Thursday, January 31, 2008

Why Blog?

When I started this new career, I decided I was going to blog ... about the transition, about my work, about my experiences. I wasn't sure why I was blogging. I just knew I was going to do it.

My first post was easy. I wanted students to know about the course I was teaching on "service science". I had already prepared a document to help me organize what I was going to say at a meeting organized by Eric Yu for FIS students to learn about Winter 08 elective courses. The document I prepared had a bit about my background, service science, and the course. When only a few students attended the session, I decided to post the course information from that document on a blog so I could point students to the post if they wanted more information.

Since then, I've had a few ideas about what I might blog about but I've hesitated. I was still not sure why I was blogging.

My second post was about the blogging seminar I attended at the FIS Inforum (the Inforum a tremendous jewel of a resource in FIS). In that blog post, I linked to the author of a book that related to a Book Chapter I'm contributing to with colleagues at the University of Alberta. In a phone conference with them, I mentioned the book and they asked me to send the link. Instead, I sent the link to my blog post! In return, I received a thoughtful comment from my colleague and one of my academic mentors, Eleni Stroulia, to my third post in which I attempted to compare my IBM (industry) career with my (new) academic one.

Today, I had a stimulating (but too short) conversation with FIS PhD Candidate, Rhonda McEwen, about Service Science. I shared with her some of my thoughts and ideas and told her about some papers she might be interested in reading. I said I'd send the links. Then I thought, if I had just blogged about my thoughts and included the links there, I could just point her to my blog. It dawned on me that having a public repository I can point people to will help save email generation but also will make sure I don't forget to send something in the list.

Also, as I talked with Rhonda, I remembered how helpful it is (for me) to articulate my thoughts and ideas out loud. Talking out loud is a necessary step for me to know what I think (someone once told me that extroverts don't know what they think until they've said it out loud). Well, blogging is like "saying it out loud". I have just realized (although it seems so obvious) that blogging will help me know what I think.

So, two reasons to blog. Now I know "why". So, I'll start working on "how". Until next time ...

Monday, January 21, 2008

Comparing my Industry Job to my Academic Job

In this blog post, I attempt to compare my old industry job with my new academic job. It's a bit early to do this (less than one month into it) and it seems that all things are on a spectrum, nothing being black and white, but I'm going to give it a try anyway. Since I'm just starting a new job, there is a lot of "start-up" activities that I need to do that have nothing to do with academia vs. industry (get health benefits, unpack my office, figure out how to print and photocopy for free, figure out the email system, determine the fastest commute route from A to B, meet new people, determine who does what, etc.) I won't add those to the comparison.

My first attempt at a comparison:

In my industry job, I was accountable to a large number of people and groups. I had to ensure that I was doing the things they needed: my employees, my bosses, collaborating university students, collaborating university professors, others in IBM and external to IBM, etc. A great deal of my time was spent responding to their needs or pro-actively setting up processes or systems to enable me and the rest of the organization to respond to others' needs.

In my academic job, I am accountable to less people and groups. I expect this to change as I become more active on committees, with students, collaborative research, and teach more courses but I think it will still be less than in my old job. Now, a great deal of my time is spent deciding where I should focus my effort and responding to my needs. Of course, I have high standards and needs so I push myself hard but this is definitely one difference I've noticed so far ... one that I like!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Getting into Blogging

Thanks to my blogger-mentors for encouraging me to keep blogging (you know who you are). And thanks to the instructor of my blogging and rss feed workshop for giving me even more reasons and suggestions for my blog (you know who you are!). I'm sitting in your class right now! In this class I also learned about a book (from an example blog of the author (Meredith Farkas) called, "Social Software in Libraries" which interests me and will help me contribute to a book chapter I'm currently working on with some colleagues.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Introduction to Service Science: Winter Course

As I embark on my new career in academia, I have decided it is time to make use of the technologies I became familiar with in my old job (in the IBM Toronto Centre for Advanced Studies) to enhance my new job (in the University of Toronto Faculty of Information Studies -- FIS). Hence, this blog.

This first blog gives some details about the Information Systems Elective course I'm teaching this term. I hope a lot of students from different backgrounds sign up. Hopefully, this post will help excite them about what we'll be learning.

First some background about me: My name is Kelly Lyons; I am joining FIS as a new faculty member in January 2008. Until recently, I was the Program Director of the Centre for Advanced Studies (CAS) at the IBM Toronto Lab. CAS works with university researchers on collaborative research project with IBM. So, I am coming from an industry background but with experience working with graduate students and faculty members on research projects.

