In its purest form, a single-actor practice requires only an individual. A financial analyst, for example, is a single-actor practitioner, answering questions asked by various executives through the use of everything from garden-variety Excel to a business intelligence (BI) tool connected to the company's data warehouse to Internet-driven access to external research to ...
Hold da phone. That external research: It was performed by human beings, which means the single-actor practice technically involves multiple actors.
Maybe that's OK because there's no interaction between the analyst and outside researchers. But how about situations where the analyst has to call executives, managers, and line employees to gain additional understanding of how things really work?
Call it the John Donne effect: No one is an island, not even the practitioner responsible for a single-actor practice. It's still a single-actor practice if the practitioner sometimes calls on others for information.
Let's go to stage two. We'll call stage two hub-and-spoke practices. Take life insurance claims handling; it's a good example because it also illustrates the luxury/commodity divide that's one of the driving forces behind the rise of single-actor practices.
Many, and perhaps most, people who have life insurance carry a single policy. When they pass on, their beneficiaries contact the life insurance company, which notes the date on which the policy holder died, issues a check or checks to the beneficiary or beneficiaries, and terminates the policy. The beneficiaries interact directly with the insurance company's claims-handling process. Interactions are undoubtedly polite, but probably impersonal except for a courtesy call from the insurance agent who sold the policy.
Single-policy customers are the 80 percent who provide 20 percent, more or less, of a life insurance company's profits. (More accurately, they provide 20 percent of the investment capital the insurance company uses to make its profit -- a distinction that's important if you're running a life insurance company but not for our purposes here.) The important customers, the ones who provide 80 percent of the profits, own a variety of financial products: for example, a small burial policy, universal life, one or more annuities, and a mutual fund portfolio, all managed by the life insurance company as part of its financial services.
Imagine we're responsible for designing the system through which our hypothetical life insurance company handles claims driven by the demise of one of these high-value customers. Would we apply a process discipline to define a workflow that's as efficient and automated as possible, driven, perhaps, by a Web-based front end? Of course we would -- if our goal was to maximize the loss of investment capital while reducing profits and cutting the number of those pesky high-value customers we have to worry about.