The term “digital services” normally refers to online services that are delivered with web scale and speed and which are primarily accessed via a mobile device. The point is to lower the cost of these services and to empower the user with self-service, speed, choice and control. By implication there is a reduction in manual operations and human involvement in providing these services.

The reduction of human involvement is true as far as it goes. I do think that there is another overlooked aspect of digital services: empowering the human service provider to be more efficient and valuable. Let’s look at some examples.

“The widespread use of online travel management has changed the role of human agents from handling every transaction to helping on the difficult or unusual”

Uber – Customer Service Powered by an App

We think of Uber as being a highly automated digital service, but it also has a strong value contribution from the humans involved.

• The ride is requested with an app, but almost all drivers call to verify the request and pickup location.

• The app gives both the driver and the passenger the ability to quickly connect via text or voice, eliminating many of the old problems with pickups.

• The reputation of drivers is maintained across rides, so they have an incentive to be courteous and efficient.

• Finally, the app lets passengers see how many cars are available, and at what price. It also enables drivers to see the demand, possibly putting them into service when there are surges.

In short, the Uber app creates a digital service, but much of its value comes from streamlining and improving human interactions on both sides.

The Evolution of Travel Agents

I do most of my booking online, where I can see and compare the price and convenience of various options. Once I am booked I can change my seating and even change flights.

The widespread use of online travel management has changed the role of human agents from handling every transaction to helping on the difficult or unusual. Below are some examples.

• Travel Booking – The self-service nature of online travel management is complicated by another variable: corporate travel policies. I now talk to corporate travel agents when I have a conflict between when and where I need to travel versus the itineraries that meet travel policies. In most cases, the human agent can come up with an itinerary that meets my needs. Even then, we carry put digital interaction such as via email.

• Travel Disruption – When one of my flights is canceled or delayed, there is little that the website or app can do to help me. Sometimes, I will be automatically rebooked, but in other cases I need to talk to a person. The digital services nature of the online booking usually means that I already know the available options, so the discussion with the agent can be reduced to which flights have space.

Will We All Go Digital?

I gave some examples of how web-scale digital services can reduce human interactions, and yet make the remaining interactions more efficient and positive. Will humans be eliminated completely? Possibly yes. We are already seeing Uber cars that drive themselves. However, we are a long way from a robot being able to handle the disruptions due to a winter storm on the East Coast of the US. Between those two extremes is a wide spectrum of opportunities to continue to evolve digital services to maximize the value to the humans on both sides of a transaction.

ADVA Optical Networking specializes in Optical Transport, Ethernet Access, and Network Management. Headquartered in Georgia, USA, the company delivers intelligent telecommunications hardware, software and services deployed by several hundred service providers and thousands of enterprises.