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Self-service fueling
A Chinese buffet restaurant in the United States
A soft drink vending machine in Japan

Self-service is the practice of serving oneself, usually when making purchases.[1] Aside from Automated Teller Machines, which are not limited to banks, and customer-operated supermarket check-out,[2] labor-saving which has been described as self-sourcing, there is the latter's subset, selfsourcing and a related pair: End-user development and End-user computing.

Note has been made how paid labor has been replaced with unpaid labor,[3][2] and how reduced professionalism and distractions from primary duties have reduced value obtained from employees' time.[4]

For decades, laws have been passed both facilitating and preventing self-pumping of gas[5] and other self-service.



Self-service is the practice of serving oneself, usually when purchasing items. Common examples include many gas stations, where the customer pumps their own gas rather than have an attendant do it (full service is required by law in New Jersey, urban parts of Oregon, most of Mexico, and Richmond, British Columbia, but is the exception rather than the rule elsewhere[6]). Automatic Teller Machines (ATMs) in the banking world have also revolutionized how people withdraw and deposit funds; most stores in the Western world, where the customer uses a shopping cart in the store, placing the items they want to buy into the cart and then proceeding to the checkout counter/aisles; or at buffet-style restaurants, where the customer serves their own plate of food from a large, central selection.

Patentable business method


In 1917, the US Patent Office awarded Clarence Saunders a patent for a "self-serving store." Saunders invited his customers to collect the goods they wanted to buy from the store and present them to a cashier, rather than having the store employee consult a list presented by the customer, and collect the goods. Saunders licensed the business method to independent grocery stores; these operated under the name "Piggly Wiggly."[7]

Electronic commerce


Self-service is over the phone, web, and email to facilitate customer service interactions using automation. Self-service software and self-service apps (for example online banking apps, web portals with shops, self-service check-in at the airport) become increasingly common.[8]



Self-sourcing is a term describing informal and often unpaid labor that benefits the owner of the facility where it is done by replacing paid labor with unpaid labor.[3]

Selfsourcing (without a dash) is a subset thereof, and refers to developing computer software intended for use by the person doing the development.[9]

Both situations have aspects of Self-service, and where permitted involve benefits to the person doing the work, such as job & personal satisfaction, even though tradeoffs are frequently involved,[3] including long term losses to the company.[4]

Doing someone else's job


When a loan officer is asked to "self-source"[10] they're taking on a responsibility that's not one of the top seven "Loan Officer Job Duties" listed by a major job placement service.[11][12]

A situation where no payment is made is self-service, such as airport check-in kiosks and checkout machines.[3] International borders have also experimented with traveler-assisted fingerprint verification.[13]

Another situation is where a company's Human resources department is partially bypassed by departments that "source talent themselves."[14]

History of self-sourcing


An early use of the term is a 2005 HRO Today article[15] titled "Insourcing, Outsourcing? How about Self-sourcing?" that mined Wikipedia's history of a pair of banks that merged decades ago as Standard Chartered and, after September 11, rebuilt its personnel department in an innovative way.

The concept is similar to self-service, and one USA example is pumping gas: New Jersey banned customers from doing this in 1949;[5] now NJ is the only state "where drivers are not allowed to pump their own gasoline."[5]



In 1994 it was considered a radical change to propose permitting self-service at the gas pumps, in Japan, and the New York Times reported that "the push .. (came) from Japanese big business ... trying to cut costs."[1]

Automatic Teller Machines are another example, and their expansion beyond banks have led to signs saying Access To Money, which refers to a company with that name;[16][17] the technology began over half-a-century ago.[18]



Selfsourcing is the internal development and support of IT systems by knowledge workers with minimal contribution from IT specialists, and has been described as essentially outsourcing development effort to the end user.[19] At times they use in-house Data warehouse systems, which often run on mainframes.[20]

Various terms have been used to describe end user self service, when someone who is not a professional programmer programs, codes, scripts, writes macros, and in other ways uses a computer in a user-directed data processing accomplishment, such as End user computing and End user development. In the 1990s, Windows versions of mainframe packages were already available.[21]