Services Science: The last few years in CAS, I’ve been involved in some research in services science (which I’ll attempt to define in a bit). I also taught a grad course at York University Computer Science in this area (I’m an adjunct professor there) with my IBM colleague and really smart guy, Ross McKegney. Here is a link to the wiki we used: There were mostly CS grad students in the class but one PhD student from the Schulich School of Business. The course I'm teaching at FIS is different but is based on that one.

Services Science is an area of increasing focus in academia from the perspective of both research and teaching. The main motivation for this increasing focus is the fact that services are a growing part of the world’s economies: not just in the for-profit arena but for government services, social services, etc. Access to information sources and on-line spaces have enabled the creation of new ways of providing services.

So, there is a strong desire among many academics to work in this new, emerging, barely-defined field of study, or actually a somewhat loosely coupled combination of fields of study.

One of the things that attracted me to Service Science is the fact that it brings different areas together: social and cultural issues, computer science / information technology, management, operations, and so on. There is a unique opportunity in FIS to make progress and contributions that will bring these together into a more multidisciplinary area of study. That’s one of the goals of the course and my research program.

So, what is service science: the application of scientific, management, and engineering principles to services. A “service” is something that an organization or individual beneficially performs for and with another. In fact, researchers can’t 100% agree on how to define services. One of the things we’ll do is apply different theories of services to various service activities students are involved in.

One thing that is common among definitions is that services depend critically on people, and co-creation of value … and in this course we will focus on those services that also depend on technology and information. In order to deliver services, people work together and with technology to provide value.

Another way to look at services is through service systems. Service systems involve the interaction of people, technology, information within and external to organizations. Building services systems requires being able to model the many interactions and relationships. The paper here by Jim Spohrer, Paul Maglio, John Bailey, and Daniel Gruhl titled "Steps Toward a Science of Service Systems" does a nice job of describing different kinds of service systems and their complexities.

The Course: There are many aspects of service science and it’s not yet clear if it will become a discipline in and of itself or if it will augment existing disciplines. In some universities, programs are based in the business school so have a management focus. In other cases, the programs are based in the computer science department so focus mostly on service oriented architectures and the IT component of service systems. In some cases, courses are taught in Information Schools.

In my opinion and that of many of my colleagues, it’s important to look at service science from different perspectives and to agree on a common “language” or frame of reference. For example, in a recent workshop I helped organize, we talked about possibly having researchers from different backgrounds read the same papers in the area and annotate them from their perspective and use the different annotations to help come up with a common frame of reference. This is one of the things we will try to do in this course.

Since I come from a Computer Science background, I’ll present the course from that perspective but I’m very excited to have other points of view and perspectives from individuals participating in the course. I’m especially interested in understanding how to exploit social computing technologies and tools to better provide communication, collaboration, and innovation (unique, new ways of doing things) in service systems.

So, the course is broken into 4 topic sections, each with readings and assignments, plus a final paper and presentation:

    1. Introduction to Service Science: Defining services, service systems, applying theories of services to student-selected service activities.
    2. Modeling, analyzing, and optimizing service systems (of students' choice – hopefully related to their specialty) using software modeling tools (specifically WebSphere Business Process Modeler)
    3. Innovation in services: What new ways of doing things or new models could be used to enhance the chosen service system? We will look at some case studies as examples.
    4. Service Oriented Architectures: How are SOA technologies and associated tools helping organizations modify the software that implements their service system

Because of the uniqueness of the topic, we need to look at innovative delivery methods for the material and ideas presented. Guest lecturers will provide practical perspectives that we can compare with and augment what’s being learned through review of academic papers. We will also explore different social computing environments for sharing knowledge, information, and expressing our ideas: wiki’s, blogs, and through virtual world avatars.

Ultimately, more understanding of services and better service innovations will mean people who are “adaptive innovators” in business and society.

I’ve been familiar with and involved in research in services science with the goal of making companies (like IBM where I come from) more profitable in their services business (or for IBM to help make their customers more profitable), BUT it is clear to me that service science research can benefit social services and non-profit entities as well … and we have a real opportunity through this course and within FIS to be quite unique in our approach to studying service systems such as libraries, public institutions, social services, hospitals, high schools, universities, etc. That is one thing I hope we can bring to this topic and through each of the different perspectives in FIS and some of the other topics each of you are studying.