The Virtual PI: Could the office be a thing of the past?

OfficeThe traditional office is becoming an unnecessary overhead for some businesses and seems set to follow the Dodo bird into extinction. The concept that a successful private investigation business has to be a ‘bricks and mortar’ type business is continuously under challenge in this age of burgeoning internet technology.

More and more investigations are being initiated by way of internet technology and a PI agency having to have an office or to display or advertise a postal address, amongst its marketing media, is rapidly becoming a thing of the past.

The fact is, a business that doesn’t have to bear the costs of a real-life commercial office is a business that can adapt rapidly and often compete more effectively than its traditional counterpart.

The number of ‘home-based’ businesses have increased since the internet has ‘come of age’ and a huge culture of on-line shopping has emerged – not just for product based business but also for the service industry.

For many years I ran a PI agency out of a commercial office and when I think about it, I can count on one hand, the amount of clients or potential clients that wished to visit my office for a face to face consultation.

With corporate or legal clients the person allocated to liaise with me was generally from an executive level and far too busy running a company to take time out to visit my office – so I invariably went to their office to consult them.

Private clients often didn’t wish to be seen coming and going from a private investigations agency office so they would often wish to meet in out of the way places such as hotel receptions, coffee shops or even in car parks.

Many clients preferred not to meet at all and would prefer to conduct the full transaction via the telephone or email messaging – making use of the many online banking and payment mechanisms in order to settle their account.

There will always be the proverbial old-school and of course the corporate propagandists that say “you can’t trust someone that doesn’t have an office” moreover, there are still clients who see a business with an office as a sort of security blanket reassuring them of its credibility and integrity.

The fact is that these days, with the proliferation of business centres, the days of a commercial office being a guarantee of the honesty and integrity of a business is long gone. Over the years I have investigated many businesses that have worked out of an office, have duped clients or run up debts and then swiftly moved on.

Business centres allow short term renting of office space, on a month to month contract basis or even on a ‘hot-desk’ hourly rate basis. These days a business can change its office location frequently, therefore the office provides no absolute guarantee that the business is a stable and legitimate entity.

Fortunately attitudes are rapidly changing – the internet-savvy amongst us are seeing the potential advantages of carrying out business totally on-line and realise that having a commercial office is no longer a guarantee of honesty, credibility or integrity.

When you look at the service industry, providers such as web designers; graphic designers; writing and publishing professionals are all offering total internet based services from start to finish and there is no reason why the private investigation industry shouldn’t haul itself into the 21st century and do the same.