Digital tools have revolutionized numerous disciplines, providing opportunities previously beyond the reach of non-digital technologies. However, while experienced professionals can exploit these tools, novices have been empowered, as well. As a result, practices of many disciplines are becoming increasingly subject to disintermediation.
Disintermediation is an economic concept rooted in banking and finance but is now more widely applied. It refers to the removal of “middle men” in a supply chain. Producers bypass traditional distribution channels involving an intermediary and deal with customers directly. Historically these intermediaries functioned as aggregators of information and services, supplying expertise or making up for inefficiencies in the system. By reducing or eliminating intermediaries such as agents and brokers, disintermediation costs less by servicing customers directly. Web-based business-to-customer transactions via the Internet represent common, contemporary examples of this. Additional examples range from online stock trading to real estate and travel agencies, industries transformed by an increasingly Internet-driven society.
Similarly, advances in digital technology are suggesting that other disciplines that have enjoyed special status provided by professional licensure, such as architecture, engineering, and even the delivery mechanisms of higher education in general, are also showing signs of disintermediation. Entry into design disciplines such as architecture and engineering has traditionally been subject to rigorous educational and regulatory restrictions. The value of their services was linked to material efficiencies, optimization of construction sequences, and the ability to navigate the regulatory and legal requirements associated with a particular project. Architects and engineers provided expertise in aggregating the data and knowledge necessary for project delivery.
The same can be said for access to higher education. Long-standing barriers including cost, scarcity of desired programs, geography, and a lack of qualified faculty are being minimized. Now, for-profit institutions like the University of Phoenix and StraighterLine (with its “$99 / month for all the courses you can consume” business plan) stand poised to dramatically lower these barriers. While reducing accessibility barriers is certainly admirable, the disintermediation associated with institutions such as these arguably results in undervaluing the faculty intermediaries traditionally involved.
In this presentation, specific technological innovations driving disintermediation are identified, followed by a discussion of strategies for using these same technologies to “re-intermediate” the societal relevance and economic value of intermediaries in different professions.
|Keywords:||Design, Education, Distance Learning, Information & Communications Technologies, Engineering, Architecture|
Associate Professor, College of Technology, Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, Ohio, USA
Associate Professor, Department of Architecture, College of Technology, Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, Ohio, USA
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