Why digital is a service enabler, not a service solution

Vimla Appadoo talking about Service Design for Public Services

Written by Vimla Appadoo, Service Designer at FutureGov

  1. Digital is underpinned by technology
  2. Both things (digital and technology) work together to form a part of a service.
  3. Services exist to help people do things – also known as a service outcome*

*FYI service outcomes are usually based on a user need (i.e. user need = I need to eat, service outcome = person has food)

Therefore, digital enables people to do things (i.e. reach their service outcome – the website helps someone order food because they need to eat).**

That is very different to being a solution.

** Digital doesn’t do the actual physical delivery of the food (yet!) therefore it’s only a part of the service – not the solution. The solution is the whole service that delivers the person food so that they can eat because the person needs to eat.


Why does this matter?

When we think of “digital solutions” and only digital solutions, we forget the service that it is a part of and all of the micro-services that need to exist in order for a person to reach the service outcome. For example, the hiring process for chefs or training food delivery staff, logistics for taking an order and delivering it on time, taking payments etc etc.

Let’s look at the diagram again with a bit more detail:

  1. Digital is underpinned by technology

Digital and technology are different. Technology is one component that enables digital to exist. Digital represents place, culture and lots of other things, and technology often is the power supply to bring it all together.

It’s important to distinguish between digital and technology, otherwise you can end up trying to redesign a digital output without fully understanding the technology that underpins it and that’s a dangerous world to be in. Maybe I’ll blog about it someday.

  1. Both things work together to form a part of a service.

The online or digital part of a service, is hardly ever the whole service. There’s a before and an after someone uses something online and there’s a whole bunch of things happening off of the screen (offline to some people) that is making that service exist. The online part of a service, usually only forms part of meeting the service outcome and meeting the user need.

For example, the food ordering website places the food order. Great. But if the service didn’t deliver the food, the person wouldn’t eat.

The whole service is getting the food. Part of the service is ordering the food online. Therefore the website plays a part in enabling the service, but the website isn’t the solution to a user needing to eat.

  1. Services exist to help people do things – also known as a service outcome.

The reason that services, technology, and digital outputs exist at all is to help a person reach an outcome to meet a user need. That could be anything from getting food to winning a game. There’s a reason why we’re using a website or downloading an app.

In conclusion

So, when we say “let’s build an app for that” or “we’ll redesign the website, that’ll sort it all out” – we’re forgetting why the service exists in the first place and we’re losing sight of how a person needs to meet their goal.

Neither an app or website digs deep enough into understanding the problem that you’re trying to solve and that person needs.

We end up taking people out of the equation. It strips away the intricacies of the problem that you’re trying to solve and takes the end product out of the end to end service.

We end up with a technology-driven solution rather than person driven solution, and you consequently could make it more difficult for an end user to meet their goal and decrease the possibility of a service reaching its intended outcome.

If we see digital solutions as the service, we forget the people who are needed to make the end-to-end service work and the people whose needs are the reasons that make service exist.

This article was originally published here.


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