Last month, we held our 7th Spring Servitization Conference. This year we took the conference abroad for the second time and it was hosted and co-chaired by our colleagues Thomas Frandsen and Jawwad Raja from Copenhagen Business School. The overall theme of this year was Driving Competitiveness through Servitization. I must say it was, yet again, a well-attended and well-received conference where we accommodated 28 presentations, 28 posters, 5 keynotes and more than 80 delegates.
Day 1 and 2 focused on the full paper presentations and keynotes by senior executives of different
industrial firms. Similar to previous years, we followed our innovative structure with a single stream where all contributors had the opportunity to present to all delegates, and engage in both structured and semi-structured panel sessions to further discuss their work.
There were papers presented by academics from Denmark, Switzerland, Portugal, Belgium, Netherlands, Italy, Japan, Austria, Germany, Sweden, Spain, Finland, Sri Lanka, and the UK. Their presentations covered a wide range of related topics, but the main focus of the presentations was around three key themes: business models, platforms, and organisational transformation. Interesting papers were also presented using the context of SME manufacturing, and novel methodologies such as ‘Qualitative Comparative Analysis using Fuzzy Sets’ (fsQCA).
As part of the first two days, we had 5 keynotes from leading industrial executives and academics, including:
• Andrew Harrison (Engineering Associate Fellow, Rolls Royce) who discussed three key aspects of Through-life Engineering Services (TES ~ or in our definition, advanced services) namely organisational context and capabilities, TES value stream, and TES execution processes. He also mapped these against the Rolls Royce service offering and explained how digital technologies have enabled them to develop and deliver such offerings.
• Ross Townshend (EMEA Business Manager – Advanced Services & Data, Ishida Europe) who shared Ishida’s journey towards servitization. He based his talk on the motivation, expectation, and future direction of the company. Ross explained that there’s a difference between pay-per-pack and pay-per-‘good’ pack, and how this notion is not easily understood internally and externally by their customers.
• Thomas Rosenkilde Anderson (Group Vice President for Services, Grundfos) and Marianne Kjeldgaard Knudsen (Senior Director, Head of Digital Commercial Offerings) who gave an excellent talk about the company’s strategy to become ‘proactive’. They discussed the six current global priorities of Grundfos, which are: people, service portfolio, commercialising service, spare part pricing, service operation, and customer support.
• Ulrika Lindberg (Vice President, Global Service at Alfa Laval), who explained the huge opportunity that has been created for Alfa Laval as the result of digital technologies, and how/why the company should become ‘pro-active’ as a result. She explained that, as a result of the data that has been gathered and analysed from their install base, the company is now developing and delivering intermediate services. She drew the picture that providing ‘capability’ enabled by their product is high up on the agenda.
• Professor Arnold Tukker (Professor of Industrial Ecology, Leiden University) who gave an academic perspective and explained how far we’ve come as a community that is interested in the topic of product-service system (PSS) and servitization. He discussed that PSS has a key role in sustainability, but many companies have got it totally wrong because it’s very complicated. Product-service system is a fancy concept, he said, but the merit is in understanding it through the lens of business model to make sure value creation and value process is well understood and executed.
Day 3 was dedicated to the ‘evolving research’. It mainly focused on early stage researchers and consisted of interactive debates and discussions. To set the scene, we first had two presentations by Tim Baines and Marko Kohtamäki. Tim focused on our current research and activities at the Advanced Services Group, and then explained our recent EPSRC NetworkPlus grant called ‘Digitally Enhanced Advanced Services (DEAS)’. The main objective of this grant is to ‘create a cohesive community of researchers and practitioners, working collectively across disciplines (e.g. computer science, engineering and business) and industry sectors, to accelerate the innovation of DEAS and improve UK productivity’.
After Tim’s presentation, Marko talked about where we are as a research community, key relevant concepts, theories and methods that could be applied while studying servitization, and what the future landscape looks like. Based on an analysis of more than 700 papers, he demonstrated that there are 6 distinct but relevant fields of research studying servitization: PSS environmental agenda, PSS design and development, predecessors in servitzation, customers and project-based solutions, operations management in service transition, and service science. Marko reinforced that in order to push the community forward in the hope for more high quality research on the topic, we need to: (i) ask why questions more than what ones; (ii) narrow down the focus; (iii) cite carefully; (iv) be realistic about the impacts, and (v) open opportunities for others (i.e. knowledge sharing).
The final part of the day focused on the evolving research. We divided the posters into four main groups with one senior scholar in charge of facilitating the discussions in each group. The rest of the delegates were also asked to observe the presentations of the posters, and each was given 5 votes to pick the best poster. Based on the number of votes and discussions between the facilitators, the award for the most insightful research went to Paul Jackson and Ahmad Beltagui for their research on ‘Assessment of Readiness for Servitization in SMEs: A Dynamic Capabilities Perspective’
For me, the three key highlights of this year were:
1. The maturity of the community. After being part of this community for more than 4 years, I’ve started to realise that the participants don’t just see this event as a yet another academic conference. SSC has become an annual gathering, where everyone is looking forward to catch up, and not just on research and papers. I was personally overwhelmed by the amount of positive comments from the delegates, not just on the organisational side, but also on the content presented.
2. Consistency in using the terminologies. We had far less explanations and discussions around ‘defining’ the terms and concepts. It seems that we, as a community, have started to further align our terminologies. The level of discussions around the practical and theoretical of the research presented was great. I believe this depth has been and is going to be enhancing on a yearly basis.
3. Not much discussion around digital technologies. Unlike so many practice-focused conferences and workshops, I didn’t hear much about digital aspects such as IoT, AI, etc. This demonstrates that the key issue for the development and delivery of advanced services is not much around technological innovation. Rather, it’s around the ‘soft’ issues such as organisational readiness to change, cultural clashes in selling product vs service, etc.
Next year we will take the conference to Sweden! Our friend and colleague Christian Kowalkowski has kindly agreed to be the co-chair for next year and host the conference at Linköping University (LiU).