Services are …

Below is a list of sentences that are excerpts from a manuscript. None of them are formal definitions per se, but you can see an opinion forming, that might be formalized as a new way of thinking, with the basic tenets being: services are products of a particular kind that materialize from performances and affordances, in situ and at-the-time. Those products are in the form of outcomes packaged within experiences.

  1. Services are agreements between people on arrangements between things; about outcomes and experiences that fulfill a particular need, through performances and affordances.
  2. Services are essentially contracts that promise outcomes and experiences through performances and affordances.
  3. Services sets of promises (credit here to Jeff Sussna for being the first to put it in so many words).
  4. Services are not only social arrangements between things, but are themselves things that may be ephemeral or transient. They become to be and they either persist or perish.
  5. Services are essentially contracts between two or more parties, for things to go well.
  6. Services make possible pathways, connections, and transactions that are otherwise impossible.
  7. Services exists so people and their things have greater flexibility, freedom, and choice to pursue happiness and health in their own curious ways, and be undeterred when confronted with new challenges and opportunities.
  8. Services are agreements between people for arrangements between things. At the heart of services are things acting towards the welfare and wellbeing of other things, through the twin principles of sharing and caring.
  9. Services are products of performance and affordance.
  10. Services are systems because several parts work together to produce an effect that’s different from what each part can produce on its own.
  11. Services are like bridges connecting prospect and potential on two sides. They’re subject to dynamic loading as demand and supply flow across in situ and at the time. The height and span depend vary across sectors of the economy. The terrain is defined by strategic industry factors, or costs and risks peculiar to a sector, including competition, regulation, technology, and trends, as customer needs grow and change over time.
  12. Services (on the other hand) are products of concurrently projected supply and demand.
  13. Services are things doing the things for other things.
  14. Services are complex adaptive systems, which means demand and supply adapt to each other over time, becoming more and more tolerant and aware, and thereby improving the experience on both sides.
  15. Services are dynamic by nature.

Which of these are resonate more?

Thinking in Services (book abstract)

Below is the abstract of the book I am writing. This is to be included in the publishers catalog. What do you think? I’d be grateful for your feedback.
Thinking in Services: New Eyes, New Perspectives

Perhaps, as customers, or as service providers, we don’t understand services as much as we think we do, for us to truly evaluate, appreciate, or criticize their designs.

Thinking in services is habitual. Services are such integral parts of the daily of individuals and organizations that a day without paying for or providing them is inconceivable. They come in so many different “shapes and sizes”, we have difficulty defining them. Many are so intangible, always and everywhere, we don’t even realize they’re there until they fail.

Too small to notice, or too big to fail, with the universe of services expanding faster than ever before, so does the problem space. New kinds of services or new modes of failure expose us to the moral hazard of unexpected costs and risks that are unacceptable. That’s why, as customers or service providers, we care about design.

The problem is, by their very nature, even simple services are dynamic and complex in the way supply meets demand to fulfill a promise. Therefore, when services fail to meet expectations because their design is simplistic or superficial, we’re even more disappointed, after having acquired a false sense of confidence.

In his book “Designing Design”, Kenya Hara suggests “To understand something is not to be able to define it or describe it. Instead, taking something that we think we already know and making it unknown thrills us afresh with its reality and deepens our understanding of it.”

This book is about having new eyes and new perspectives for exploring the universe of services, grasping their realities, and deepening our understanding of them; what services really are, what they could be, and why they even exist. Narrowing down on the true nature of services, broadens the possibilities for design.

As per Hans-Georg Gadamer, nothing exists except through language. That’s especially true of design, being critical for communication, coordination, and collaboration, across functions and disciplines, for the faithful execution of policy or strategy.

With simple drawings, symbols, and a few extraordinary words, this book introduces the basis of a design language for services. Anyone can learn this language, with a little bit of curiosity, imagination, and quiet time. You do not need a degree in economics, biology, or computer science.

The expanding universe of services 

The more specialized, layered, mobile, distributed, and connected society (individuals and organizations) becomes, and greater its opportunity costs, and income levels, the greater its dependence on services. 

We need services not just for more kinds of goods we buy and sell, but also for the services. Then we have services that make possible services. And services that make those services possible. So, for every bit of change in society, there is new potential for services, both, on the demand and supply side. 

Micro services add to this growth and expansion, because they’re formalizing the idea of making services more modular, composable, and more thing-like and object-oriented.

