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Unable to escape bureaucracy

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By Jim Thompson
HCP columnist

Back when I started my current business in 1992, it was still possible to operate pretty much as an island. Correspondence was by U.S. mail or facsimile; the internet did not exist. Software, if you had a computer, was bought on discs at a computer store.

No more. All systems are interconnected. Software and software upgrades are downloaded directly to your computer. If you do not have some box checked 12 layers deep in your software, the vendors will decide to upgrade your software when they want to do so, paying no never-mind to your schedule. Software has gone from being a one-time purchase to a subscription automatically billed monthly at mind-numbing prices.

Apple, Google, Microsoft and Amazon constantly bring their sharp elbows to the table and vie for your “cloud storage” business, often creating conflicts in your software and storage. One product from one of these companies has taken files from me and hidden them somewhere that can’t be found.

Virtually all suppliers, far beyond the few I have mentioned above, have adopted a protocol in answering phone calls that places the burden of waiting for service on you the customer – it is your time that is wasted, not theirs. This has become so widespread that we don’t even realize what they have done to us. It is a big savings for them, a big cost to us.

Why have live operators standing by when the customer is willing to sacrifice their time?

Lawyers have written policies that “by clicking here you agree” that would require your own bevy of full-time Philadelphia lawyers for you to understand that to which you have committed.

Your computer system is so vulnerable to access from nefarious folks that you have to purchase a software package to protect yourself; yet, if you read the aforementioned legalese in these packages, you’ll likely find out that the vendor assumes no liability if their product fails. Buy a third-party product for this service, and one of the sharp elbows of the previously mentioned giants above will pop up a message regularly on your screen indicating you are not protected (read: you are not protected by their software).

We all are forced to use credit cards, and then buy more security software to protect them from being stolen or misused. Again, in the fine print you will note they don’t really protect you. They are just kidding.

You may have a small soap and candle shop on Main Street, but you are as subject to all this bureaucracy as a larger company would be. The difference is due to your size, you can’t afford the bureaucracy a larger company may employ to keep all these bits and pieces organized.

The time burden of this overhead activity is disproportionally larger on a percentage basis for you than it is for a larger company and it cuts into your efficiency.

Government services with which you are forced to engage employ the same tactics, but the fallout for you is even worse – for most government services are monopolies and you are forced to interact with them no matter how bad their service is.

I have noted a marked difference (for the worse) in software interfaces to government sites than to those provide by private enterprise (which are bad enough on their own).

Sadly, there seems to be no way out of this abyss. Habits, policies and procedures are fairly fixed now and we must live with them. I do suspect, however, if anti-trust actions are ever brought against FAANG (Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Google), there will be an opportunity to address these matters.

It was done a generation and a half ago when AT&T was forced to break up by anti-trust courts and that turned out to be a very positive outcome for the consumer.

Jim Thompson, formerly of Marshall, is a graduate of Hillsboro High School and the University of Cincinnati. He resides in Duluth, Ga. and is a columnist for The Highland County Press.

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