Online services getting easier to use
This column originally ran in ComputorEdge on July 26, 2002
Within the last week, I've transferred money from one retirement account to another, put a stop payment on a check, and renewed both a book and video at the library.
Not very exciting, to be sure just another day in the thrill-a-minute life of a modern dad.
But what was unusual is that for the first time, I did all three tasks from my home, over the Internet.
This is the kind of convenience advocates of the computers have been predicting and touting for decades, ever since the technology to handle such simple tasks first because feasible.
Yet for most of us, banking and renewing library books are still things we do at the bank and library.
But perhaps that's starting to change.
Social forces at work
Of course, as with any massive social transformation, the move to conducting daily business online is retarded as much by human factors as by engineering.
As mentioned, the technology to do your banking from home has existed for decades. In the early '80s, the cable television industry offered online banking via your cable connection and a set box for your TV. It didn't take off then because market resistance was still too high.
CompuServe, AOL and other commercial online services have offered online banking for years. And in the late '80s, many large banks had their own dial-up systems that allowed you to do your banking from home.
But none of them ever achieved the critical mass of users necessary to make online banking mainstream. Rather, that has come about through a slow accretion of acceptance.
It simply took 20 years for potential customers to become comfortable with this new technology.
Banking, especially, is the kind of business where security issues are going to be paramount in most customers' minds. I surely don't want some hacker being able to access my account and I don't have that much in the bank to fight over, frankly.
As online security has improved over the past few years, though, market acceptance of the safety of online banking has likewise risen. A big part of that acceptance has been the explosion of online commerce in general as more and more people accept the security of using their credit cards for making online purchases, their resistance to general online banking usage weakens.
A good portion of this new comfort level comes from the fact that within the past few years, the leading Web browsers and Web server software have included powerful encryption technology, making it cost-prohibitive for thieves to try to crack through the security systems. Sure, you could crack my banking password if you had access exclusive access to a Cray for a few years. By which time that code will have changed.
Good business sense
For banks and libraries it just makes good business sense to offer online transactions. As more and more customers and patrons start conducting their business online, fewer and fewer bank tellers, investment counselors and librarians are needed. As payroll is the biggest expense for most businesses, any time you can conduct the same amount of business with fewer employees, the better off you are.
Well, the better off you are as a business. Economic theory holds that the money freed up from having fewer employees will be ploughed back into the business or returned to shareholders in form of dividends which can then be used to stimulate further economic growth.
As a member of the newly unemployed, let me say I hope the economists know what they're talking about.
But whether the above theory holds or not, online business is here to stay and will only grow more popular.
More services all the time
My library is run by the city of Escondido. After visiting the library's Web site to renew my books and videos, I decided to see what else the city's Web site offered. I backed up one directory to www.ci.escondido.ca.us, and found that there were several other transactions I could conduct online.
I could send an e-mail to be added to the men's softball interest list (teams needing more players can then contact me), or pay off any parking tickets (although I'm only willing to go so far in testing technology on your behalf).
What I couldn't do yet was pay other city fees and taxes, reserve a camp site at Lake Dixon, file a crime report, request a visit from the graffiti abatement team. My guess is that other cities do offer at least some of these services from their Web sites (like Denver's, which allows you to file accident reports online visit them if for no other reason than to laugh at the Hollywood-style greeting from the chief).
I'd also venture to guess that within a few years most if not all of these services will be available online.
© Copyright Jim Trageser
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