The Business of Services

When we look at the U.S. business market from a thirty-thousand-foot perspective, it becomes obvious what our reality has become in business.  The U.S. economy has obviously shifted to a consumer market which can easily be seen by just observing the stock exchange daily.  The health of the stock market is driven by consumers buying stuff.  However, most of that stuff is manufactured and produced in other countries which once may have been produced in the U.S. in years past.  Due to a global market and price pressures, the costs of goods are driven down by outsourcing to developing countries and the world consumers respond positively and buy the stuff.  This is economics 101 for most people.  Once all the stuff is produced somewhere else what is left for the U.S. business market and the American worker?  

As for the U.S. market, it becomes clear that the American business model has ultimately become the business of finance and the entire U.S. landscape reflects this basic fact.  The American business model and the American way is the finance market, using big money to make more money by loaning it out and making interest return on investment.  We no longer make the stuff to generate profit, we finance the stuff to those who don’t have money to buy the stuff up front.  The larger the corporation the deeper the pockets are to finance the stuff.  As for the American consumer, they have become the heart of this financial engine by buying the stuff they can’t afford right now.  Once upon a time people financed homes and cars, now they finance every aspect of their lives.  We finance homes to live in, cars to drive us to work, education because it’s too expensive. We finance entertainment by financing the pool in the backyard, the boat, the annual passes to your favorite theme park and many other things we don’t need.  We buy, business finances the transaction, then the stock prices rise, and the stockholders cash in again.  At this point you are probably wondering where is he going with this? 

Now, that we have established this point of the position of the U.S. market we can look at what is left besides the finance business in the U.S. This is where I am going to make my point.  Once we stop producing stuff, such as consumer goods there are a handful of things that are left such as infrastructure that we do still work on and maintain in the U.S. today.  We work on highways, oil production and energy production to keep the lights on, the cars on the road and the goods getting to where they can be bought and sold.  We have become a service industry in many parts of American business today.  We are in the business of maintenance or repair of the stuff sold and that is big business.  We service everything in the U.S. from power plants, refineries, automobiles, even to the human body through physical therapy to keep us healthy to do all the work mentioned previously.  Much of the U.S. industrial machine has moved from the assembly line where machines produced a product to a model that the individual employee turning wrenches is the product sold.  The labor is the product. 

The question that I stated in the headline is, are we all safety engineers in this service industry that we find ourselves working in today?  My argument is that once most of the hardcore engineering design and manufacturing is produced somewhere else then we are left with engineering to keep the product working.  Most of this relates back to protecting the worker that performs the maintenance activities.  Whether we design work instructions, training, redesign parts, tooling or the schedule of managing the project all these activities are primarily done to protect the worker while doing the work.  So, if we look at this as a value stream and the employee labor is the product we sell then all the activities that we do to product that labor really is safety engineering because we are engineering around the most intelligent machine ever built, the human.  All of the activities we perform are the safety engineering to produce labor that is safety and quality incident free and that continues to improve efficiency which in turn produces higher profits for the organization and prevent losses to the customer.  Whether you are a back-office engineer designing tooling and work instructions, the EHS person delivering safety training, or the quality engineer monitoring the consistency of the product, we are all in the business of safety engineering in this market.  

In my next post, I will discuss how this concept relates to the cost of poor quality, the cost of poor safety and if you are working in the right place in the value chain to really impact safety, quality and efficiency in your organization.  Are you battling the symptoms of the problem 100 times or working upstream to solve 100 problems once? 

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