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.