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  • Writer's pictureJon

It's in there somewhere

Historically we bundled things up because it made sense. It made processing quicker, easier and cheaper. But aggregation is rife with unintended consequences that usually don’t surface until something goes wrong and we need to unpick the bundle.

Think about baggage handling for a moment. Bags arrive at an airport perfectly sorted and matched with their owners. The process of loading them onto planes means that we check them in, they are labelled with our destination and then aggregated into massive halls under the terminal. A complex web of belts, scanners and staff then dis-aggregates the bags and delivers them to the appropriate flight for loading. Inevitably there are problems (straps get caught on belts, labels cannot be read by the scanners, and so on.) and some bags remain at the point of departure or end up at the wrong destination. All of this results in cost to remediate, reputational damage, and lost customer goodwill.

I can see why this is acceptable for physical items but is it really necessary with information? Do we persist with bundles of information because we are locked into the straitjacket of legacy processes or systems? Invoices from suppliers, for example, can be made up of multiple line items, each needing to be matched against a purchase order and the confirmation that the service or product has been received. Payments by buyers can be for amounts covering multiple invoices (each with the potential to have multiple line items) with the remittance data separated and often containing insufficient reference information.

Aggregation means that processes move at the speed of the slowest item, not the fastest, and the batch is held at that stage in the process until everything catches up. A problem with one element of an invoice or an expense report, payment is held up even though the queried item is only a small percentage of the total value. Resolving the disputed item will probably involve a time-consuming, costly round of back and forth communications and issuing credit notes and new invoices.

New technologies now make it completely possible to do business at the level of individual transactions, freeing us all from the burden of aggregation. Are you wasting time and money because of processes shaped by legacy constraints and processes? How much would you save and how much easier to do business with would you be, if you freed yourself from the straitjacket of aggregation?

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