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Service Science seems pre-paradigm

people science.jpgBy Leroy Mason, Global Chief Technologist, Enterprise Applications, Hewlett Packard Company


Service Science is a new-ish discipline (less than 10 years old) that has emerged out of Information Systems.  It seeks to extend the relevance of its insights to economic activity in general.  (Note:  For more information on Service Science see “What do we mean by service” on The International Society of Service Innovation Professionals web site.)


Proponents of Service Science focus on a central definition of “service” as the co-creation of value between service recipients and service providers. From this point of view, “service” is the application of knowledge to co-create value, and service science is the study of diverse, interconnected systems in human organisations. Often the term “Service Dominant Logic” or SDL is used to represent this view. Products are relegated to the background in value creation and all is service.  Since the service sector is by far the dominant sector of the economy in the developed world, there is  much interest in service science and much promised by the Service Science School.


In the history of science and technology, we’ve often seen an idea put forward as new science only to wither and labeled as pseudoscience when overtaken by other advances. A commonly referenced example is phrenology which tried to divine human behaviour from the shape of bumps on an individual’s skull. 


According to the philosopher T.S Kuhn a new science develops in three phases:


  1. Pre-paradigm in which there is no consensus on any particular theory,
  2. Normal science in which a dominant paradigm is adopted and many puzzles can be solved using it,
  3. Revolutionary science in which the previously dominant paradigm stops being productive and a new paradigm is sought.

The central paradigm within Chemistry was for a long time the atom and its components – protons, neutrons and electrons. This model was used to explain many phenomena and further used to predict more phenomena that could be experimentally verified.


I think it is an open question whether Service Science has progressed to normal science yet. Perhaps even our expectations of what “science” is need to change. After all, will Service Science ever successfully uncover an objective reality like Physics has, or is the reality dealt with by Service Science actually constructed by participants. That is, Physics and Service Science differ not just in subject matter but are unlike at their very foundations which means Service Science can never be a science such as Physics.


Steve Alter’s June 2012 paper “Challenges for Service Science” (published in the Journal of Information Technology Theory and Application) lays down seven challenges for proponents of Service Science that are as yet without reply from the Service Science community. Alter’s thrust, in Kuhnian terms, is that there is no accepted central paradigm for Service Science. There’s no central paradigm used to explain puzzles and certainly no predictions that are amenable to experimental verification.


Alter says that a good start would be to have a common definition of Service. This definition would emphasise the essence of service, conform to everyday understanding of service, differentiate between products and services in real world situations and cover every type of activity that people consider to be services. Surveying the literature, Alter shows there is no single definition of service that has these characteristics. Either the definitions being used do not apply very well to common services or are so broad as to count any economic activity as a service.


Alter next focusses on servitization, which is the delivery of a service component as an added value when providing products. To understand the distinction between productization and servitization, consider this example: a textbook, an online version of a textbook, an online version of a textbook with interactive exercises, and finally a person-to-person tutorial using the textbook. Each step along this spectrum moves from pure product to a mix of product and service. From a business viewpoint, the distinction between product and service is much less important that providing the right mix the customer finds valuable. The designer’s true goal is to find the right mix. Overall, there is no inherent reason to find servitization superior to productization as asserted by Service Science.


The idea of value creation has been a central fascination in economic theory since the start (it started with Aristotle). If Service Science could really explain the creation of value in modern economies then it would be able to establish a coherent definition of the customer and provider contributions and then use this definition to stimulate researchers to look at IT-related services, IS analysis and design and the overall value of IT. A true science would be picked up by related disciplines then applied to produce results – like Physics produced the light bulb.


The future is open and we’ll no doubt see many further developments in Service Science. It will be very interesting to see whether Service Science ends up like Physics, modelling an objective reality, or social science in which reality is constructed by participants.


About the author


Leroy Mason.jpgLeroy Mason, Global Chief Technologist, Enterprise Applications, Hewlett Packard Company

Leroy Mason is global chief technologist of Enterprise Applications for HP. He has 30 years of experience in large-scale enterprise application services including Wall Street banks, Microsoft, and HP. His professional interests include adapting the applications lifespan economics to cloud platforms.




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