Survey – Service Science Top Open Questions

From Victor Tang

Dear colleague,

Attached is a very simple survey.  The objective is for the INFORMS service professionals to specify, in their judgment, their top three open questions in the science, engineering, and management of services.  For your reference, a sample of a completed page is included.  Please complete and email your input to me.  Your email address will remain confidential and will not be disclosed.  Feel free to write about more than three Open Questions or fewer than three.  On demand, I will forward the entire set of inputs that I receive.  All identifications will be deleted to maintain confidentiality of authorship.

We will report the results of this survey at the Beijing INFORMS meeting.  A panel of experts will discuss and interact with those present at the panel session.

Thank you for your help.
I am looking forward to sharing the results of the survey with our community.

Victor Tang

(All, sample submission below with Victor’s original example, and one that I added as well, -Jim Spohrer)


Service-science-section mailing list


Some related previous discussions:

A. Grand Challenges & Problems


Glushko (2008) has argued that to start a service science discipline with discipline, we have to start with the set of questions that service science will help answer.   This is consistent with Abbott (2001) who suggests the key to understanding a new profession is to understand the type of problems in business or society that members of the profession solve.   Chris Tofts (see Taylor & Tofts 2008) who is a visiting professor of service science at Swansea University has suggested the service science community work together to develop an authoritative list of questions that service science should provide answers to as well.


Recently, a group at Arizona State University (Ostrom et al, 2010) has surveyed the global service research community to establish a set of research priorities for those working to develop a science of service.   The results of that survey are summarized in Figure 8 below:


Figure 8: Research priorities for a science of service (Ostrom et. al. 2010)


Noteworthy in the above research priorities is the pervasive force: leveraging technology to advance service.


In addition to the efforts cited about, the following is a starting point for those interested in establishing a list of grand challenge problems for service science:


1. Optimizing service networks and value chains: Create a CAD tool for complex service system design and simulation (service systems include government agencies, businesses, and other organizations). Create a super-computer simulation of global service systems. (Or prove it is impossible).


2. Measuring and optimizing the value of service: Discover a Moore’s Law of service system investment to ensure year over year improvement in productivity, quality, regulatory compliance, and innovation capacity. (Or prove it is impossible)


3. Fostering service infusion and growth: Discover a way to invest to “scale up” service systems, such that as revenues scale profitability also scales.


4. Enhancing service design: Discover the learning curves that underlie service systems (manufacturing systems show a learning curve effect, building the hundredth airplane is much cheaper than building the first).  Publish the results in the journal Science.


5. Stimulating service innovation: Develop the foundational theory that underlies value-cocreation between populations of interacting service systems. This might include a theory of innovation, based on creating both new types of value propositions and new types of service systems.


6. Enhancing service design: Develop the foundational theory that underlies the shift of knowledge value from people to technology to organizations to shared information resources.


7. Effectively branding and selling services: Develop an integrated theory of service marketing and service operations, around the central theme of value proposition innovation (customer resources + providers resources, requires governance structures, not just management structures).


8. Improving well-being through transformative service:  Develop a theory of shared service and service system governance — mechanism design theory/multi-agent systems — that deals with an accurate model of people (adaptive, imitative, etc.) and organizations (informal, formal). Management processes work inside the boundaries of the firm (central control), but governance processes (shared or distributed control) are required working with customers, partners, and in larger value networks.


9. Enhancing the service experience through co-creation: Develop a theory of the value of assets in service delivery that addresses both increasing standardization and customization of service, especially for the servitization of manufacturing.


10.  Creating and maintaining a service culture: Solve the knowledge management problem in service systems, around the central theme of life-cycle management of different types of resources in service systems (people, organizational networks, shared information, and technology assets).


Finally, three problems have been reported by people trying to understand service science, and these deserve special attention as well:


(1) Service defined as value-cocreation does not make sense to many. What about all the service interactions where the customer is passive or does little?  Co-creation is clearly present in some but not all service interactions.   It is clearly present in self-service (the customer’s labor), education (the students effort), and healthcare (the patient’s effort).  It does seem to be present in entertainment (the audience seems passive), some healthcare (the patient gets a flu shot), buying insurance (the customer signs and pays), or utilities (the customer turns on the light switch).


(2) Service science dealing with subjective customer value judgments does not make sense to many. How can there be a science when the phenomenon is largely subjective?  Maybe there could be a science of the objective part of value (resource efficient, such as using less time to do something), but how could there ever be a science of subjective value judgments?


(3) Service science as a profession does not make sense to many. Service marketing and service operations make sense, because businesses need marketing and operations professionals.  However, what would a service scientist do for a business?


While more detailed answers need to be created, the following responses are a starting point:


(1) The root of this question is seeing service in the small (a single customer) instead of service in the large (all customers).  The viability of firms demand value-cocreation is literally true.  A service would not be viable if the provider does not get as much or more value from the customer as the customer gets from the provider.  Providers must make a profit, but not necessarily on each customer all at once.


(2) The root of this question is the belief that scientific laws must be like the classic laws of nature, quantitatively true for all time.  However, this is a narrow view of science.  The social sciences, experimental economics, thermodynamics, and quantum physics are all sciences that must deal with either subjectivity or probabilistic outcomes.


(3) The root of this question is what part of a business will hire service scientists and for what purpose?   One answer is that service scientists will be hired by the service research groups.  Another answer is that service scientists will be hired by all the groups that hire service sub-disciplines, service marketing, service operations, service computing, etc. depending on the area of specialization of the service scientists.


The service science community will surely evolve better answers to these questions over time.




Abbot, A. (1988) The System of Professions: An Essay on the Division of Expert Labor. University of Chicago Press. Chicago, IL.


Abbott, A (2001) The Chaos of Disciplines. University of Chicago Press. Chicago, IL.


Glushko, RJ. (2008) Designing a service science discipline with discipline. IBM Systems Journal 47(1), 15–28.


Glushko, RJ (2010) Seven Contexts for Service System Design. Handbook of Service Science, Editors Maglio, Kieliszewski, Spohrer, Spring, New York, NY.  219-250.


Ostrom, AL, MJ Bitner, SW Brown, KA Burkhard, M Goul, V Smith-Daniels, H Demirkan, E Rabinovich (2010) Moving Forward and Making a Difference: Research Priorities for the Science of Service. Journal of Service Research. 13(1). 4-36.


Taylor, R & C Tofts (2008) Service comprehension. HP Labs Technical Report HPL-2008-140.




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