The University of Southampton
Digital Team Blog

OneWeb: from website to digital services

Some of you would have heard us talking about the objective of OneWeb, to “fundamentally transform the University’s approach to its external digital presence by taking a step-change approach to its content and services.”

What does that really mean?

Below is an attempt to define what we mean by ‘digital products and services’.

Digital has created new expectations.

People expect better experiences, powered by better systems. Seamless, low effort, engaging, cross-channel experiences are the new minimum. As technology proliferates, we need to think beyond websites to digital products and services, in order to meet the needs of our users’ increasingly sophisticated expectations.

Everyone has a different idea of what we mean by digital products and services. That can trip up teams (and leadership), so it’s important that we’re all using the same vocabulary to say the same things.

What is a digital product?

It might be tempting to say a product is something we can market or sell. But when it comes to digital products, this definition has limited applicability. Take the search function on our website. Is that a product? Or is the entire website the product? And how would others, including people from IT, marketing, admissions, recruitment, academics etc, answer this question?

You use digital products / services every day in the real world:

  • your mobile banking app (Barclays banking app, for example, allows you to contact the call centre without going through the whole authentication process again)
  • the interface of your consumer electronics devices such as your phone or smart watch
  • the heat controller smart app for your home… you get the idea.

Ecosystem of San-Francisco Airport – expressed in terms of digital products.

Some products and services are made up mostly or entirely of software, such as your Facebook messaging. Some are available as mobile apps and websites. But technologies are changing at an ever-faster pace. The digital touchpoint through which we use a product or service can sit on many types of platforms and devices. Those can include: web, mobile, auto, wearables, VR and beyond. Things are also moving beyond the visual interface towards the more natural form of conversational interface. Such examples are speaking with your Amazon Echo or accessing services in written conversation in your messaging app.

Because things change so quickly in the digital space, it no longer makes sense to think of ‘websites’. Although the website continues to be an important way to deliver services for our users, by changing our perspective to focus on delivering the service, rather than updating the website, we are better able to meet our users’ needs.

This is also where the lines blur between products and services.
An end-to-end service may be made up of a number of products. The service may be delivered digitally, but it may include non-digital elements.

What does it mean for OneWeb?

When you hear us talking about digital services in relation to OneWeb, we mean end-to-end: from when the users are searching for where and how to do something (e.g. where and how to apply for something), through applying (entering information and choosing between different options) to when they finish (e.g. successfully applied and received confirmation).

User journeys are interactions

Our end-users (e.g. prospective student, peer researcher, CEO of a company etc) will start a journey with us by trying to do something, whether something tangible like booking an open day, or a task that allows them to make the next step in making a decision, for example, about whether to apply or not. That journey can start on the University website, or it might start on Google, with an email, a visit or a phone call.

A user journey is made up of all the steps a user takes that relate to a university service, from when they start interacting with us to when they stop.

When we talk about steps, these can include:

  • seeing campaign messages
  • calling and asking questions or advice
  • responding to social media posts
  • receiving a letter
  • completing a form, and much more.

As you are interacting with the product it does more than simply display information, as say a marketing website does. Complex interactions take place between the part you use (the front-end), which is connected (integrated) into the wider system that runs the service in its entirety (the back-end). Our systems, data and processes are core to it all. This is also why OneWeb is wide-reaching.

An opportunity to break silos

From what we’ve seen so far, the journey is a series of events and processes made of different chunks, for example:

  • policies from external sources (e.g. Office for Students)
  • processes and policies from Admissions
  • campaign messages and activities from Communications and Marketing
  • conversations with student recruitment (e.g. outreach at schools and International Office)

Currently, each one acts as a separate entity (and I do acknowledge that we all try to collaborate closely), but at the end of the day we are silos.

We all do things in different ways: store data differently, count and measure things differently, notify our end-users differently, and some of our processes are unintentionally full of jargon and abbreviations that mean very little to our end-users. All of this pushes them away, rather than pulling them towards us.

This is the way things are because this journey was never designed in the first place. The systems we have today are the result of legacy, ad-hoc processes on top of more ad-hoc and workaround processes, letter by letter, form by form, email by email.

We don’t know at this point what the mapping of our end-to-end services will look like because the discoveries that will identify what the problems are in key areas have not started. We will be working with all the different teams, departments and directorates to first resolve and co-create the ‘Become an Undergraduate’ journey from a user perspective.

“You can’t fight silos, with silos”

Enter service design

We all need a good dose of proper service design thinking. By that we mean a user-centred approach that allows us to create end-to-end journeys that work for everyone. Service design will make products and services that are useful, usable and desirable for users, and effective and efficient for us.

Make no mistake: service design is not just a design tool. It will transform what we do and help us in delivering our goals. To answer key questions we will need to collaborate with you, to help us to take a close look at the current set-up. This means we can visualise a whole service based on data and evidence from both the end-user and the University’s point of view.

“We all need a good dose of Service Design” 

When we don’t jump into predetermined solutions, we have a much better chance to create digital products and services that take better advantage of a changing marketplace, and create value for the University, and the end user. We get a chance to test ideas and produce results that work for users quickly and effectively.

There is more than one way to achieve an outcome. Service design is a proven low-risk starting point towards a much larger scale change.

Over the coming weeks, we will write more about our findings and work with colleagues. To keep up to date, please subscribe to our blog, and let your colleagues know about it too.

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