Data sourcing


When desktop personal computers became nearly as widely distributed as having a work phone, in companies having a data processing department, the PC was often unlinked to the corporate mainframe, and data was keyed in from printouts. Software was for do-it-yourself/selfsourcing, including spreadsheets, programs written in DOS-BASIC or, somewhat later, dBASE. Use of spreadsheets, the most popular End-user development tool,[22][23] was estimated in 2005 to done by 13 million American employees.[22]

Some data became siloed[24] Once terminal emulation arrived, more data was available, and it was more current. Techniques such as Screen scraping and FTP reduced rekeying. Mainframe products such as FOCUS were ported to the PC, and Business Intelligence (BI) software became more widespread.

Companies large enough to have mainframes and use BI, having departments with analysts and other specialists, have people doing this work full-time. Selfsourcing, in such situations,[10] is taking people away from their main job (such as designing ads, creating surveys, planning advertising campaigns); pairs of people, one from an analysis group and another from a "user" group, is the way the company wants to operate. Selfsourcing is not viewed as an improvement.

Data warehouse was an earlier term in this space.[25]



It is crucial for the system's purposes and goals to be aligned with that of the organizational goals.[26] Developing a system that contradicts organizational goals will most likely lead to a reduction in sales and customer retention. As well, due to the large amount of time it may take for development, it is important allocate your time efficiently as time is valuable.

Knowledge workers must also determine what kind of external support they will require. In-house IT specialists can be a valuable commodity and are often included in the planning process.

It is important to document how the system works, to ensure that if the developing knowledge workers move on others can use it and even attempt to make needed updates.[27]



Knowledge workers are often exactly aware of their immediate needs, and can avoid formalizations and time needed for project cost/benefit analysis and delays due to chargebacks or need for managerial/supervisory signoffs.

Additional benefits are:

Improved requirement determination
This eliminates involving a separate IT specialist to cater for what they want. There is a greater chance for user short-term satisfaction.[22]
Increased participation
Pride and self-push will add desire for completion, sense of ownership and higher workplace morale. Increased morale can be infectious and lead to benefits in other areas.
Performance in systems development
Step-by-step details preclude formal documentation, time and resources are concentrated, whereas working with other IT specialists would be less efficient. Selfsourcing is usually faster for smaller projects that do not require the full development process.[26]


Inadequate expertise

Some knowledge workers involved in selfsourcing do not have experience or expertise with IT tools, resulting in:

Human error
Pride of ownership has been found to be a major cause of overlooking errors. [28]: p.30  A 1992 study showed that because Excel "tends to produce output even in the presence of errors" there is "user overconfidence in program correctness."
Lost hours and potential
potentially good ideas are lost. These incomplete projects, after consuming many hours, often draw workers away from their primary duties.
Lack of organizational focus
[26] These often form a privatized IT system, with poor integration to corporate systems. Data silos may violate policy and even privacy/HIPPA/HIPAA[29] laws. Uncontrolled and duplicate information can become stale, leading to more problems than benefits.[citation needed]
Lack of design alternative analysis
Hardware and software opportunities are not analyzed sufficiently, and efficient alternatives may not be noticed and utilized. This can lead to inefficient and costly systems.
Lack of security
End users, as a group, do not understand how to build secure applications.[30]
Lack of documentation
Knowledge workers may not have supervisors who are aware that, as time goes on, changes will be needed and these compartmentalized systems will require the help of IT specialists. Knowledge workers will usually lack experience with planning for these changes and the ability to adapt their work for the future.[27]
Shadow IT

Although departmental computing has decades of history,[21] one-person-show situations either suffer from inability to interact with a helpdesk[31] or fail to benefit from wheels already invented.[4]

Self-service tools


Self-service tools[32] are offered to professionals as well as laymen. Among the basic examples of various categories are:

