Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Proposed Service Science Research Landscape

Many individuals and groups are working to establish a research program and research projects in Service Science, Management, and Engineering or Service Science. These individuals and groups come from different research backgrounds and bring different perspectives and points of view to this emerging field.

The purpose of this blog post is to propose a research landscape which can help us situate service science research from across our varied disciplines. My hope is that, through this blog medium, we can collaborate to enhance and evolve the landscape so that it can serve several roles, including:

1. Help researchers understand how their research relates to existing service science research activities and that of specific researchers so that they may define effective collaborations;

2. Help researchers and project leaders determine which aspects of service science research are not addressed within a large research project or program; and

3. Help educators define service science curriculum and courses that cover specific aspects that are being addressed in service science research.

First I will provide some definitions, a practice which is extremely important when discussing topics that cross disciplines. For the context the proposed research landscape, “service” is defined independently of the notion of technology. In [1], a service is defined as “the application of competences for the benefit of another”. More broadly in [2], a service is defined as “the application of resources (including competences, skills and knowledge) to make changes that have value for another”.

A “service system” is defined as “a configuration of people, technologies, and other resources that interact with other service systems to create mutual value” [2].

By contrast, a “web service” is more narrowly defined as “a software system designed to support interoperable machine to machine interaction over a network” [3]. In the context of service oriented architectures (SOA), “services” are described as network-accessible software components that are aligned with business processes [4].

“Service Science” then is the study of the application of resources in one or more service systems to the benefit of another service system. Service Science is trying to develop a science of service systems and their interactions [2].

“Service Science, Management, and Engineering” (SSME) is sometimes used interchangeably with the term “service science” but it involves more than “service science” does. It includes applying management and engineering principles to services and has been defined as, “ the application of scientific, management, and engineering disciplines to tasks that one organization (service provider) beneficially performs for and with another (service client) [1].

Note that the definition of “services” has changed over time from meaning tasks that one performs for and with another in [1] to the application of resources for mutual benefit in [2]. This is evidence that the field is emerging and changing in such a way that it will benefit from having a landscape on which to ground various research activities.

The vision of service science remains boldly or ambitiously to be to create a coherent integrated body of knowledge to support ongoing innovation in service systems design, operation, and improvement [5]. A picture that has been used by IBM researchers to show the breadth of service science activities shows three layers:

The lowest level of this diagram represents the technical architecture, the middle layer defines work practices and on the top layer sits the services business. Research in service science or SSME spans these three different layers; thus, these three layers define one of the dimensions of the proposed landscape.

To articulate the other dimension of the proposed research landscape, we first look at the definition of a service system since research in service science requires researching service systems. A service system is defined as “a dynamic value co-creation configuration of resources, including people, organizations, shared information (language, laws, measures, methods), and technology, all connected internally and externally to other service systems by value propositions” [6].

Because organizations contain people and technology and information is shared through people and technology, the second dimension of the research landscape focuses on the people and technology resources in service systems.

Recall that a service is defined as the application of competence for the benefit of another entity. Services, therefore, involve at least two entities, one applying competence and another integrating the applied competences with other resources and determining benefit [6].

For benefit to be realized and competences to be applied, these two entities must interact in some way. The interaction could take place between two technological systems and be performed through web services. It could be that people in one entity are interacting with technology in another as in business to consumer e-commerce. Finally, it could be that technology is mediating people to people interactions such as when a researcher interacts through chat or email with a reference librarian to find information.

The second dimension of the proposed landscape, therefore, differentiates research as to whether it studies connections and interactions between people, between people and technology, or between technology and technology.

There are a couple of points to note about research that is situated within this landscape. First, the research may study interactions and sharing between two entities that are within the same organization or in different organizations. That aspect of the research is not differentiated on the landscape.

Second, the underlying goal of research that gets situated within this landscape has to explicitly address services as defined in [1] or [2]. In this way, we would not include research on the bottom level of this landscape picture that advances technology in a way that could simply be applied to service paradigms as well as being applied to several other paradigms. Rather, the research we situate on this landscape must study an effective and novel application of technology in new ways to enhance services or advances in technology that are motivated by specific kinds of services.

So for some examples of where research would fit within this proposed landscape, consider SOA and Web Services research which fits in the bottom to middle left side of the landscape. Two pieces of work I’ve collaborated on in virtual worlds fits in the upper right. And work I’ve collaborated on in understanding the structure of the social network in corporate blogs (technology mediated person to person interaction and sharing) fits in the middle right side of the landscape.

I think it’s important to realize that different kinds of business services may drive the research differently so I explicitly list 4 kinds on the landscape (large enterprise, small enterprise – although I’m not 100% sure there is a difference between them for the purposes of services research – government services, and non-profit services). Most of the work on theories of service science assume for-profit services and, while I haven’t looked at it very closely yet, I think it’s worthwhile to consider that some of the theories and definitions may not apply as well in non-profit services.

In a future blog post, I will describe how my current research activities fit within this landscape.


