Wednesday, June 18, 2008


Service Systems in Taiwan and Taiwan as a Service System

This week I've been in Taiwan at a Service Science Faculty Workshop at the National Tsing Hua University in Taiwan The College of Technology Management there has started a graduate program in service science, as have several other academic units at other Taiwan universities. I gave an invited talk titled "A Systems Approach to Service Science Research" in which I reviewed different definitions and modeling frameworks for "Service systems." I also participated on a panel titled "Old Wine in New Bottles" in which different universities talked about their experiences developing courses and curricula, something I've written and blogged about.

I began my plenary lecture with the example of the service experience at hotel check-in, which I've presented in detail in a paper titled "Designing Service Systems by Bridging the "Front Stage" and "Back Stage" " (and that I've also blogged about before.) One of the key ideas in that paper is that there may be a "moment of truth" when the quality of a service experience becomes apparent, but that quality is enabled or constrained by many other encounters, even though many of these encounters don't involve or are invisible to the customer, and some of them are even invisible to the frontline ervice provider. This kind of "end-to-end" analysis argues that service quality can
best be understood with a systems view of how a service is defined and delivered.

But while "Service System" is an intuitively sensible and appealing idea, it is usually talked about in a generic and qualitative way, as in this definition in a paper titled "Steps toward a science of service systems" by my friends Jim Spohrer and Paul Maglio from IBM research:

A value co-production configuration of people, technology, internal and external service systems connected to other systems by value propositions and shared information.

This definition leaves a lot of fundamental questions unanswered. For example:

So most of my talk at the Taiwan conference tried to put meat on the bones of the service system concept by showing how different people have tried to model them. Because of the great range and diversity of domains that have been described as service systems, no single modeling approach or descriptive formalism is adequate. The simplest descriptions are value chain or structural models that involve qualitative properties of connectivity and intensity. Other approaches describe the relationships and interactions among the components in the service system in more formal and quantitative ways. These models essentially add "typing" to the links in the network description of the service system and some make the relationships functional ones that enable simulation and optimization. Finally, service systems in "information-intensive domains" can best be described using information flow and exchange models that are the scope of document engineering techniques that I've written and taught about for many years.

The conference was attended by over a hundred professors, students, government officials, and industry people. I'm very impressed by the rapid uptake of service science in Taiwan, and it seems like another example where something that began with a lot of hype and fanfare in the US has been more systematically adopted elsewhere.

Which brings me to the second theme in this post. One of the main points in my lecture about service systems was that the IBM definition was too broad and vague to offer more than qualitative insights – after all, what does it really mean to say as Spohrer and Maglio often do, that a city or a country could be viewed as a service system? But after a few days in Taiwan, I can understand better what they intend. So Jim and Paul, I'll be less hard on you the next time I talk about service systems.

I have been very impressed by how hard Taiwan is working to transform its economy into a knowledge and service one, and it seems profoundly more advanced in just about every way since I was last here about 8 years ago. I took the high speed train from Hsinchu, where the conference was held, to Taipei, and the "service experience" was first rate. The Hsinchu train station is a stunning piece of visual and functional architecture, and the trains go blazingly fast, over 180 miles an hour. We have nothing like them in the US. I stayed at the Ambassador Hotel in both Hsinchu and Taipei, and when I got to the latter I realized how much the service offerings were being tailored to the different customer segments of each hotel: the former, because it was full of Silicon Valley types, felt like a US hotel, while the latter, because it was full of Asian tourists, felt distinctly different in entrance and lobby design, room décor, breakfast menu. Finally, as I was returning from a late dinner, I was amazed to see students of elementary and junior high ages on the streets, and I was told that they were going home after their many hours of after school studies of the English language.

So the "Taiwan service system" is hitting on all cylinders, and while it makes me optimistic for that country's future, it makes me worry about the one I'm heading home to later this week.

-Bob Glushko

Hi Dr. Bob. I liked this post and paper - the hotel example hooked me :)

Those are really tough questions. I would even add one: what information should service providers share? There's so much of it: easy things like the info used to reserve the service, and harder things like what each party could do to improve the service quality as a whole.

I think a lot depends on the tone of relationships between providers. "Exit vs. voice" comes to mind.

I also liked this post very much.

Of your questions, I have thought of what a primitive component in service systems is. I think "knowledge" could be the component. In service systems, the configuration of interactions among different participants (e.g. individual, organization, technology, law, other services, etc.) creates value. Knowledge can make an individual skillful, organizations competitive and technology advanced.
In addition, I think the nature of services is also attributed by the nature of knowledge. I found the Service-Dominant Logic was also defined through the characteristics of knowledge.

So, I think value is created through knowledge transfer and sharing, its combination of other knowledge and knowledge transformation.

FYI: As Taiwan does, my country also makes efforts to innovate service. Last year, a national forum was created by the Korean government and sponsored by some major Korean companies and IBM. Here is a very brief description about the forum:

- Luke Rhee
Hi professor Bob, I liked this post and others, especially Covisint hint.

Service science is quite new subject in Taiwan. I'm expecting to dig out basic building discipline blocks and organize important attributes that could apply service systems in Taiwan. It was a pleasure for me to host you. Thanks of what you are posting and reminding questions.

-Stacy (Rong-Wei Po)
Doctoral student of TM,NTHU
Hi, Bob. I followed a link from Jim Spohrer's blog over here.

I like the shift from "services science" to a "science of service systems", because it moves the focus to an area where I've found a stronger body of knowledge: systems science.

In writing some papers this spring, I forced myself to get rigourous about some terms by blogging on Science of service systems, service sector, service economy.

This led to understanding Coproduction, interactive value, offering, value constellation, as I've moved over entirely to thinking of Richard Normann and Rafael Ramirez.

I've found Normann & Ramirez more helpful than Vargo & Lusch, with the shift in vocabulary. (Actually, I liked V&L better in the original papers than the revisions that they've made in response to criticism, because the systems idea appears to be getting lost).

I don't officially speak for IBM on my writings, and I'm unsure if the Normann & Ramirez thread will get stronger in the SSME camp. In the research I'm doing, however, it's been easier for me to express what I need, leveraging the ideas of coproduction and offerings.
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