Digital technology has enabled business to operate at new levels of speed and deliver new levels of capability to address old challenges. However, it also makes it more important than ever that business understands what it is doing. There is a big difference in outcomes and ongoing costs between choosing a fix, a solution and a service.
Fixes, Solutions and Services are Different
Let’s take the example of a leaky pipe to draw the difference between the three categories:
- A fix is anything that will stop water leaking now: You might be able to block the whole by wrapping the pipe in tape. It is quick and cheap and it will get the job done. There is no guarantee it will last. You can get very wet and spend a lot of time taping pipes if all you rely on is quick fixes.
- A solution is something that addresses the whole problem in a sustainable way: Bring in a plumber to replace the pipe or rethread the join with some plumber’s tape. A solution is usually more expensive and a point in time action. The leak will stop and you have put in place a solution that will deliver no leaks ongoing.
- A service is when you shift from fixing a problem to realising and opportunity by creating a sustainable and systemic solution to the underlying capability: Most of us aren’t experts in plumbing or water delivery. Just because pipes aren’t leaking doesn’t mean they are right. A pipe that doesn’t leak may have restricted flow, be poisoning the water or have other issues. We aren’t sure how best to manage water delivery but we could contract someone to do regular testing, maintain the infrastructure and upgrade as and when needed.
These Differences Have Implications
The differences between a fix, a solution and a service are significant and have important implications:
- Organisations don’t ask themselves what they want between the three choices and what the business case justifies.
- You don’t always need the most expensive or fanciest option: If you know the pipe is in a building that will be demolished next year, what is the point of a fancy solution or service? Tape works fine. You might even prepared to get wet.
- Organisations confuse the cost, durability and outcomes of fixes, solutions and services.
- Many clients buy a solution thinking it is a service, because they have confused the tool and the result. They are then perplexed why the solution has ongoing supplemental services, like adoption, maintenance and other costs.
- Many vendors and the organisation’s internal specialists are unclear whether they are offering a fix, a solution or a service. It is common for them to sell the cheaper and promise the more expensive.
- Most startups fail because what they think is a service is at best a fix or a solution.