The Emergence of Service Science: Towards Systematic Service Innovations to Accelerate the Coproduction of Value

Article excerpt


The current growth of the service sector in global economies is unparalleled in human history, by scale and speed of the labor migration. Even large manufacturing firms are seeing dramatic shifts in the percentage of their revenues derived from services. The need for service innovations to fuel further economic growth as well as to raise quality and productivity levels of services has never been higher. Services are moving center stage in the global competition arena, especially knowledge-intensive business services aimed at business performance transformation. One challenge to systematic service innovation is the multidisciplinary nature of services, integrating across technology, business, social, and client (demand) innovations. This paper argues for the emergence of service science, a new multidisciplinary area of study, to address the challenge of becoming more systematic about innovating in services.


Through a series of events, the opportunity to study and impact services at a major information technology (IT) company arose. In less than a decade the portion of revenue derived from services had grown by over 33% and was rapidly approaching 50% of the revenue of the entire corporation (see Figure 1). A top global research organization was faced with the need to innovate in service operations, service offerings, as well as to add a services research component onto a research culture steeped in technology and product innovation excellence. In addition to a multibillion dollar acquisition of a large business services firm as well as many smaller acquisitions, the corporation needed to enhance its ability to innovate in services.

Gray hairs in the research organization told of a similar transition that had occurred a few decades earlier, when software systems research was added to a research culture composed primarily of physicists, chemists, electrical engineers, and mathematicians. During that transition, PhD computer scientists entered the research organization in large numbers. What many people may not have known, and may still not know, is that the corporation that was now hiring so many new computer science PhDs had actually played a major role in helping to establish that academic discipline decades earlier (Asprey and Williams, 1994).

Immediately, the question of what new types of PhDs might be needed to build a world-class corporate services research organization arose as a topic of much discussion and debate. A quick survey of the PhDs within our own services organization revealed a three-way split between technology, business-related, and social sciences PhDs. It was also clear that the existing research organization was dominated by technology PhDs. For a research organization focused on technology systems, the shift to services would require a shift towards innovation aimed at improving sociotechnical business systems (Trist, 1981). For example, these days clients rarely buy an information technology (IT) system simply because of its technical capabilities (faster, more capacity, etc.), but instead require a business model (return on investment) as well as the organizational change model (reengineered processes and job roles) that make the technology a solution to a business problem. Thus, the transition from an IT vendor to a firm specialized in coproducing IT-driven business transformation with clients.

As the author was struggling with the practical issue of hiring people with PhDs in diverse areas related to services, colleagues inside the corporation as well as from academia were advocating a bold approach - a new academic discipline - which they were later to write about and call services science (Chesbrough, 2004; Chesbrough, 2005; Horn, 2005). This idea was particularly appealing as the number of separate PhDs required to form a suitable services research organization was growing to nearly a dozen! The communication challenge alone of getting a diverse population of scientists to speak a common language around "service innovation" was requiring retraining them in each others' separate disciplines as well as the injection of new, practical concepts fresh from the front lines of our own services business. …