March of the middlemen

Sector: Strategy

Rapid technological development is driving change in the business world, raising questions about the viability of pretty much everything that incumbents deliver and do. One techdriven theme that comes up persistently in our discussions with clients and investors is disintermediation — the practice of cutting out the middlemen and dealing directly with end customers. But has the ‘Last Post’ really sounded for the middlemen, or are they just marching to a different tune?

Disintermediation hasn't really materialized, at least not in the all-encompassing fashion once asserted

Disintermediation attracted a great deal of attention in the early 2000s, both in the business press and in academia. The success of innovators such as Dell triggered predictions — full of hopes and fears — that the days of the intermediary were numbered. Many at the time expected entire industries to go direct, as new technologies enabled manufacturers and service providers alike to bypass traditional wholesalers and other third-party distribution channels, thus ‘in-sourcing’ their margins. However, disintermediation, in the sense described above hasn't really materialized, at least not in the all-encompassing fashion once asserted.

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