Rent or Buy new

Screenshot 2017-07-22 11.47.14

Here we have two primary options for getting our hands on this book. You can rent it for for a few months for $18.90, or you can own it outright for $21.39. Two different service offerings: renting and retailing. Both result in the good, the book, being in your hands the very same day, through the same supply chain, therefore the experience will the same. The outcomes are different. One option will make you a renter, and the other an owner.

Which one should one opt for, well that depends on your outlook, and how you feel about the book before purchasing it. I believe Amazon will give you the option of owning the book for an additional payment. Or as it once happened with me for this book, when you don’t return the book on time, you default to becoming its owner. Amazon will charge you the difference.


Strategic industry factors

Success in a certain market depends on the ability to produce an effect in the form of a particular set of outcomes and experiences at attractive prices. Whether industry or government, for profit margin or for public trust, the quality of that effect depends on the combination of few factors in a special configuration, a bit like how the loops and contortions of an RFID chip produces a unique electromagnetic wave.

Strategic industry factors (SIF) are table stakes, or the price of entry into a market space. It takes time to develop them since they tend to be specialized in nature. Their value may appreciate or depreciate over time, depending on the nature of the underlying assets, whether that is machinery or industry knowledge. Finally, their value depends on other factors which means they have limited value by themselves. For example, the value of the Netflix platform for streaming video depends of the content they produce or license from studios. Amazon Prime depends on distribution centers, warehouses, and shipping systems, insurance companies compete on the policies and coverages they sell based on a combination of actuarial models, risk pools and industry regulations, or Uber competes using maps, algorithms, drivers and downloads. A fleet of autonomous vehicles are fast becoming a strategic asset for Uber. In the language of economists, a subset of these factors become strategic assets when others find them hard to acquire or replicate.

Iron Mountain

Iron Mountain exists because organizations need the paper documents and records to be archived and stored without taking up too much effort or expensive space. Iron Mountain deploys staff in a fleet of trucks to collect documents from office locations, and systematically store them at offsite locations from where they can be brought back as needed. Apart from reducing office clutter and freeing up valuable space, Iron Mountain also helps its customers comply with rules and regulations on the retention of official records. That includes the safe shredding of documents and records, onsite or offsite, to maintain privacy and confidentiality.

Iron Mountain got into this business after its founder Herman Knaust, who first made his fortune growing mushrooms before the market shifted, decided to focus on instead on protecting vital information from wars or other disasters. He opened up storage vaults in the iron ore mine he had previously acquired for farming land, and convinced the East River Savings Bank, to let him bring microfilm copies of deposit records and duplicate signature cards in armored cars, and store it store it for them in the new mountain facility. Soon it grew to be a market leader in the protection of vital records.

Their systematic expansion into other markets spaces ever since continues till this day. They now cover the lifecycle of vital content, applying design thinking to workflows to eliminate unnecessary documents and records. They have four data centers for storing and serving documents and records, they have HIPAA-compliant facilities to handle protected health information (PHI), and healthcare is one of their largest markets. Now they compete with cloud-based storage providers. Hollywood studios such as Universal Studios and Paramount Pictures depend on them for archiving valuable assets.

What are all the market spaces in which Iron Mountain operates? In how many of these do iCloud, Box or Dropbox operate? What does Iron Mountain do that those three simply cannot? What can they do next? If Amazon can open delivery lockers and then book stores on the ground, what is stopping Dropbox from competing more directly with Iron Mountain by opening up offsite storage facilities and vaults?

Service providers expand their business by entering adjacent market spaces. The core value proposition of Iron Mountain of protecting vital records was a good starting basis for offering solutions for healthcare and legal markets where there are additional costs and risks involved in staging and handling customer assets. Right from the start, Iron Mountain has been in the business of security and assurance. Some service providers specialize in storing things securely, while others in securing things by storing them safe. Where you start heavily influences where you go next.

You can start by assuring the safety and security of documents, then the processes that produce or make use of those documents, then the facilities and infrastructure. Another path of expansion is going from physical to digital and then going further into artifacts, knowledge, information, data and insight. To fulfill promises of storage, an enterprise may develop capabilities and resources for monitoring, protecting, and providing assurance. That in turn may lead to abilities in analyzing risks and threats. Long before, “Uber for X”, there has been “Iron Mountain for X”. The business strategies of Google, Amazon, and Uber may seem daring and bold, but not any bolder than companies like GE, Boeing, and IBM.

One step at a time. To understand how these companies, and indeed in some cases, governments and nonprofit organizations, make deliberate choices and systematic moves across markets spaces, and why others fail attempting the same, we have to understand how they generate their options in the first place. Then it’s easy to understand a simple heuristic for generating options for the next best step.