ISD Lecture

Services Science, Management, and Engineering

Thursday, December 7, 2006
5:00 pm to 6:00 pm
James Spohrer, IBM Almaden

Service Science, Management, and Engineering (SSME) is a frontier field, defined as the application of scientific, management, and engineering competencies that one organization (“service provider”) beneficially performs for and with another ("service client or customer"). Business services range from tell me (help desk and call centers), to enable me (e-commerce and application hosting in data centers), to do it for me (outsourcing business processes, information integration, and IT operations), not to mention field service, front stage customer service centers, and back stage service operations centers. SSME, also known as “service science,” is the study of the design and evolution of service systems. Service systems are value coproduction configurations of people, technology, internal and external service systems connected by value propositions, and shared information (language, laws, and measures). IBM collaborates with academic, industry, government, and foundation partners around the world, to better understand the design and evolution of service systems, with a focus on service productivity, quality, compliance, and innovation.

There are many reasons for focusing on service systems and interdisciplinary approaches to design and evolve service. First, the economies of most developed countries are dominated by services (70% of the labor, GDP, etc.). China, in their 2006-2011 Five-Year Plan, has made the "transition to a modern service economy" a national priority, and India is well along on this path as well. Second, even traditional manufacturing companies such as GE (70% services revenue) and IBM (50% services revenue) need to add high values services to grow their businesses. Third, information services and business services are two of the fastest growing segments of the service economy. The growth of B2B and B2C web services, service oriented architectures, and self-service systems suggest a strong relationship between SSME and the more established discipline of computer science. IBM worked to establish the first computer science department at Columbia University in the 1940's, and now to meet the skill needs of a growing service innovation business is working to establish SSME in a number of universities (e.g.,, Finally, improving productivity, quality, compliance, and innovation in service often requires combining technical, social, and business innovations, which is formally very difficult, but of great practical value.

The origins of new service innovations are as ancient as division of labor and as modern as internet-enabled off shoring. The multi-disciplinary nature of service creates many challenging research problems. For example, from an operations research and industrial engineering perspective, how can people be modeled in people-intensive business service systems? From a computer science and IT systems perspective, how can service delivery systems be designed to evolve rapidly and in tune with shifting strategy, regulatory, and demand drivers? From an economics and business strategy perspective, how can service systems grow and achieve economies of scale or increasing gains lock-in? From a complex systems perspective, how is the robustness and fragility of service systems, which include people and technology, similar to and different from naturally occurring physical, chemical, and biological complex systems? The exciting thing about service science is that all existing disciplines have something to contribute. What remains daunting is the lack of a linguistic and empirical foundation for integrating across the required multi-disciplinary perspectives. Service system computer-aided design and simulation tools are greatly needed.

The goal is to encourage research aimed at solving unique problems of service businesses and society, and to encourage development of courses and programs aimed at producing graduates who are ready to innovate in the service sector, particularly in areas of high skill, high value, IT-enabled, knowledge-intensive business services.

Dr. Jim Spohrer is the director of Almaden Services Research, with the mission of creating and deploying service innovations that matter and scale well both internally to transform IBM and externally to transform IBM client capabilities ("double win " service innovations). Service innovation is a multi-disciplinary endeavor, integrating technology, business model, social-organizational and demand innovations (just think about the ubiquity of credit cards, and what it took to make that service innovation global). Prior to joining IBM, Spohrer was at Apple Computer, attaining the role of Distinguished Scientist, engineer, and technologist for his pioneering work on intelligent multimedia learning systems, next generation authoring tools, on-line learning communities, and augmented reality learning systems. He has published in the areas of speech recognition, artificial intelligence, empirical studies of programmers, next generation learning systems, and service science. Spohrer graduated with a Ph.D. in Computer Science from Yale University (specializing in Artificial Intelligence and Cognitive Science) in 1989 and a B.S. in Physics from MIT in 1978.

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Last updated:

March 26, 2015