Service science

Service science, management, and engineering (SSME) is a term introduced by IBM to describe service science, an interdisciplinary approach to the study, design, and implementation of services systems – complex systems in which specific arrangements of people and technologies take actions that provide value for others. More precisely, SSME has been defined as the application of science, management, and engineering disciplines to tasks that one organization beneficially performs for and with another.

Today, SSME is a call for academia, industry, and governments to focus on becoming more systematic about innovation in the service sector, which is the largest sector of the economy in most industrialized nations, and is fast becoming the largest sector in developing nations as well. SSME is also a proposed academic discipline and research area that would complement – rather than replace – the many disciplines that contribute to knowledge about service. The interdisciplinary nature of the field calls for a curriculum and competencies to advance the development and contribution of the field of SSME.[1]

What is Service?

In national economic statistics, the service sector is often defined as whatever is not agriculture or manufacturing (service sector – tertiary sector of the economy (Colin Clark)). Intuitively, services are processes, performances, or experiences that one person or organization does for the benefit of another – such as custom tailoring suit, cooking a dinner to order, driving a limousine, mounting a legal defense, setting a broken bone, teaching a class, or running a business’s information technology infrastructure and applications. In all cases, service involves deployment of knowledge, skills, and competences that one person or organization has for the benefit of another (Lusch & Vargo), often done as a single, customized job. And in all cases, service requires substantial input from the customer or client (Sampson) – how else could your steak be customized for you unless you tell you waiter how you want it prepared? In general there are so-called front-stage and back-stage activities in any business transaction – front stage being the part that comes in contact with the customer and back stage being the part that does not (Teboul). Service depends on having a high degree of front-stage activities to interact with the customer, whereas traditional manufacturing requires very little customer input to the production process and depends almost entirely on back-stage activities.

There are many definitions of service in the literature. Here are a few:

  • Services are economic activities offered by one party to another, most commonly employing time-based performances to bring about desired results in recipients themselves or in objects or other assets for which purchasers have responsibility. In exchange for their money, time, and effort, service customers expect to obtain value from access to goods, labor, professional skills, facilities, networks, and systems; but they do not normally take ownership of any of the physical elements involved. LOVELOCK & WIRTZ, "Services Marketing: People, Technology, Strategy," 6/e; (Upper Saddle River NJ: Prentice Hall 2007).
  • A service is a time-perishable, intangible experience performed for a customer acting in the role of a co-producer. FITZSIMMONS & FITZSIMMONS “Service management.” (New York, NY: McGraw-Hill 2003).
  • Service [is] the application of specialized competences (knowledge and skills), through deeds, processes, and performances for the benefit of another entity or the entity itself. LUSCH & VARGO, “The Service-Dominant Logic of Marketing.” (Armonk, NY: ME Sharpe. 2006).

Historically, service scholars emphasized customization, but the world is changing. One of the contributions of SSME may be to help service managers to achieve standardization and its more sophisticated sibling, assembly of standardized modular service elements in several "customizable" but highly predictable permutations. Many customers seek and value standardization because it reduces variability and usually helps bring prices down. Services in the digital economy employ standardization and mass customization. A new service definition might focus on the technical nature of modern day service, rather than on explaining away why service productivity is not doing as well as manufacturing, so that we can do something to advance the service economy.

Not all services require substantial input from the customer—one of the motivations for outsourcing in electronic commerce contexts (both b2b and b2c) is to hire another person or organization to do work that an individual or corporate entity doesn't want to do (or lacks the skills, knowledge, physical capabilities or equipment to perform). Particularly in areas such as maintenance, cleaning, and repair, the customer's goal may be to become involved as little as possible, preferring to leave it to the experts to determine what needs to be done. In such instances, the front-stage is pretty small. Yet when teaching service, there's a risk of spending too much time on discussing the high-contact, customizable services that we enjoy using ourselves and not nearly enough in studying and researching the more "boring" but fast growing areas in b2b where much of the action is highly repetitive, often substantially automated, and takes place primarily behind the scenes.

What is a Service System?

Service system is a term that frequently appears in the service management, service operations, services marketing, service design, and service engineering literatures.

Service involves both a provider and a client working together to create value. A doctor interviews a patient, conducts some tests, and prescribes some medicine – the patient answers the questions, cooperates with the tests, and ingests the medicine faithfully. Perhaps technologies and other people are involved in the tests or in the assignment and filling of prescriptions. Together, doctor, patient, others, and technologies co-create value – in this case, patient health. These relationships and dependencies can be viewed as a system of interacting parts. In many cases, a service system is a complex kind of system – a system in which the parts interact with each other in a non-linear manner. As such, a service system is not only the sum of its parts; complex interactions between the different parts create a system which behaves in a difficult-to-predict set of patterns. In many cases, a main source of complexity in a service system is its people: the client, the provider, or other organizations.

