When Verizon recently and erroneously canceled the online bill presentment service that I’d signed up for, I told them to just start sending paper bills again. I just couldn’t face the hassle of repeating their signup process.
For me, paper and electronic bills converge on the payment screen of my bank’s online service. So while the e-bills save me typing in amounts, versus clicking on a payment option, there aren’t many amounts to type and it’s really not a big deal.
I chose this method because, again, I couldn’t face the hassle of signing up individually for a bunch of per-biller payment systems. One obvious conclusion is that the long-awaited user-centric identity technologies now emerging — OpenID, CardSpace, and more broadly the identity metasystem — will grease the wheels, eliminate a huge amount of friction, and hugely accelerate e-commerce. If we think it’s big now, we ain’t seen nothing yet.
But beyond the convenience of single sign-on, and of common registration profiles that we can transmit with a click, a deeper issue looms on the horizon. It’s not just the psychic burden of signing up for services that weighs on our minds. Increasingly it’s the psychic burden of being in many service relationships, each of which needs to be managed and monitored individually.
Consider, for example, the problem of renewing those relationships. Just yesterday, I was confronted with three different renewal scenarios involving WordPress, EZPass, and GoDaddy. In each case I had to locate and jump through a differently-shaped hoop. That kind of thing wears you down. It’s never easy enough, your past experience is always too remote to guide you in the present, and if you fail or just forget, the consequences can range from annoying to severe.
What you really want, of course, is a renewal policy. When you set up a new service relationship, you define the policy: Renew automatically, on request, or never. In my case, I’d make all three of those relationships renew automatically. That would mean that WordPress gets to take ten bucks from my PayPal account every year for domain mapping, EZPass gets to refresh the expiration date on my credit card, and GoDaddy gets to charge my credit card for domain renewals.
What would it take to be able to review and manage all of your service policies in one place? Enterprises, for whom the need to do that is much more acute than it currently is for individuals, have concluded that service-oriented architecture is the answer. The much-maligned WS-* bells and whistles, which seem so overblown for simple point-to-point interaction on the web, come into their own in a fabric of cooperating services governed by policy-based intermediaries.
I predict that as individuals find themselves embedded in more and more service relationships, and begin to feel the need to manage those relationships more sanely, one of the current distinctions between the enterprise and the “consumer web” will start to erode. We’ll find that we are all embedded in many service relationships. And we will all benefit from technologies that enable us to flow those relationships through management consoles.