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Sunday, 24 March 2013

From Service Systems to Digital Lives

It has been a long time since I posted any content on this blog (did a few announcements, but no substantial content).

So I thought I should come back to my roots in service systems, service science, value co-creation and explain some of the linkages and how my work is moving on. My students and colleagues constantly say to me 'I don't see you for 2 months and you've moved on'. Some say 'you've left service systems and into technology now' and 'I don't recognise your work anymore'. so I thought its best to articulate my thought processes to show there is method and consistency to this madness they have perceived.

Much of my research in this domain have given me insights into service systems, the boundaries between a material product and a service, the relationship between exchange and experienced value in context.

Service dominant logic suggest that value is always co-created in context of use and experience. Co-creation is not an option (Vargo and Lusch, 2004, 2008).

For a few years, I have repeated that again and again on the lecture circuit. Many nodded. Many agreed. It was a logic, a way of looking at the world and it gave insights and understanding. The problem is, it didn't do much more. And I wanted more.

GD logic is not only very entrenched, it is not helping with a world that is increasingly digital and where business models are being disrupted. GD logic and the firm-centric view of the world was also starting to marginalise individuals in a big way with constant incursions into our privacy, all in the name of stimulating the economy. Data business is worth £50b in the US and we're on this slippery slope starting from 'our data is creating new jobs' onto a full scale marginalization of our rights and our privacy.

SD logic could help, but it hasn't really gone beyond a logic to influence people. At worst, people didn't buy in. At best, people were influenced but didn't know how to put it into action. Part of the challenge is because SD logic stayed largely within the business domain and business schools act only on people (through teaching, professional development, MBAs). What was needed were more methods, systems, tools, stuff that could change processes, infrastructures, outputs and materials, and not just people, into an SD logic mindset. SD logic needs to create a whole new set of tools with a new design and engineering philosophy. It's a bit like when lean thinking was just a logic, a way of thinking, although practiced by Toyota. It was a logic but it didn't stay that way. It spawned methods, certification, tools, performance indicators. The kanban, 5S, value stream mapping; the lean black belt holders, etc. All these created an entire community of champions for that way of thinking. We need that for SD logic because otherwise, it isn't going to change the world. The science of service systems, grounded on value cocreation and taking an SD logic view of the world wasnt going anywhere unless we created better linkages and synthesis to the world of technology, engineering and design. And we need to articulate how an SD logic perspective could or should change what they were currently doing.

Alarmingly, papers within the domain of service science and service systems started to appropriate SD logic to justify some GD logic research, often because they did not really understand SD logic.

Moving things along meant a focus on 2 key aspects. philosophy and methods.

In my mind, an SD logic philosophy is clearly grounded on a sociological and existentialist approach rather than a psychological one. Value cocreation and resource integration is something that exists, and can only be seen, in movements, in verbs and in behaviours i.e. phenomenologically. An SD logic approach is not one that you can run a survey of attitude, behaviours or intentions. The person is embedded in his actions and practices of value creation. The focus on context means the unit of analysis is in the sociology of real life behaviours. A sociological approach makes methods a problem because we've inherited a world where we have created tools from analysing water in a bucket, not by looking at its behaviour in a river.

GD logic is compelling not only because it is entrenched for over 500 years, but also because you could measure its constructs. GDP, sales, revenues, CPI - they are all constructs of a GD logic society. What SD logic needed was better methods and new constructs.

To that end, and rather ironically, I found an ally in digital technology. Here was a world of sensors and actuators with an enthusiastic community looking for novel ways of deploying them into homes and buildings i.e. the internet-of-things. Yes, many of the firms were riding roughshod over privacy issues but could we not turn that into better visibility of behaviours, could we not turn the same technologies used on us into technologies empowering us? So I started to study digital technologies in greater detail, albeit with an SD logic eye, coinciding with my move to WMG at University of Warwick. My background in computer programming and applied physics helped, I suppose, but only to the extent of confidence in learning the material quickly. The field has moved on since the 80s. Recently, Jon Crowcroft, our HAT project partner in Cambridge insisted I read Steven Johnson's book 'Future Perfect' as well as Jaron Lanier's book 'Who owns the future'. Both books grounded on the future of digital technologies, but resonated with SD logic and empowerment.