  • simple office equipment - even in a "paperless office"[33] individual office workers use scotch tape dispensers,[33] staplers[34] and staple-removers. The New York Times mentions their applicability to Home Office businesses.[33]
  • hand-operated tools - screwdrivers,[35] pliers, wrenches, hammers,[36] handsaws[35]
  • mechanized/power hand-held tools - power drill,[37] power saw
  • software tools - the individual parts of office suites represent areas of functionality[38] used for knowledge management,[39][40][41] both in finding stored information and in entering new content. Versions of these exist both for locally stored (desktop computer) programs and internet/cloud-based.[42]
  • self-service kiosks - interactive kiosks have become common in industries like QSR, transportation, hospitality, healthcare, cannabis, and more. They serve applications like self-ordering, check-in, ticketing, wayfinding, and more.[44]

See also

  • Automated retail – Self-service standalone kiosks
  • Automated teller machine – Electronic telecommunications device to perform financial transactions
  • Decision support system – Information systems supporting business or organizational decision-making activities
  • Expert system – Computer system emulating the decision-making ability of a human expert
  • Insourcing – Contracting formerly internal tasks to an external organization
  • Interactive kiosk – Computer terminal that provides access to information, communication, commerce etc.
  • Self checkout – Machine for customers to complete a retail transaction
  • Shadow work – Unpaid labor as a complement of industrial labour and services
  • Sharing economy – Economic and social systems that enable shared access to assets
  • Ticket machine – Vending machine that produces paper or electronic tickets
  • Unmanned store – Retail concept in which no employees staff a store
  • Vending machine – Machine which automatically dispenses products to customers after payment


