Blogs/ 02.02.2016

Digitalization’s role in effective service integration

Tuuli Bell has a passion for all things technical from physics to ITSM. Combined with her practical approach to communication, she is both a customer-oriented, and goal-focused advisor.
Tuuli is a solution consultant at @Cherwell and secretary and social media officer at @bcsSMSG. She regularly speaks (and tweets) at service management events. She is also a member of @PhysicsNews; and previously an active member the @PGS_IOP committee. Before starting her career in service management, Tuuli received a PhD at @Cambridge_Uni.
Tuuli’s interests outside work include art, science, and nature.
Follow Tuuli on Twitter @TuuliBell.
Most of us, whether we’re part of generation X, Y, or Z, have experienced a “personal digitalization” (I am excluding those who identify themselves as Gen C who are still far and few between, still too young to read this post anyway). Examples of this transformation include reading your Kindle instead of books, automatically logging your exercise on your Fitbit rather than using a notebook, or using your iPad for everyday banking.
Organizations have become digitalized in phases during the past few decades; this trend has only accelerated in recent years enabled by rapid advances in technology and users’ increasingly accepting attitudes towards new ways of working. Most of the changes brought to us by digital transformation have been positive and welcomed, as the accessing and processing of information has become a trivial task allowing us to concentrate on our core competencies. For example, being able to see your colleagues’ calendars in real time helps with finding a meeting time that suits all attendees. Of course, you could take this a step further and allow a calendaring application choose the best possible time for you without having to scroll through the calendar yourself.
Digitalization vs digitization: getting the terms right

Digitalization in its purest form is about transforming a physical item or a process (such as writing notes) into 1s and 0s.

The newly transformed information (e.g. the digitalized notes) is displayed via an interface that you can access via a piece of technology (e.g. OneNote). Digitalization should not be, however, be confused with digitization which concerns transforming analog signals into digital, which, may I add, is also fun and often necessary to keep up with the times.
It’s always useful to get the terminology right from the beginning. Unfortunately, these two particular words are often used interchangeably.
Transformational journey to providing an end-to-end service
The majority of us on the path of digitalization are still undergoing major changes in their everyday lives; a fully digitalized world still lies in the distant future. You probably still browse bookshops and buy physical books, or visit a branch for some of your banking, and you don’t quite track all of your exercise. Even if you’re still trying to figure out if you’re enjoying the warm embrace of technology in your personal life or not, full digitalization of the workplace is inevitable.
The reason for such a bold statement is simple; the positive changes enabled by technology exceed financial gains and organizational efficiencies.

Well implemented digitalization initiatives lead to happier employees with more meaningful lives.

Happier employees correlate with better financial results, so it’s a win-win situation.
But digitalization is not the be-all and end-all. The term ‘end to end service’ started to gain traction with digitalization in the mid-noughties (see the graph below depicting the search trends of each key word). By combining the two concepts you are able to deliver a consistent, consumer-focussed service that uses all resources efficiently. For example, think of a researcher who needs to use an experimental instrument; a fully digitalized end-to-end service might include an online booking system, an automated check of the balance of the research grant, and following the event, the data being uploaded onto a shared drive for further analysis.
Reach the holy grail through integration
A true end to end service is most organizations’ holy grail. Given that the service sector accounts for roughly 80% of the UK’s GDP, it is no wonder that in such competitive landscape customer retention is essential. So what is the key element that turns a commodity service into a valued service that consumers are willing to pay for?

The perceived level of service highly depends on how seamless the service experience is for the customer.

The difference between a quick, accurate response to a request, and a slow, inaccurate one, for example, can be detrimental from a customer satisfaction perspective. Being able to architect the end-to-end service (from a customer’s perspective as well as from a delivery perspective) is a good starting point. Collecting all data and information sources, and mapping them to the process flows allow you to understand the underlying requirements for integrations. Once all the inputs and outputs are known, you are much better prepared to plan the flows of information, and eventually able to manage by exception.
Remember that integration can refer to process, people, or tools integration; however, to gain the maximum benefit from most process improvements, it is intrinsic that the process is digitalized to reach its maximum potential. This in turn, implies that a technical element supports the overall business process, and further, that technical integrations support the data flow between the process phases.
What is next for service integration?
Once the end-to-end services are fully integrated (and better yet; digitalized and integrated), you are ready to face the next challenge. As organizations mature, they often seek a balance between delivering a service and outsourcing some of their (often supporting) services. The driver to multisource is to provide a competitive product or service at a competitive price.
Even though outsourcing (or in-sourcing, for that matter) is not a new topic, complex service offerings have resulted in complex requirements for suppliers.

Orchestration within service lines has always required integration.

However, as the number of structures and depending parties increase so does the requirement for collaboration. This cooperation includes not only the core business but notably, supplier collaboration. Supplier collaboration is still in its infancy (internet search trends suggest the term is yet young and still waiting for wider awareness, see below) – I predict it will be a competitive asset in negotiations and form a key selling point for many.
Finally, embracing digitalization through integration is a necessity in the highly connected future. Collaboration, as always, is key to success; both internal and external. Customers will be aware of your competition and to retain customers, you need not to rely on customer loyalty but to provide an end-to-end service that puts the customer first.

  • Digitalization
  • End to end service
  • Supplier collaboration

Graph 1: Above graph shows the trends for selected search terms: digitalization, end-to-end service, and supplier collaboration.
Digitalization and end to end service, which is enabled by service integration, both started to emerge in the mid-noughties. Both concepts have become more popular in the recent years. Supplier collaboration is a reasonably new concept which forces us to have a new way of thinking; it’s no longer about a one-way relationship with the customer organization but a network of companies working together. Supplier collaboration along with the other terms focuses on providing customer-focussed service.
Data from: Google Trends.