Blog: The CTF story – 35 years in the footsteps of service research at Karlstad University2021-08-27
Bo Edvardsson, professor in Business Administration and founder of CTF, share some stories and reflects on CTF's 35 years of service research at Karlstad University.
It is almost inconceivable that it is 35 years since CTF started. Time goes really fast when you have a fun and a meaningful job. I am pleased to see that CTF today is in very good shape with a well-established culture, committed researchers and extensive collaboration with researchers, companies and other organizations regionally, nationally and internationally. And, perhaps most importantly, have the support and a management that takes the development further to the next level. To still be a part of this journey, even though I have stepped down a bit, feels good and is a great privilege.
Let’s go back to 1986 and look at how CTF's journey began. What was the purpose? One important reason was the growing service sector and the fact that there was relatively little knowledge and research about management of service firms. There was also an interest among businesses and from regional actors, and of course, an interest I had together with two other researchers. The then Vice Chancellor at the former Karlstad University College, Lennart Anderson, also provided important support. 35 years ago, it was also easier to make things happen. The bureaucracy takes an infinite amount of time nowadays compared to how it was back in 1986. We also scanned the international market and visited some research centers in the US which was important for how CTF was organized, and for the development and culture at CTF as well.
During these past 35 years CTF has grown from a handful of researchers to now, almost 80 scholars and PhD students. CTF has been active in the international service research community, published a large number of articles in service journals and been on review boards and participated in, as well as organized, several numbers of research conferences in collaboration with universities around the world. In 1988, we initiated “The International Research Symposium on Service Excellence in Management” (QUIS) in collaboration with the Center for Service Leadership at Arizona State University and Cornell University. The first conference was held in Karlstad, and has over the years alternated between different universities in the US and Europe and has also been co-hosted by Fudan University in Shanghai.
Collaboration has been crucial for the development. A long-term program with visiting professors has been energizing CTF. Having visiting researchers from around the world, who stay for shorter or longer periods of time, is an important part of the CTF culture, as well as having our researchers spending time at other universities around the world. CTF collaborates not only with other scholars but also with companies and organizations such as Telia, Ericson, Volvo and Ikea, and local companies and organizations like Löfbergs, ICA Maxi, Region Värmland and Experio Lab, to mention some examples. This provides access to research data and is sometimes a necessity for research applications. Such collaboration is also important for transferring research results to practice and for impact in society as well as for CTF´s role in developing courses and programs at Karlstad University.
External funding of long-term projects and research programs has also been crucial for the growth of CTF. Some programs with over SEK 100 million over several years from research foundations such as The Knowledge Foundation and Vinnova have been of special importance. These big grants enable the recruitment of doctoral students, international researchers and professors. These programs span areas such as service development and service innovation, digital transformation and other aspects of value creation through service. The research contexts include healthcare, manufacturing, telecoms, retail and transportation.
From initially focusing on what a service is, service characteristics and quality of service, CTF has broadened its scope to value creation through service. Goods or physical products become resources or enablers together with services in value-creating systems. Understanding and managing development and transformation of value creating ecosystems is today the basis for CTFs research, or it is at least one way of portraying CTF.
To conclude this reflection on “The CTF story”, I would like to borrow a quote from Ikea's founder, Ingvar Kamprad: “Most things are still undone. What a glorious future.” I think that CTF is well equipped to meet the needs of the future, the CTF brand at Karlstad University is strong, which facilitates external financing and recruitment of new employees. We are all ready to continue our journey, contribute to service research and to challenges in businesses, other organizations and in society.