Service systems are designed and constructed, are often very large, and, as complex systems, they have emergent properties. This makes them an engineering kind of system (in MIT’s terms – see For instance, large-scale service systems include major metropolitan hospitals, highway or high-rise construction projects, and large IT outsourcing operations in which one company takes over the daily operations of IT infrastructure for another. In all these cases, systems are designed and constructed to provide and sustain service, yet because of their complexity and size, operations do not always go as planned or expected, and not all interactions or results can be anticipated or accurately predicted.

Toward a science of service

There is a long history of academic and industrial interest in the service sector – starting with Adam Smith and continuing right up to the present day. Yet most such interest in service has focused narrowly on marketing or management or economics. With the rise of technology-enabled services, many traditionally manufacturing-based companies have begun to see more and more revenue generated by service operations. So in industry, there was a growing recognition that service innovation is now as important – if not more important than – technology innovation. Yet, service innovation is generally unknown (save for a few economists studying the relationship between investment and innovation in service industries; e.g., GADREY & GALLOUJ).

The key to service science is interdisciplinarity, focusing not merely on one aspect of service but rather on service as a system of interacting parts that include people, technology, and business. As such, service science draws on ideas from a number of existing disciplines – including computer science, cognitive science, economics, organizational behavior, human resources management, marketing, operations research, and others – and aims to integrate them into a coherent whole. In fact, IBM relabeled its initiative in this area Service Research and Innovation Initiative focused on establishing what it calls "service science" as both a key area for investment by companies and governments and as a full-blown academic discipline.

The NESSI (Networked European Software and Services Initiative) group in the European Union has established a Services Sciences Working Group.

Definitions of 'service science' can be misleading. An analogy can be made with Computer Science. The success of CS is not in the definition of a basic science (as in physics or chemistry for example) but more in its ability to bring together diverse disciplines, such as mathematics, electronics and psychology to solve problems that require they all be there and talk a language that demonstrates common purpose. Services Science may be the same thing – just bigger – as an interdisciplinary umbrella that enables economists, social scientists, mathematicians, computer scientists and legislators (to name a small subset of the necessary disciplines) to cooperate in order to achieve a larger goal – analysis, construction, management and evolution of the most complex systems we have ever attempted to construct.

Universities have begun to act on the need for service science or SSME as well. For instance, UC Berkeley created an Lusofona University – Information Systems School (Portugal).

Academic publications in SSME are also starting to appear. For instance, see the special issue of the Steps Toward a Science of Service Systems.


  • Jorge Cardoso, Konrad Voigt, and Matthias Winkler "Service Engineering for the Internet of Services." Enterprise Information Systems, Lecture Notes in Business Information Processing (LNBIP), Vol. 19, pp. 15–27, 2009.
  • Jorge Cardoso; Barros, A.; May, N. and Kylau, U. "Towards a Unified Service Description Language for the Internet of Services: Requirements and First Developments.". In IEEE International Conference on Services Computing, IEEE Computer Society Press, Florida, USA, 2010.
  • "Steps Toward a Science of Service Systems", in IEEE Computer, Jan 2007.
  • Hefley, B. & Murphy, W. (eds.) ISBN 978-0-387-76577-8). New York: Springer, 2008.
  • “Models of Cyberinfrastructure-based Enterprises and their Engineering” in C. Hsu ed., Service Enterprise Integration: an Enterprise Engineering Perspective, Springer Science, 2007.
  • "Serving the Services", ORMS Today June 2006
  • "Trends in Services Sciences in Japan and Abroad" Science and Technology Trends Quarterly Review, April 2006
  • Sampson (2001) "Understanding service businesses". John Wiley: New York, NY.
  • Teboul, James (2006) "Service is Front Stage". INSEAD Business Press.
  • B Andersen et al. (eds) 2000 "Knowledge and Innovation in the New Service Economy" Cheltenham, Elgar (ISBN 1-84064-572-5)
  • S Metcalfe and I Miles (eds) 2000 "Innovation Systems in the Service Economy" Dordrecht: Kluwer
  • Gadrey, J. and Gallouj, F., (2002) "Productivity, Innovation and Knowledge in Services, New Economic and Socio-Economic Approaches". Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar.
  • Qiu, Robin, Ed.(2006) "Enterprise Service Computing: From Concept to Deployment". Idea Group Publishing: Hershey, PA.
  • "Public Services Innovation through Technology" David Pym, Richard Taylor and Chris Tofts, Hewlett-Packard
  • Service Science, a fully refereed international journal, provides the primary and effective forum for both academic scholars and industry practitioners to propose and foster quick discussion on research and development and disseminate their latest findings in the service science and related research, education and practice areas.

See also

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