Industry Thought Leadership

Global Digital Services

February, 2018
Elie Abdallah
Corporate Strategy Analyst


Global companies often attribute the term Digital Services to the electronic delivery of information, including data and content across multiple platforms and devices like web or mobile. The term is more widely used in government circles in terms of making the overall interaction of citizens with the public sector a more pleasant and efficient experience. It is also widely used in the Information and Communication Technology sector, in particular, in the telecommunications industry, where mobile operators provide connectivity and data services to their subscribers. However, this is equally important in the private sector in terms of improving the customer experience while boosting productivity. Making the transition to digital services by replacing the reliance on paper forms and physical products and improving the overall user experience has benefits to both organizations as well as customers/end users. These benefits include reduced costs and time to market, improved efficiency, higher transparency and full traceability along with high levels of customer service.

The global digital services can be split into six categories, based on content. These categories are governmental and non-governmental utilities, information, communications, business services, sharing platforms and entertainment. Ensuring the sustainability of this ecosystem requires a continuous supply of relevant digital content, which creates incentives and reasons for subscribers to get online; such content is imperative for driving digital transformation and connecting the 60% of the global population that is currently not connected. Beyond expanding the availability of digital services, key players need to ensure the sustainability of this digital ecosystem since provisioning and supporting global digital services is an expansive proposition.

Three major dependencies should be fulfilled before achieving a digital ecosystem in which digital services can be provided; a supporting network infrastructure, devices and local-language support. A strong content ecosystem cannot be developed without the availability of strong fixed and mobile infrastructures. Additionally, the devices and hardware components that are available have a significant impact on the type and nature of the content being consumed, and even on usage frequency. Finally, support for local languages and character rendering by major operating systems and platform vendors plays a critical role in driving local content ecosystems.

Digital ecosystems include four main stakeholders; the governments, global and local content providers, mobile network operators and subscribers. The government has a dual role to play in boosting the digital ecosystem in a country, on the one hand by creating an optimal environment in which content ecosystem can flourish and on the other hand by providing essential digital services within the country. Global and local content providers range from small startup to large global companies. In the presence of strong global content developers and providers, and despite its critical contribution, a local digital ecosystem will be difficult without a path to monetization or funding from the government or other parties. Both global and local content and service providers require up-front investments to build before they start monetizing their services. Telecommunication operators are crucial to enabling the monetization of content, especially in the early stages of evolution. Most start-ups and small to medium companies providing digital services do not have access to payment platforms or advertising revenue during the early stage. Mobile network operators can avail their charging, billing and support platforms and channels for service providers and simplify the monetization of their services.

To understand how stakeholders can best drive the digital services ecosystems, it is necessary to be able to define and assess the maturity of a country’s ecosystem, to identify the models that can ensure economic sustainability and the role and contribution of both public and private sectors. Within an individual country, the digital ecosystem maturity is defined as a function of both the depth and the diversity of the different services’ categories. The greater the depth of available, relevant services and the more diverse the type of services, the higher the maturity ranking of the ecosystem.

The key success factor for sustaining platforms and ecosystem that provides digital services is to create a large base of online users, generate deep and varied content, support mechanisms for online advertisement and payments, and build a solid case for businesses to invest in online commerce and capabilities. Once these elements are in place, all the conditions are set for the digital services ecosystem to become self-sustaining.