Sunday, April 23, 2006
Disciplining Services Science
Several universities are creating courses and curricula on the services economy and on the design, implementation and deployment of services, including UC Berkeley, where I'm part of a small faculty group developing a Services Science, Management, and Engineering (SSME) certificate for master's students in the School of Information, in the College of Engineering, and in the Haas School of Business.
I think that Berkeley and North Carolina State are the only universities with programs that are called "SSME" -- but that's only because some other schools like Penn State, RPI, Maryland and ASU have already been teaching about services in their departments of Industrial Engineering, Decision Sciences, Business, or Management.
I gave a talk about our efforts at Berkeley, and I raised the bigger question about the relationship of a discipline of Services Science to the various curricula that are springing up. A DISCIPLINE is a principled model of a coherent body of research and practice, while a CURRICULUM is a set of courses or program of study leading to a degree or certificate. The distinction seems pretty important, because the SSME programs that emerge are going to be pretty different, reflecting the emphases and character that reflect the history, location, faculty, typical employers for their students, etc. of the universities or departments that create them. I think a model of a discipline can generate many different curricula and can be used to assess and compare their coverage. Without some intellectual foundation and principles that are explicitly shared by all the curricula, their surface differences will make it hard for a Services Science to mean anything.
So what we're doing at Berkeley is somewhat different from the other universities. Instead of starting from any existing curriculum or course, we're asking "What are the key concepts, themes, and challenges that a SSME discipline should encompass" and generating questions that the disciplines that are coming together in Services Science should be able to answer. For example:
- How do firms change over time?
- What mechanisms does each discipline propose that firms use to seek and maintain advantages?
- How does each discipline evaluate the success of innovations or adaptations?
- How does each discipline propose that firms encode what they learn in new mechanisms, organizational forms, or information technology?
- How does each discipline explain why and how services combine, standardize, and evolve?
- How does each discipline propose to evaluate and optimize a service?
We're not quite there yet, but we are developing new courses in Services Science that will be organized around these kinds of questions. We need to discipline ourselves to make this happen by the Fall semester, because we are already scheduled to teach the first of these new courses, one called "The Information and Services Economy."
Sunday, April 16, 2006
The Politics of Document Construction
The processes center around a form called the "bio-bib" that every professor has to fill out annually. The stated purpose of the bio-bib is to collect from each faculty the biographical (i.e., key events and accomplishments) and bibliographical (i.e., publications) information that are the fodder on which reviews and promotions are based.
The bio-bib form is extremely broad in its coverage, with sections for Teaching, Publications, Committee Service, Professional Activities, Appointments, Awards, and so on. Each of these sections is highly detailed; for example, the Teaching section distinguishes activities involving undergraduates, master’s students, PhD students, and post-docs; the Publications section distinguishes many varieties of peer-reviewed and non-peer-reviewed articles, books, and patents; and there are even nine subcategories of Professional Activities.
We can’t find "change logs" or design rationale for the bio-bib, but you can imagine that the highly complex and nuanced structure of the form reflects a history of heated debates and complaints about the value of some kind of activity or publishing by a professor. For example, the last sub-category of Professional Activities is "Efforts made in support of the University's Affirmative Action goals."
But the implicit design goal to make the bio-bib fair to everyone has created a form that everyone hates to fill out. No matter how much you accomplished, when you’ve completed your annual bio-bib you feel like a failure because you are staring at a sparse form because there is no way you have something to report in most of the categories.
You might also think that being fair makes it sensible that every professor, regardless of discipline or department, fills out the same form. But this assumes that all the categories mean the same thing for every professor, and that’s not so. For example, while you’d think that publishing in a peer-reviewed journal is always preferable to a non-peer-reviewed one, law professors seek to publish in law reviews, in which their papers are selected by law students. A computer scientist would probably get no credit for publishing an article in a student-edited journal.
In addition, it is hard not to think that every list of subcategories of biographical or bibliographic events is ordered in some principled way that reflects their weighting or value in a professor’s review. Many of things I do are "down at the bottom of the list" in their implied value (for example, "consulting" is many steps below "serving as a reviewer or editor"). So I cheated and listed my service as a member of the OASIS Board of Directors (a standards organization), as "Service to scholarly or professional societies" because the latter is #3 in its category.
I could go on and on here, but I should let my students discover some of this for themselves (and then I could write in my bio-bib that I did a good job mentoring their project).
Sunday, April 02, 2006
Of course, maybe my dispute is just about the names of things, and we all know how contentious names are. Perhaps we're just expanding the notion of "mash up" to include any combination / integration of information from multiple sources, and we can dispense with making any distinction between the categories of mapping and transformation tools, integration servers, message-oriented-middleware, process control engines, EAI, etc. and just call it all "mashware." When every use of software-as-a-service is viewed as a mashup, I'll surrender and stop thinking of mashups and enterprise apps or complexly-choreographed web services as being on a continuum, but until then let's not eliminate all nuance in our discussions about building things.