ONE issue which characterises the 21st Century more than other issues is the central role played by the provision of services as the mainstay of contemporary economic activities.
While the 20th Century was known for its emphasis on industrialisation as a major strategy of spurring economic growth and improving livelihoods, the 21st Century is synonymous with the broadening and deepening of the information superhighway.
The term service is both a noun and a verb.
As a noun, the term service means three things.
It refers to the act of helping someone or doing work for someone.
Secondly, it means a public or semi-public facility which is used to provide for a need such as energy, transport, protection or defence, finance and banking, communication, education, and insurance.
Third, the term service also means a commodity which has more of intangible elements or attributes than physical ones for instance software.
The word service can also be used as a verb. This is the sense in which it is used in technical professions such as refrigeration, engineering and mechanics.
A person can in this sense talk of their car being serviced or the elevator in their home being serviced.
This article is flexible in the use of the term service, but is inclined more to the noun version of the term.
There are six very critical services in modern society.
These are transport (and logistics or distribution), communication (including education), defence or protection, medical care, recreation or tourism and financial services.
The world would be a miserable or poor place without these essential services.
These services also house or determine the fastest growing industries of the modern world.
In recent times the trend has been to homogenise services instead of providing individualised and personalised services.
Personalised services usually come at a premium.
In developed countries it is usually affluent households that afford personalised medical care which is characterised by an in depth knowledge of family history and regular visits by the family physician.
The majority of the population have no choice, but to get medical help from a public or semi-public medical facility.
Many folks cannot afford specialised services of professionals such as dentists, ophthalmologists, optometrists and opticians to mention a few.
There are two main factors that explain why the services sector of the global economy has grown at a faster pace than the goods or tangible items sector.
First, rapid and accelerated technical and technological progress implies that what needed many industries to achieve over long periods of time in the past now takes seconds or nanoseconds to achieve.
Technology is the single most important determinant of the growth in services.
There is no denying that every second copious volumes of new information or knowledge are generated while instantaneously large volumes of information and goods are rendered obsolete and irrelevant to modern life.
The basic goal of improvements in technology is to raise the level of convenience of services.
Technological progress also attempts to improve efficiency and effectiveness of systems.
The second factor which explains accelerated technical progress is globalisation.
It has to be underscored that technology is not a modern phenomenon.
It has existed for as long as the human race has inhabited planet earth.
It is just the levels of technology which have been changing because the term technology basically refers to the way inputs and raw materials in the production and/or distribution process are combined.
Technical or technological progress in the past aimed at improving basic convenience and efficiency as major goals.
Modern advances in technology are focusing more and more on ergonomic issues.
The modern ergonomically sensitive service firm endeavours to strike a balance between effectiveness and efficiency by navigating the path with reactive, preventive, proactive and advanced system landmarks.
Up to date and relevant service engineering which is a precursor of successfully meeting the needs of the modern discerning customer requires a fusion of four basic elements of ergonomics design protocol.
These elements are managing resource and system constraints, leveraging existing design systems, asking the right questions to the right people (this entails undertaking valid pre-design and pre-production surveys), validating designs (this involves pilot product testing usually taking advantage of existing business to business networks) and sharing or disseminating successes.
Ian Ndlovu is an economist based at the National University of Science and Technology skilled in data analysis using SPSS, Gretl, Stata, Eviews and Microsoft Excel software packages. His research interests cover business, development, economic and e-commerce issues. He writes in his personal capacity.