Technology and business. One key driving force has been the way technology, particularly related to communications, has improved the operations of service-oriented businesses. Technology has even made many services possible, such as those offered by companies like eBay and Google, explained professor Mary Jo Bitner, academic director of Arizona State University's Center for Services Leadership.
Companies need to understand how technology and business practices can intersect to get the most out of each, enabling business objectives and ultimately making processes more effective, said Steven G. Allen, associate dean for graduate programs and research for North Carolina State University's College of Management.
Businesses could use technologies such as knowledge management and data mining to get targeted analytical information they can use to evaluate their operations. For example, companies could analyze the records of service centers to determine how to better solve customer problems or even create online self-help portals.
Also, services science research could yield models, methodologies, processes, and software tools that create and deliver services more efficiently. For example, EDS has a tool that applies advanced analytical methods to sales information to identify, retain, and get even more business from the most profitable customers.
However, there is a lack of overlapping skills at the juncture of business and IT, said Arizona State's Bitner. Thus, she pointed out, IT needs people who understand how their company works and how to use technologies to help the business improve the way it delivers services. Likewise, she said, "Business students should know more about technology."
Thus, she stated, colleges must examine and revise both their business and technology curricula so that they become more cross-disciplinary and less homogeneous.
Reuse. Companies can utilize technology to find patterns in the way they have successfully delivered services and interacted with customers. The companies could then repeat those patterns with multiple customers.
Studies like this could identify the various component parts of specific services—such as consulting—that companies could reuse to create the illusion of offering multiple customers a customized product without having to build each offering from scratch, explained HP Fellow Umesh Dayal.
More rigor. "Engineering research to date has given little attention to issues such as staffing, work processes, and man-machine interaction. We just do not have reliable statistics of productivity in the service sector," said North Carolina State's Allen.
"There are lots of stories but no rigorous quantitative, theoretical analysis," he explained. "With the massive increase in computing power, we now have mathematical models that can be developed. There ought to be a way to be more rigorous about this."
Human behavior. Although technology is a key element of services science, a better understanding of human behavior is also critical, said Matthew Realff, director of the US National Science Foundation's Service Enterprise Engineering program, which promotes and finances university research in services science.
Thus, he said, the field also calls on the resources of social sciences such as psychology and sociology, as well as anthropology, which could provide useful information about the way people and groups work and interact.
Understanding these factors is an important aspect of services science, agreed EDS's Wangemann. Services scientists will possess the "skills and understanding of technology and how to apply them to get data at a granular level, and they will also be able to manage people and productivity," she explained. They will blend skills in areas such as human performance, human capital management, contract law, information-systems knowledge, and other IT-related concepts, she added.