Recently someone in The Force Field Forums posted a comment about a rise in the level of “platform bashing” taking place in various discussion threads. The concern is that the forums have become an “anti-platform” soap box with which to rant about bad Buyers, ridiculously low-ball work orders, horribly written contracts, payment issues and general distrust of the platforms themselves, and have become so negative that it is driving members away.
I would certainly hope that is not the case, but the reason I wrote this article is because I sense it too.
I know there are issues with techs and the platforms. I also understand that everyone has their own values and ideals. While I know the frustrations and appreciate the concerns voiced by techs about the general disruption these web-based service platforms bring to the industry, I also believe that issues are resolved through positive, constructive ideas and collaborative action and not negative bashing.
I didn’t build The Force Field to be an “<Insert Web Based Service Platform Name Here> Sucks” crusade. Simply put, it isn’t taking the high road; it’s not the way to do business. It promotes negativity instead of positive action. It isn’t productive.
On the other hand, the issues aren’t going to go away, so some of these posts are expected. After all, it is a space to vent. Frankly, I’d rather they vent in a members only area of The Force Field Forums than out there in front of their contractors, vendors, or worse, their customers. If venting frustration in the private forums will prevent a public melt down in the field, then I guess it does serve a purpose.
But, yes, it gets to me, too, because that isn’t what I built the forums for. I built them to create a neutral place where the techs, contractors and vendors could meet and work it out instead of duke it out and collaborate instead of compete. It’s supposed to be neutral territory, not a venue skewed in the opposite direction of the other venues or an anti-platform platform. It’s a safe place to negotiate the differences, connect the vendors from the disconnect and put everyone on equal ground. It is supposed to be a repository or a portal of resources to locate and connect with these companies on the other side. It’s supposed to be a place to network with everyone – peers, competitors, contractors, vendors and outsources.
Unfortunately, I find that some techs don’t really want to talk with the contractors and platforms to sort it all out. They just want to use the forums as a place from which to shoot at them instead.
Perhaps this is really my fault. That was not what I was going for when I built the forums, but perhaps my own reputation did this. I was quite outspoken in the OnForce forums, and I still archive some of my posts here, mostly to demonstrate the lessons learned (or not learned) by both sides. But my posts were not intended to bash the platforms. Sure, there were times when I was frustrated with the OnForce platform system. But I didn’t hate it, and, even when I was fed up with the way I was treated as both a Buyer and Provider, I never said I did. In fact, up until the very end of my relationship with OnForce I said I would not bash them and left the door of communication open. They shut the door, not me.
My posts in the OnForce forums were not written to bash them. I posted that many times. They were intended to be a wake up call from a perspective they did not really understand and stress the need for balance in the web based platform business. Instead, I was labeled as a dissident or troublemaker and my concerns dismissed as rebellious rants.
As for the other IT service platforms, I simply wrote them off. Although I do still have accounts with ServiceLive and Field Nation and still receive work orders from them, I never accepted work from either one, primarily for the same reasons many other techs don’t. However, there are a lot of laments from other techs in our forums who have worked for them, and the negativity has become counterproductive.
There is absolutely no doubt that the last seven years have seen a lot of upheaval for techs who perform contract work in field services. It has frustrated and angered some. It has caused a few to change the way they do business and for others, it has become unprofitable.
So, yes, there has been some kicking and screaming. And yes, it gives some folks a headache. I’m tired of hearing it myself, even though I understand what’s happening and why.
Okay, before I finish this, I don’t want anyone to think that I am taking sides about the negative posts. I am not. Do I agree with those who complain about the negativity? Yes, to a point, because they make a valid one. Does it mean I disagree with the techs who are wielding clubs at the platforms? No, because I understand their frustration first hand. I’ve been frustrated with them too and I certainly appreciate the gravity it.
But here’s the thing. It doesn’t change any thing. It’s all rhetoric. It only stirs up emotion and polarize opinion to one side or another. It doesn’t solve the problem.
A few years ago, when I was still posting in the OnForce forums, I made several references to a “shakeup” in the industry, particularly in the area of field service in relation to contract work. At one point, former OnForce alumni Jack Barcroft even invited me on his internet radio show to discuss it.