  1. ^ a b Andrew Pollack (July 14, 1994). "Japan's Radical Plan: Self-Serve Gas". The New York Times.
  2. ^ a b Laurence Hatch. Keys to Terrific Customer Service. Lulu.com. ISBN 0557004462. One person may supervise 4-6 or more stations
  3. ^ a b c d Martha E. Gimenez (December 1, 2007). "Self-Sourcing: How Corporations Get Us to Work Without Pay!". Monthly Review.
  4. ^ a b c Peter Bendor-Samuel (March 8, 2017). "The problem with the end-user computing environment". CIO magazine.
  5. ^ a b c Jonah Engel Bromwich (January 5, 2018). "New Jersey Is Last State to Insist at Gas Stations: Don't Touch That Pump". The New York Times.
  6. ^ "GasBuddy Help Center". www.gasbuddy.com. Retrieved 2 February 2018.
  7. ^ Justices To Test Patents for Business Methods, Wall Street Journal, November 9, 2009, Marketplace Section, p.B1
  8. ^ http://www.itif.org/files/2010-self-service-economy.pdf [bare URL PDF]
  9. ^ (ACM.org (Association for Computing Machinery) Teevan, Jaime; Liebling, Daniel J.; Lasecki, Walter S. (2014). "Selfsourcing personal tasks". Proceedings of the extended abstracts of the 32nd annual ACM conference on Human factors in computing systems - CHI EA '14. pp. 2527–2532. doi:10.1145/2559206.2581181. ISBN 9781450324748. S2CID 15386168.
  10. ^ a b "Post a Job, Find a Job, Get Career Advice". The New York Times. Retrieved February 22, 2019. responsible for self-sourcing mortgage loans
  11. ^ "Loan Officer Job Duties". Retrieved February 24, 2019.
  12. ^ At best it's hinted at further down with a mention of "maintaining personal networks" as part of professional development
  13. ^ "Contactless Biometrics" (PDF). DNI.gov (USA Office of the Director of National Intelligence). September 2017.
  14. ^ "Self-Sourcing 101- Understanding the Next Big Thing in Staffing". August 17, 2018.
  15. ^ Jay Whitehead (December 10, 2005). "Insourcing, Outsourcing? How about Self-sourcing?". HRO Today. Retrieved February 25, 2019.
  16. ^ David F. Galladher (June 6, 2002). "2 Rooms, River View, A.T.M. in Lobby". The New York Times.
  17. ^ Cardtronics to Acquire Access to Money, August 15, 2011
  18. ^ "Happy 50th birthday, ATM, you've come a long way". CreditCards.com. June 22, 2017.
  19. ^ Alistair Sutcliffe (July 2005). "Evaluating the costs and benefits of end-user development". ACM SIGSOFT Software Engineering Notes. 30 (4): 1–4. doi:10.1145/1082983.1083241.
  20. ^ William Favero (March 15, 2011). "Data warehousing and the mainframe, another rumor put to rest".
  21. ^ a b "Focus on End User tools". Network World. May 9, 1994. p. 39. Applications created by end users can ... IBI's new data access tool, Focus Reporter for Windows ...
  22. ^ a b c Margaret M. Burnett; Christopher Scaffidi. "10". The Encyclopedia of Human-Computer Interaction (2nd ed.).
  23. ^ Hornsby, Peter (August 3, 2009). "Empowering Users to Create Their Own Software".
  24. ^ "data silo Definition from PC Magazine Encyclopedia".
  25. ^ Data Management, Data Warehousing and Business Intelligence.
  26. ^ a b c Sanmitra A. Bhatkar (2017-03-24). "End User Development". Inadequate expertise leads to underdeveloped systems ... Lack of organizational focus
  27. ^ a b T McGill (2002). "An Investigation of End User Development Success" (PDF). Lack of documentation for applications ... testing and documentation of end user developed software.
  28. ^ AMY J. KO; et al. (2012). "The State of the Art in End-User Software Engineering" (PDF).
  29. ^ The 1996 law is HIPAA; the Privacy Rules are sometimes called HIPPA/...Privacy...
  30. ^ Warren Harrison (July–August 2004). "The Dangers of End-User Programming". IEEE Software. 21 (4): 5. doi:10.1109/MS.2004.13.
  31. ^ whose support personnel, in documenting their work, require project write-ups to allow handing off "tickets"
  32. ^ "The New York Times Self-Service Ad Portal". The New York Times. Welcome to The New York Times Self-Service Ad Portal, the all-in-one place where you can reserve and submit your print and online ads
  33. ^ a b c Phyllis Korkki (March 23, 2013). "The Attachment That Still Makes Noise". The New York Times.
  34. ^ Brendan I Koerner (December 24, 2006). "A Stapler That Doesn't Sweat It". The New York Times.
  35. ^ a b M. R. Montgomery (September 10, 2000). "Turn of the screw". The New York Times.
  36. ^ Doug Mahoney (July 17, 2020). "10 Tools for Basic Home Repair". The New York Times.
  37. ^ "Possessed: Drill Spotting". The New York Times. July 27, 2003.
  38. ^ "GoDaddy Revamps BI Tools To Enable Self-Service". Informationweek. January 4, 2017.
  39. ^ "Qlik Sense vs. Tableau: Self-service analytics tools compared". CIO magazine. July 30, 2020.
  40. ^ Bontis, Nick; Dragonetti, Nicola C; Jacobsen, Kristine; Roos, Göran (1999). "The knowledge toolbox". European Management Journal. 17 (4): 391–402. doi:10.1016/S0263-2373(99)00019-5.
  41. ^ Beal, Barney (May 18, 2005). "Self Service Scored In Recent Survey".
  42. ^ Jorge Cardoso; John Miller (2012). "Internet-Based Self-Services: from Analysis and Design to Deployment" (PDF). The 2012 IEEE International Conference on Services Economics (SE 2012). Retrieved October 8, 2012.
  43. ^ "Electronic Pay Stubs: A Report to the Governor and the Legislature" (PDF). Osc.state.ny.us (New York State). February 12, 2009. Retrieved May 4, 2014.
  44. ^ "5 Common Types of Self-Service Kiosks". Frank Mayer. Retrieved 2023-02-14.

Further reading

  • Stephen Haag, Maeve Cummings, Donald McCubbrey, Alain Pinsonneault and Richard Donovan Third Canadian Edition Management Information Systems for the Information Age Mcgraw-Hill Ryerson, Canada, 2006