enterprise, featured Jason Maynard, Managing Director and Software Analyst at Wells Fargo. “If doing business with you means jumping through hurdles,” he said, “I will buy everything from Amazon,” because it is frictionless.

Friction, Value

Avoiding friction is the hidden driver of much of what appeals to businesses and consumers, and, when factored in, becomes a key to whether an additional piece of software is worth the hassle. The other key: adding value.

Maynard noted that “IT is becoming a component of every product and service,” such as ski resorts where RFID tags “make the entire experience a trackable event.” Cool, sure, but does it add value to the skiing, or remove hassles? IT may be becoming consumerized, but consumer activities are getting IT-ized, if it makes things easier and/or better.

One area where hassles can be removed is in customer service. Maynard noted that, via Twitter, he had a service issue with Time Warner cable fixed “within ten minutes.” After which, he marvelled to himself: “I just got awesome service from a cable company” via the lightweight communications medium.

Perhaps it’s because, as Maynard pointed out, “line of businesses are taking core ownership of digital interactions,” such as customer service taking control of Twitter interactions rather than customer service working through IT. Again, businesses want the straightest line, with the least amount of resistance.

Silos, Turf Wars

Inevitably, this leads to business restructuring -- that is, organizational disruption --
as silos are abandoned or as turf wars commence, whichever metaphor best suits the dynamic.

Maynard noted that digital technology leads not only to organizational integration, but to data integration. He recalled that, some years ago, businesses’ Holy Grail was “a 360-degree view of the customer” in every aspect of the customer’s journey, enabling “cross-sells, upsells, and, when you called into the call center, they would know who you were.”

But, as it turns out, 360 degrees was too ambitious, he noted, and, even now, there are only “enough digital breadcrumbs to complete maybe about 270 degrees.” The Holy Grail is still out there, and, since it could theoretically allow companies to manage customers' experience with the least amount of hassle and the greatest added value, the quest is still taking place, now in the form of integration between structured and unstructured data.

Personas Across Channels

A company might email Jason Maynard about mortgages, he said, because it knows about the “Jason” persona through the email channel, but it does not have a complete enough picture of the entire customer to know that he refinanced months ago. Like many business organizational charts, his persona still resides in silos. Maynard pointed out that, in most companies, “there’s no customer data czar who can stitch this all together.”

While a “stitched-together,” full view of the customer across all channels would provide the least friction and the most value for businesses looking to find, land and keep customers, the unanswered question is whether the customer will also find value added and barriers removed.

Throughout the E2 conference, just the name NSA or a similar reference has been sufficient to repeatedly serve as a punchline, referring to the recent stories about that major U.S. security agency’s access to telephone metadata. Maynard, for instance, joked that he “doesn’t need backup anymore because we’ve got the government.”

But will a true omni-channel picture of every aspect of a customer’s history and predicted future become a future punchline about too much knowledge? The answer may depend on whether the result removes an individual’s hassles -- or an individual’s value.