By Tom Paquin
It’s the end of December and that means one thing: There’s probably a new Star Wars movie coming out. Rapt as I am about the many technologies disrupting the world of service, my love for Star Wars stretches back slightly further in my life, so I thought it'd be fun to take the quiet time between Christmas and New Years to mash them together.
For as technologically advanced a society as we see in the Star Wars films, there are certain modern luxuries that they lack. There is, for instance, no internet in a galaxy far, far away, though I doubt the films would carry as much cultural cachet as they have if Harrison Ford kept pulling over the Millennium Falcon to check his Instagram likes. Imagine, then, how woefully undermanaged their field service systems must be.
Don’t worry—I’ve done the imagining for you! I've thought up a few scenarios from the original Star Wars trilogy and how they might be improved with a service-oriented overhaul (a sentence I honestly never expected to write). And hey, just like Luke’s journey through those films mirrors myths and stories passed down from generation to generation, perhaps you’ll see some of your own business in these scenarios.
Before Luke goes on his adventure and becomes a Jedi Knight, he’s just a regular schlub like you and me, working for a living. Luke lives on Tatooine, a desert planet, and unsurprisingly, the crop of choice in this arid wasteland is water, which is what he and his aunt and uncle harvest (In a galaxy of infinite planets, it’s often seemed bizarre to me that anyone would move to a dust ball like Tatooine, but hey, people move to Nevada all the time).
When it comes to managing the farm, Luke’s uncle Owen has some serious labor issues. He relies exclusively on “automation” (literal robots) for non-Luke headcount, as far as we can tell. Their primary job is traveling out to the various moisture vaporators—large tower-like structures used to harvest water—and servicing them. For that purpose, he’s purchased C-3PO, a droid that understands the binary language of moisture vaporators.
Here’s the problem—C-3PO can diagnose issues with the vaporators, but he’s not actually equipped with the utilities to service them. His counterpart, R2-D2, has the toolset to resolve issues as they arise. But because of the lack of connectivity inherent in the vaporator infrastructure, both droids need to physically visit each location, C-3PO needs to talk to the moisture vaporator, and then R2-D2 will attach his multi-tool and spin it around if necessary, which apparently fixes things.
There are a few obvious efficiency fixes available off the bat. Remote connectivity is the one we’ve already mentioned, and would arguably be the most useful. We can assume that moisture vaporators are already smart devices, as they apparently are capable of speech. It would behoove Luke’s family to figure out a way to connect these systems to an internal hub, where they can be more effectively managed.
C-3PO’s field readiness is questionable at best, what with his lack of repair knowledge and his inability to flex his arms more than 45 degrees. Imagine how much more effective their job could be with 3PO in a call center environment. It would be an excellent use of his fluency of more than 6 million forms of communication. Couple that with a shared view with R2-D2, and C-3PO could spend his day running operations from the comfort of the Lars homestead.
Tibanna Gas Mining
In The Empire Strikes Back, our heroes take refuge in Cloud City, a structure floating in the atmosphere of a gas giant planet called Bespin. Cloud City itself is a Tibanna gas mine, run by Han Solo’s old friend, Lando Calrissian.
Lando spends several of his first minutes onscreen griping about labor, supply, and trade issues on Cloud City. This is the inherent issue with packaging and selling a commodity, especially one requiring the scale of trade operations that intergalactic travel requires—and trade disputes are actually a huge problem in the Star Wars universe.
The regulatory challenges are another issue. As a self-proclaimed “small operation”, Lando has run into growing pains as Cloud City’s success catches the eye of the Imperial Alliance, the tyrannical empire that Darth Vader operates from.
Lando strikes a dangerous bargain with Vader—He betrays his friends to win the empire’s favor, a plan which almost immediately backfires as Vader continually rearranges the conditions of the deal, which, frankly, should be expected when you’re dealing with space fascists who practice a religion that they call “The Dark Side”.
This is an instance where smart contract management could really make a difference. A conditional SLA that is triggered in the event of an exception, like an imperial Star Destroyer orbiting Bespin, could help the entire organization understand the threat level, and agreed-upon conditions thought which to handle this.
With respect to the trade issues, this is a great opportunity for servitization. Lando could practically step away from offering a bare commodity, and, with solid planning, scheduling, parts management, and optimization services build a service platform around delivery and implementation of tibanna for whatever it is the gas is used for. By diversifying their business portfolio, not only can they bypass trade route restrictions by building their own fleet, but also offer a more viable, scalable product in the long run. It’s new revenue, new opportunities, and precipitously low overhead, no need to hand over his friend to a bounty hunter.
Death Star Construction
Switching to the bad guys, we actually see them building Death Stars or Death Star-adjacent things in at least four films over the course of series history, so you could argue that for Star Wars, Death Stars are as ubiquitous as trade disputes. We’re going to talk about the second Death Star, still in construction in 1983’s Return of the Jedi.
In the first scene of the film, Darth Vader checks on progress of the construction, only to learn that they’re behind schedule. In response, commander Jerjerrod, who is in charge of the opration, indicates that he needs more men.
Legal scholars have actually weighed in on some of the labor challenges with this Death Star, and it’s important to remember that in addition to being a planet-destroying weapon wielded by a totalitarian regime, it’s also an active construction site.
Labor constrictions are not in any way new to service operations, and while Vader promises “New ways to motivate” the crew, his strategy will likely boil down to a lot of force choking, which I feel doesn’t promote a positive culture.
Proper project management software can help organizations like the empire do more with less, which will help support maintaining the sort of tight schedules that military contracts require. There’s also a huge opportunity here to leverage a contingent labor force. With the right utilities, organizations can dispatch skilled labor effectively, track their productivity, and also keep an eye on whether or not they’re blown up when the rebels destroy the base after deactivating the shield generator with the help of the Ewoks.
Incredibly, there are dozens of other Star Wars related topics that could be discussed here (2002’s Attack of the Clones has three lengthy sequences in factories) but for now, I’ll leave you with this: There’s plenty to be learned from the poorly-managed service practices in the Star Wars universe. From mismanaged labor to developing servitized products, the contrasts abound to businesses in our own galaxy. Make sure your own service operation isn’t stuck in the mindset of “A long time ago.”