The Future Research Agenda for Servitization

Our latest research paper just got accepted for publication at the International Journal of Operations & Production Management. This paper consolidates the servitization knowledge base from the perspective of organisational change, and provides some recommendations to help direct future research.

We conducted a systemic literature review set against an established organisational change framework proposed by Andrew Pettigrew in 1998. Some 232 peer-reviewed journal publications, which were written by 183 lead authors and published between January 1988 and April 2015 have been identified and reviewed.

The tables below (click on it to open a full-size version) shows the key research topics identified, and gaps in existing research. Table 1 summarises studies that describe when, how and what change occurred, Table 2 summarises prescriptive research about when, what and how change should occur.

In the tables:

  • Relatively developed topics illustrate research contributions, and so represent established knowledge. Gaps (shows as ??) Show where we couldn’t find any papers meeting the criteria

  • Developing topics illustrate growing concentrations, and so are opportunities for incremental and confirmatory studies

  • Undeveloped topics represent opportunities for new, exploratory studies

Research agenda for servitization

Table 1: Descriptive Research: papers that describe when, how and what change occurred

Table 2: Prescriptive research: papers that describe when, what and how should change occur

The topics in the two tables represent how the research community is developing servitization knowledge. General observations can also be formed regarding this knowledge, and so macro-research opportunities develop.

To achieve this, a research workshop was convened, with forty practitioners and researchers attending, to debate and extend the findings of this study. Our analysis led us to identify several challenges concerning the approaches authors use during research:

Language and style: Many of the theoretically strong papers are written with laudable intentions to influence manufacturing performance. But the language and style used represent a barrier to these ambitions. Consequently, the potential value of many contributions is unrecognised in practice.

Adventures in future research proposals: Nearly every journal article proposes future research opportunities. Too often, however, they are conservative, simply suggesting further testing of propositions and frameworks. There is an opportunity to be ambitious and to suggest wider-ranging studies. There are also opportunities to reach beyond conventional research communities, to engage in multidisciplinary (i.e., other fields related to the topic but that retain their disciplinary objectives), interdisciplinary (i.e., involving several disciplines in a manner that requires them to cross-object boundaries), and trans-disciplinary (i.e., building on interdisciplinary research but involving non-academic partners such as industrial actors and customers to create new knowledge and research regarding common concerns) research.

Business logic to complement theory: There is growing infusion of theory in servitization research, with references to Resource Based View (RBV) and Transaction Cost Economics (TCE) appearing frequently. This reflects increasing pressures on researchers to provide theoretically robust foundations. Although this is critical, there is also a need for papers that expound business logic, combining theory, evidence, and examples to create bold propositions for business.

Overcoming gaps with practice: It has been over a decade since some key seminal papers were published that focus on ways of developing integrated product-service solutions based on in-depth studies of industry practices. Yet the uptake of the concepts and language of servitization is still not widespread among mainstream practitioners. New techniques are needed to fill these gaps and minimise theory-practice disparities as much as possible.

We hope this paper will set an agenda around which the research community can coalesce on the direction of future research on servitization. The tables present a range of topics that warrant further study, and we have made some recommendations on how to improve the relevance of research activities to practice. The future opportunities are extensive, and we hope to be able to reflect on the progress of the community against these at some point in the future.

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