I also found, as an ally, the thinking around new economic and business models. Here was another strand of literature largely marginalised by mainstream business literature because it was (the way I interpreted it) taking a systemic view of value proposition, value creation and value capture (ie, change one, change all) and the way the organisation had to be agile and transformed for it - which sat very nicely with SD logic. Also, being in the heart of a manufacturing community where pervasive digital technologies were starting to create a set of thinking around 'incomplete products' or personalised (and not customised) products, sat even better with the notion of indirect service, suggested by SD logic. (see a great special issue from Organisation Science by Youngjin on Organising for Innovation in the Digitized World). Customised products are firm centric. Personalised products are customer initiated and empowering. Personalised products also tend to move the product into becoming platforms to afford co-creation, which advanced the notion of symmetry in value co-creation further. Finally, with the advent of platforms, the economics of 2 or multi-sided markets completed my set of theoretical collaborators across economics, business models. manufacturing and technology - aligned to SD logic.

As my research and thinking progressed, I started to think harder into the synthesis between these domains. I found some of the connections to begin with (others could possibly do more) and that synthesis was central in my book 'Value & Worth: Creating New Markets in the Digital Economy' which is now out on Kindle and the printed version by Cambridge University Press out end of the year.

Moving that thinking on, I became convinced that the science of service systems, grounded on SD logic, could not just be a contribution but could create an impact through a carefully designed experiment that could turn the world on its head, empowering the individuals, give us some interesting constructs, methods and measurements in real lives. Thus, together with excellent colleagues in technology and economics, the HAT project was conceptualised. It took some time. We applied to the Leverhulme fund and didn't get the grant and the second outing of the HAT, together with a great team, was funded. I was thrilled. I would highly recommend following the HAT project blog site here. To come to this point was an amazing moment for me and I blogged on the HAT site here. For those who follow SD logic and service science/service systems, you can probably see how it extends the work in the 'background to research'.

I do admit, now having spent years in business, economics, engineering, technology and sociology that I struggle sometimes with the language - Some of my colleagues have accused me of introducing this new 'jargon' that I have developed that is a combination of some 5 disciplines. My approach have been pragmatic - whatever the term or language that persuades you to see the world the way I see it, is what I would use. Not very academic of me (most of my colleagues prefer to argue about definitions). I probably should care, but I don't ;p. Perhaps it might evolve into the jargon of service systems & service science? However, if I know I am speaking to an economist/sociologist/business/technology academic, I would try to use terms in their world -it just makes communicating easier. Inter-disciplinarity comes with a host of interesting issues but I might blog about it some other time.

The HAT project also brought me back into entrepreneurial activity again (a full circle, after being an academic for 15 years) because I didn't just want to create new constructs and methods as an academic, I genuinely want to turn the world inside out, creating an empowered individual and having that balanced and symmetrical view of co-creation and yet create new markets and stimulate the economy. That means the HAT has to move into deployment, becoming a world-wide-HAT so the startup company has to be formed to lead the way. I think I have become Steven Johnson's version of a peer progressive ;)

Watch this space, as well as that of the HAT!


  1. It is a valuable and impressive post, thanks Irene Ng. I'll be back later for some great reading...

  2. Very nice how it all fits together. Interdisciplinarity is where innovation emerges.

  3. It was quite true that many recent publications were reiterating the same thing about SD-logic and Service Science. A big thanks for you for stepping forward to make this logic operational and also for the valuable information regarding H.A.T. We are doing some research in TokyoTech, Japan on Service Science using Agent-based Modeling. Looking forward for more articles from you on how technology empowers individuals and influence their actions. Hopefully, I would be able to have a chat with you at FIS 2013, Taipei.

  4. Wow very entertaining post. Ive notice that there are many Cheap 1300 Numbers that giving to a business to give them many clients. Most busineses are using smart numbers to easily remember by their clients most especially in services.

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