Articulating systems and services

In the world of digital discoveries, two key terms often come up in discussions: systems and services

While they may seem like the same thing, there are distinct differences between the two terms that need to be understood for us to develop effective solutions for users.


A system is a product or tool that is designed to perform a specific function or set of functions. It may be a software application, a piece of hardware, or a combination of both.

A recent example of a system at the focus of a discovery project was the GMPP online data collection reporting tool, designed to gather data and generate reports based on that data.


On the other hand, a service refers to the wider experience that includes not only the system itself, but also the business processes, culture, training, and support that are needed to make the system work effectively. 

In other words, a service encompasses the entire experience that users have with the system, from start to finish. This includes the user experience, the workflows that the system supports, the training and support that users receive, and the overall culture that surrounds the use of the system.

Why is this important?

In our work, we often find ourselves urging clients to think about services as a whole, rather than just the system itself.

By focusing on the service as a whole, the team can ensure that they are delivering a solution that not only addresses the specific needs of the users, but also takes into account the larger context in which the system will be used – reducing risk at the point of implementation.

Using the terms system and service intentionally in this way also has the added benefit of taking a step toward meeting the second point of the GDS Service Standard: working toward solving a whole problem for users.

Systems and services may seem interchangeable terms on the surface, but there are important differences between the two that should be understood when developing digital solutions. 

By focusing on the service as a whole, and not just the system itself, development teams can ensure that they are delivering effective solutions that fully meet the needs of users.

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