Well, it’s happening now. It’s been happening. There is an upheaval in progress that will change field service work as we know it. You’re experiencing it now, and this is only the beginning. What you are experiencing is not a temporary shift in pricing and policy that will rebound in our favor. I’ve read some posts with the thought that, once the Buyers find out low balling doesn’t work, pizza techs are worthless and the platforms “suck”, all of these bad dreams will go away and the field work in this industry will be as before.
It is not going to happen.
It’s all going to morph into something new and it will never be the same again.
We can blame OnForce and all these other service platforms for this change, and we can reminisce all day about how much better it was before these platforms showed up. But the truth is, OnForce didn’t create this dilemma. Yes, they blazed the trail to be the one of the first to capitalize on it, but they didn’t create it. Technology did. More precisely, Information Technology.
That’s right, folks. The very thing we embraced as nerds and geeks and that provided us with our livelihoods as field service techs is also the same Jabberwock that has chewed it all up into what seems to be a confusing mess.
During the last decade or two we’ve watched as the Internet has completely morphed the entire landscape. The banking industry, the music industry, the retail industry, Hollywood, TV and radio, telephone communications, publishing, advertising and marketing, shipping, every one of these industries has seen a dramatic upheaval due to IT that forced them to either adapt or completely change their business models or risk going under. Newspapers are dying. Borders Books just closed its doors. The next institution to shut its doors may to be the US Postal Service.
Now it is our turn to adapt or die.
What, you didn’t think it would happen to us – the ones who set up and maintain the infrastructure to deliver all this upheaval to the world? Think again, because it’s happening now. We just didn’t happen to be the first industry on the list.
You may think I’m nuts to say this, but we are actually very fortunate to be in this position, all things considered. Why? Because we weren’t the first. We won’t be the last, but we’re not the first. This gives us a bit of an advantage over the other industries that didn’t take change well and are still struggling with it to survive, because we can learn from their mistakes.
Look what happened to them. Almost every one of them did not embrace the change. In fact, many of them were dragged into it kicking and screaming. A couple of them, notably the RIAA and the MPAA, are still in denial and are fighting it tooth and nail. How do we perceive the RIAA? It is, perhaps, one of the most hated organizations in the world, right up there with Al Qaeda. The MPAA? The public regards their threats with fear and loathing.
What happened to newspapers? Instead of changing, they simply tried to move their old world business model from print to web. Many have already folded. Madison Avenue still doesn’t really get Internet advertising and is still trying to come to grips with Web 2.0 marketing and social media because they aren’t used to not having control of the message.
And the telephone? Who still has a land line anymore? I haven’t one. I haven’t had a land line in years.
Borders is a prime example of a store that was left behind. Instead of staying ahead of the curve and going digital like Amazon and Barnes and Noble, Borders stuck it out with print alone and only got into the e-book business late in the game. Too late, because the others already cornered the market.
On the other hand, many other major brick and mortar stores in the retail industry embraced it with open arms. Some of them found ways to integrate the real and virtual businesses and kept them profitable. Look at the web today. Internet retail is big business. It may even have saved a brick and mortar store or two.
We were in a very good position because we could see the train coming from miles away. Only thing is, we were on the wrong track. We didn’t think it was coming for us.
We have seen what technology is capable of. It’s disruptive. It destroys entire business models. We already know what happens to companies that fight change in their industry. They essentially destroy themselves. However, in the wake of destruction rises the birth of new business models and new industries. The good news? The first to embrace, adopt and adapt are usually the ones who thrive and become the new leaders in it.
Now it’s our turn. We have an advantage and a choice. The advantage? We have history to learn from so we can adapt to the changes. We can learn from the mistakes of others before us and use that knowledge to invent new ways of doing business as IT service providers and ways of mastering – not surviving – but mastering the field.
The choice? Whether we decide to do it – or not. If we choose to fight it, as our predecessors have, we will most surely lose. We can’t prevent change, but we can decide whether or not to invent a new way of doing business in the field that can be just as profitable (or more so) than before and be a leader in it.
Whether we like it or not, the industry is changing. If we want to survive and prosper in this business during the coming years, we must adapt to this change – and not just adapt, but to lead.