Service Research: Innovate or parish?2017-02-27
CTFblogg / Bo Edvardsson
In an article in Journal of Service Research (2015) with the title: “Service Research Priorities in a Rapidly Changing Context” Ostrom et al. outline key research priorities. The aim was to identify research topics that have the potential to advance the service field and provide significant benefits for customers, organizations, and society in general. Intensive roundtable discussions with researchers affiliated with service research centers around the world, including CTF, resulted in 12 service research priorities. The results show that for example improving well-being through transformative service or measuring and optimizing service performance are particularly important for advancing the service field. Furthermore, “stimulating service innovation” is one specific priority that is also of special importance at CTF and one of my personal research interests.
Since markets are constantly changing and most economies are service-driven service innovation is needed. Companies and other organizations need to renew themselves to stay relevant and create value for their customers, shareholders and other beneficiaries. Since Joseph Schumpeter’s work on innovation in 1934 different concepts, models and empirical studies have been developed and tested but new approaches and contributions are still emerging (Rubalcaba et al. 2012). However, more research on service innovation is still needed to move forward. The question is not why but what we should focus on and how to carry out research that make a difference?
I am convinced that we need to broaden the conceptualization of service innovation. One way is to develop frameworks grounded in a service-dominant logic with a focus on understanding value creation and adopt a service ecosystem view. I suggest moving beyond an output- and firm centric view and adopting a system view that transcends the goods–service divide and recognizes constellations of resources, actors and values as enablers for innovation.
Lusch and Nambisan (2015) argue that innovations are no longer generated within single organizations but rather evolve “from a network of actors”, hence we must shift focus from output to value outcomes for engaged actors.
We do not just buy a smart phone (physical product) but rather access to the ecosystem including e.g. the world wide web, various apps, and a platform for communication to carry out a wide range of services such as banking, transport ticket-handling, social sharing via Instagram and Facebook or conference calls via Skype. Similar ecosystems and platform businesses can be found in many service industries already. Uber is another well-known example, illustrating the importance of resource access over ownership for service business models. Also, when ABB Automation develops industrial robots, the focus is not only on the robot but also on the tools, software and how to align or introduce robots in e.g. an assembly line in a car manufacturing plant. The focus is on productivity or quality improvements. Important is what the system provides or how it transforms the customer’s value creating system. Goods and services are resources and through innovation different actors can extract different value and experiences in line with their specific intentions.
Especially the developments in digitalization, Internet-of-Things (IoT), big data and social media provide many new opportunities to leverage existing resources and foster innovation through the new combination of resources. Unfortunately, in service innovation research, we often just aim to understand or explain what is currently going on or even worse we only focus on what has already happened. Are we merely in the passenger seat or are we contributing to drive new development and thus pave the way towards making a real difference?
I am convinced that we need to renew ourselves and maybe start to apply the theories and principles of transformation in our own research centers, projects and scholarly life’s. We need to ask ourselves if our research topics are increasingly “more of the same” or really innovative? Do we frame and zoom-in on innovative research questions and do we adopt innovative research methods? Perhaps we are too focused or driven by the need for publishing, thus less willing to take risks and rather avoid more innovative topics? Innovation always comes with a risk, not just for business managers but also for journal editors and scholars!
In general, there is a strong need for more interdisciplinary research. For example, service scholars might partner up with design scholars, and simulation experts for research on virtual or augmented realities to develop ways of test-driving service innovations in virtual realities. Of course, many more potential constellations for interdisciplinary research are on the horizon for service research.
Additionally, we need more collaboration between scholars and research centers within service research! How can we develop fruitful research programs across service research centers? How can we partner up with companies and not only study what has happened but provide direction, support and foster service innovation to become sought after and ultimately make a real difference?
Finally, we need to feed our research results on service innovation into the curricula since students are the most important mechanism to disseminate new knowledge. How can we make a difference in this area?
Let’s start a discussion again!
Vice Rector, Karlstad University and founder of CTF