[1] J. Spohrer, P. P. Maglio, J. Bailey, D. Gruhl, “Steps Toward a Science of Service Systems,” IEEE Computer, Jan. 2007

[2] J. Spohrer, S. L. Vargo, N. Caswell, and P. P. Maglio, “The Service System is the Basic Abstraction of Service Science”, Proceedings of the 41st HICSS, Jan. 2008

[3] W3C,

[4] Wikipedia, SOA

[5] Kieliszewski, C., From a presentation at a meeting of the Alberta CAS (Center for Advanced Studies) Research Board Meeting, December 2007.

[6] Maglio, P., From a presentation at a CAS Alberta Workshop on Service Science, Management, and Engineering, March 2008.


Harold van Garderen said...

Hi Kelly,

Good work: to attempt to unify the services field a bit. Some comments though.

Given definition of services systems is in fact near-identical to one already known for decades in the systems literature: the one for Human Activity Systems. F.e. see Checklands work on soft systems.

In the same vein, given definition for services science is nearly identical to that of system science, be it that the system components are limited to just three node-types: people, technology and information and one node-type: relations. So it would be good to argue why we need an new definition for services science and next start anew with defining wat is the reason for SSME to exist as a separate notion.

Next, you state that gradually the definition of service has moved over time. I think this is not quite what has happened. In fact it is now clear that finding a definition for services (as opposed to product) is quite futile. Good arguments can be found in Araujo, L and Spring, Martin. Services, products, and the instistutional structure of production. Industrial Marketing Management, 35(2006) 797-805.

Kelly Lyons said...

Thank you, Harold ... I appreciate your input / comments. I will
review the articles you mentioned and decide if the landscape should be adjusted accordingly.

Thanks again for your input,


Harold van Garderen said...

Just one correction: I meant to write:

... be it that the system components are limited to just three node-types: people, technology and information and one connection -type: relations.

David Ing said...

Kelly, I've had some issues with the definition of services from Spohrer, Maglio, Bailey and Gruhl 2007 ... not because it's necessarily right or wrong, but because I haven't found it helpful. This definition is founded largely on the work of Vargo & Lusch, who come from a marketing background (i.e. battling what's the difference between product marketing and services marketing).

The description of a "science of service systems" in the IfM 2008 report is much more clarifying for me. I've now moved totally over to the work of Normann and Ramirez (and blogged about this over on the Coevolving Innovations blog. In the J. of the Academy of Marketing Science 36 (1), there's an article by Michel, Vargo & Lusch that describes compatibility with Normann's ideas, but it's a case of using Normann as support for V&L rather than V&L moving to Normann's idea of offerings.

My direction is now to enable and support an engineering and a management based on a science of service systems. This can be be read as an engineering of service systems, and a management of service systems ... in the same way that systems science should be a foundation for systems engineering. There's a gap between systems science and systems engineering, but I found a strong tie-in from Tien & Berg, which is cited in Spohrer's writings. At the same time, I recognize that there is art in management ... with many academics doing good work on that.

Kelly Lyons said...

Thanks, David -- I'm going to read your blog post carefully and comment. As always, your input is valued and welcome!

Talk to you soon ... Kelly

Jim said...

Hi Kelly,

Sorry for being late to the party :-).

Both Harold and David make excellent points that system science is the most general science we know of -- and physics, biology, chemistry, cooperative systems science, service science, computer science -- can fit neatly within systems science.

Herb Simon in Sciences of the Artificial builds on the notion of physical symbol systems -- is this broad enough to include computer systems, cooperative systems, and service systems? -- perhaps. This is an important area for future research.

We can think of ants, bees, wolves, and ape colonies as cooperative systems. Selfish gene mechanisms help explain the cooperation here.

However, wolves do not barter, and do not have written laws that codify a moral system. So one can argue that modern value-cocreation system (what we call service systems) go well beyond cooperative sytems that are a layer on biology.

I like evolution of complex systems (systems science) as a basis for thinking about how physics, chemistry, biology, cooperative systems science, service science, and computer science - come into being, and are ordered.

Human activity systems seem more general than service science - so perhaps they exist between cooperative system science and service science. I'm not sure. Service science says the win-win value-cocreation activities are special and guide evolution.

As for definitions of service -- nearly all the definitions that I see are implicit/explicit --- about types of entities, having types of interactions, that lead to types of outcomes. So to me -- service is value-cocreation. If I want to elaborate -- service is value-cocreation interactions between entities. We can say more, but this is a start.

I like the simple definition of a service system as a dynamic configuration of resources. Resources can be physical or not-physical. Resources can have rights, or not have rights. So this leads to a 2x2 table and four types of resources, that service systems dynamically configure as they (normatively) interact to cocreate value.

I like to think of service system entities as particular types of physical-symbol-systems. Formal service system start, when the physical symbol system has written laws. This requires writing. Informal service systems start with barter -- perhaps. As Adam Smith said, you don't see dogs bartering bones. So we need to be precise in an evolutionary sense, when we have service systems coming onto the scene.

So in addition to definitions, we need to pay attention to the developmental or evolutionary origins of service system entities (people, families, businesses, nations, etc.).

All things evolve. When did service system entities begin to exist. What defines this beginning? What defines service?

This is a lens to think about these questions.