Service

My day job as clinical leader of a large children’s mental health centre in Ontario, Canada presents me with the constant challenge of working with other professionals to devise and resource treatment plans for children and youth with complex emotional, behavioral, and learning needs.

I am trained formally in the philosophy of language, cognitive psychology, and experimental design and statistics – though at this stage of my life I would describe myself as self-taught. Most recently, I have been studying two domains connected to my professional work – the concepts of “service” and “network”  – with the  idea of specifying more clearly a popular but particularly slippery concept – the “service network”.

In one case study, I intend to examine a database of human services in Ontario that is maintained online at http://211ontario.ca – and explore the “meaning” embedded in this sort of database using semantic web technologies, e.g.  the evolving Core Public Service Vocabulary of the European Commission and an ontology of government services included in a recent release of schema.org.

This is a work in progress!

Originally, I had thought about working away under these broad headings:

While these headings still represent reasonable divisions of labour for me, there are three distinct but just-close-enough-to-be-confusing senses in which the term “service” is used in the literature:

  • a software service, like the SSL/HTTPS service, that secures the transfer of data packets over the Internet
  • a “real” world service, like a banking service, that allows someone to pay a monthly utility bill at a local branch
  • a “real” world service that is mediated by a software service, like an online banking service, that uses the SSL/HTTPS service to allow someone to pay a monthly utility bill securely over the Internet

Early on, the metaphor “software as a service” inspired pioneers in computer science to explore and elaborate one concept (software) that was novel and abstract in terms of another concept (service) that was familiar and grounded in human experience.

In the past two decades, our understanding of the concept of software, the concept of service, and the metaphor “software as a service” have advanced tremendously. Indeed, an entire industry has emerged around “Software as a Service” (SaaS) in “cloud computing”.

Finally, in much the same way that humans have moved from using the  “computer as brain” metaphor to using as readily the “brain as computer” metaphor – the “service as software” metaphor is used as readily as the “software as service” metaphor.

Today, the prime driver for clarifying the semantics of “real world” service comes from software engineering – and seeks to improve the design and deployment of Web services that are (somehow) meant to facilitate the delivery of “real world” services.

My original thought was to enlist the technologies of software services – e.g. service-oriented computing, service-oriented architecture, service-oriented semantics – to describe and model more clearly and formally the defining features of “real” world services – especially human services, like social assistance, mental health counselling, and so on.

I still believe there is great potential in this exercise – and in the closely related exercise of elaborating how software services can support “real” human services – though we are liable to miss the mark if we take the metaphor “service as a software” too literally.

What am I working on right now?

July 2015

Jorge Cardoso’s work on a Unified Service Description Language (*-USDL) – and particularly his USDL for Linked Service Systems (LSS-USDL) looks like a great landing spot:

I’ve compiled a working version of Cardoso’s web-based platform for visualizing and marking up real-world services using LSS-USDL, and will be looking to apply his model to my scrape of the 211 database of human services in Ontario soon. If you’re interested in installing LSS-USDL, I’ve provided a step-by-step guide. If you want to try out my installation, just drop me a line.

August 2015

I’m looking forward to the publication of Stephen Osborne’s Public Service-Dominant Logic, a textbook that will introduce students of public management and public administration, as well as practicing public managers and policy makers, to the concept of a Public Service-Dominant Logic. I’ve been studying Osborne’s writings (2006 – present) on the New Public Governance. His work on policy-making and governance provides a vital connection between Lusch & Vargo\’s Service-Dominant Logic and a systems-approach to service delivery – and public service delivery, in particular.