And so the Spring Servitization Conference of 2019 comes to an end

And so the Spring Servitization Conference (SSC) of 2019 comes to an end. The conference has come a long way since it’s humble beginning nine years ago, when it started life as a workshop at Aston Business School, and focused on finalising the research insights for our book ‘Made to Serve’. On the conclusion of this year’s event, I find myself reflecting on why the conference was created, how it has developed, and how the research community and the topics they are interested in have matured.

SSC was created to build and formalise a research community around servitization, and to genuinely support and accelerate academic endeavour in this area. Servitization is a topic which, for a variety of reasons, is not well served by the focus and processes of traditional academic conferences. Partially this is because servitization is, by its very nature, a topic which cuts across disciplines, whereas academic conferences tend to sit within these. This means that conventionally scholars in marketing are unlikely to meet their counterparts in operations, technologies, finance, or economics. Yet to properly progress servitization necessitates engagement across these areas. Similarly, while traditional conferences can attract several hundred people, their system of multiple tracks can easily mean that more disparate topics such as servitization tend to be poorly supported. All too often servitization researchers find themselves presenting to just a few people, while any keynotes they may attend tend to be generic or even irrelevant. So, all in all, a largely unsatisfactory ‘outcome’ if you are a servitization scholar.

SSC was designed to overcome such limitations: It is entirely focused on servitization, attracting scholars from across disciplines, arranged around a single track where presenters speak to the whole community, and coupled with highly relevant industrial keynotes. All papers undergo a full two- stage review process, carried out by a scientific committee from the field. In addition, the conference embraces panel sessions in which all presenters participate, where the questions are captured from the audience digitally and logged for future use. There is also a highly engaging poster session for more emergent research, which is attended by both academic and industrial contributors.

For these reasons, SSC has become the largest international gathering of researchers interested in servitization. The conference in 2019 was held at Linköping University, organised by Christian Kowalkowski and Ali Bigdeli, and attracted 85 scholars and six keynote presentations. This year, a major focus was on ‘digital servitization’, a term unheard of eight years ago, and it was accompanied by papers on finance and investment. By contrast, much less attention is now given to definitional papers, and papers looking at the motivations for servitization. Yet, there is still much to do in this field of servitization.

What might be the future for servitization research and SSC? To answer this, it is interesting to reflect on how the ideas around industry 4.0 are currently topical for many conferences. Industry 4.0 is an assessment of industrial maturity based around technological innovation – we are entering a new era of digital connectivity and leaving behind steam power. Yet, the focus is fundamentally on the manufacture of products, while the world’s growth in Gross Domestic Products is from services. So what comes beyond Industry 4.0? It may sound bold, but the servitization community is in the foothills of defining the next industrial revolution, and SSC is enabling this debate to emerge and this is ranging much wider than technological innovation.

Moving forwards, SSC will continue to draw together the economic, social, and technological research that will progress servitization. It will itself continue to innovate and extend the community, and deliver an environment that truly supports academic endeavour.

In 2020 the Spring Servitization Conference will once again return to Birmingham. We are already very much looking forward to welcoming the community of servitization scholars and practitioners to our hometown – and home-University – to share the latest research and insights in our field of servitization.

Our friends and hosts at Linköping University have made the keynote speeches available for download: