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A Unified Services Theory paradigm for Service Science

by Scott E. Sampson, Brigham Young University - June 11, 2007

For discussion page click here.

The need for a paradigm.

Service Science cannot attain cohesion without a paradigm.

A paradigm is “a philosophical and theoretical framework of a scientific school or discipline within which theories, laws, and generalizations and the experiments performed in support of them are formulated” 1). Paradigms are not only foundational, but also useful. “A paradigm shapes the formulation of theoretical generalizations, focuses data gathering, and influences the selection of research procedures and projects” 2).

Objectives for a Service Science paradigm.

A “good” Service Science paradigm should at least exhibit the following characteristics:

  1. Provide discriminative value. The paradigm should show how Service Science is distinct from, yet interrelated with, other well-established sciences and paradigms.
  2. Facilitate integration of perspectives. If Service Science is to be multidisciplinary (or transdisciplinary), the underlying paradigm must accommodate various perspectives.
  3. Lead to useful managerial insights.

The Unified Services Theory perspective.

The purpose of the Unified Services Theory (UST) has been to provide a basis of common principles pertaining to diverse “service businesses” 3). In essence, the UST states that “services are production processes in which each customer provides significant elements which are essential inputs for production” 4). Customers are therefore “suppliers” to all service businesses 5). This compares to non-service processes in which production can and does occur independent of customers. The key element of service production is that it, of necessity, involves customer interaction (as defined below).

A Service Science paradigm based on the UST is as follows:

Service Science (UST) is the science of consumer-producer interactions.

This paradigm is consistent with the IBM SSME definition of a service as “a provider/client interaction that creates and captures value6).” The only caveat imposed by the UST is that “interaction” is not limited to interpersonal interaction or “co-production” but is a client provision of resources which are used by the service provider in the service production process. These client resources may be client information, client property, or even the client itself (or himself/herself for personal services)7).

Other useful definitions.

The UST perspective is benefited by the following definitions:

Interaction is, in a general sense, direct reciprocal influence. Consumers directly influence service providers by providing elements of production to the production process, and service providers influence consumers by acting on those elements. Some interaction involves physical contact and communication, and other interaction does not.

Production processes are processes in which producers transform inputs into outputs, generally for the purpose of adding value to process inputs (as perspective by consumers).

  • Processes are series of actions, either deterministic or divergent.
  • Producers are production process owners, who define and control production processes.
  • Inputs are the resources available to production (e.g., labor, materials, energy, etc.)
  • Outputs are the results of production.
  • Consumers are users of production outputs.
  • Value is the satisfaction of needs.
  • Needs are requirements for the well being of an entity.

(Note that I have skirted the issue of the term “consumer” versus the term “customer,” which is easy to address but not succinctly. The term “consumer” is sufficient for this discussion.)

Process outputs are considered more valuable to consumers than the process inputs when customers are willing to compensate producers at a level greater than the value of process inputs.

Other classifications of processes include the following:

  • Consumption processes are processes in which consumers extract value. Extracting value is to realize the satisfaction of needs. Note that all consumption processes involve consumers: In some cases, consumers are interacting with the outputs coming from non-services processes (i.e., with no direct interaction between consumer and producer). In other cases, consumers extract value while interacting directly with service providers, which is the service concept of simultaneous production and consumption. Note that simultaneous production and consumption is a consequence of consumer-producer interaction, not the other way around.
  • Business processes are processes that provide value (or “value propositions”) for customers and compensation for the business entity.
  • Information technology (IT) processes are processes in which information is transformed by an automated system.

Paradigm long form.

Service Science (UST) is the science of consumer-producer interactions which involve producers satisfying needs of individual consumers by directly acting upon consumer resources of self, belongings, and/or information.

That is a little more precise, but still quite general. Consumers and producers can be individuals, organizations, or information technologies. Consumers are allowed but not required to participate in the production processes, other than the through the provision of resources. And, the needs of customer can vary widely (and are likely to be somewhat unique from one consumer to the next).


The terms “consumer” and “producer” are not common to all disciplines and fields, although there are analogous terms. The following are some examples.

Context Consumer Producer
Business Consulting client consultant
Computer Science client server
Economics consumer producer
Education student instructor
Health Care patient provider
Law client attorney
Marketing consumer service provider
Military Science civilian armed forces
Government citizen department
Supply Chain customer supplier

For example, Service Science (UST) in law is the study of client-attorney interactions.

Value of the UST Service Science paradigm.

The UST Service Science paradigm is valuable in that it feels the needs of a “good” paradigm as outlined above…

1. It provides discriminative value.

If all processes are considered service processes then “service process” is a tautology and therefore of no new value. On the contrary, the UST paradigm distinguishes service processes from non-service processes which are not dependent upon consumer-producer interactions. A common non-service example is the vast portion of world economies devoted to make-to-stock manufacturing. Make-to-stock manufacturing has dramatically different dynamics from service production. We as consumers are greatly benefited by the economies, quality, and productivity of make-to-stock manufacturing, which benefits are enabled by production which is not dependent upon consumer-producer interactions. For example, manufacturers have been able to achieve high quality at low costs by using automation and low-cost labor, which would not have been possible if consumer-producer interactions would have encumbered the manufacturing process.

The UST perspective implies that the dynamics of managing services are very different from the dynamics of non-services 8) 9). Consumer-producer interaction requires that we employ adapted or new approaches for attaining efficiency, quality, and productivity in services.

2. It brings together diverse perspectives.

The UST perspective is easily applied to various incumbent disciplines having interest in Service Science. Reiterating: Service Science (UST) is the science of consumer-producer interactions. Research questions coming from this paradigm span many disciplines, including the following:

  • How do consumers and producers interact in specific business contexts?
  • What does consumer-producer interaction imply about process design requirements?
  • What are organizational structures that facilitate effective consumer-producer interaction?
  • In what ways can information technology facilitate consumer-producer interactions? What are effective interaction protocols?
  • What quality problems result from consumer-producer interactions, and how might the problems be mitigated?
  • In what ways do consumer-producer interactions enable or inhibit the engineering of process innovations?
  • How can consumer-producer interactions be leveraged to advance the sales and marketing efforts of service producers?

And my personal favorite: In what ways can we anticipate and control the impact of consumer-induced variation on production variation, as caused by consumer-producer interaction? This is a focus of so-called service-oriented architecture (SOA), which attempts to make software systems “loosely coupled” so that client systems make minimal assumptions about the operation of server systems, and vise versa10). It is also a focus of robust design, which allows services (such as health care) to operate effectively even with great variability in customer conditions.

The UST paradigm admittedly originated from a production perspective, yet has direct applicability to various other perspectives pertaining to services.

3. It provides useful managerial insights.

The UST paradigm has been shown to provide numerous managerial insights pertaining to innovation, strategy, design, implementation, quality, and so forth. For examples, see the book Understanding Service Businesses 11) which is available from major booksellers or online at http://services.byu.edu. The following are a few brief examples:

Managerial Issue Non-services (no interaction) Services (direct interaction)
Quality defined by engineering specifications defined by individual customer specs
Job design focus on efficiency and consistency focus on interaction and responsiveness
Capacity utilization schedule for maximum utilization balance utilization with responsiveness
Use of technology cost and productivity issues dominate consumer acceptance issues dominate
Economies of scale advantage of large production runs limited by variation in customer inputs

Where we go from here.

The UST Service Science paradigm is a root-stock in which contributions from various disciplines can be grafted in. This can facilitate the exchange of scientific knowledge pertaining to that which we call “services” through a common focus on consumer-producer interactions.

1) Merriam-Webster, 2006. Online dictionary website: http://www.m-w.com (accessed February 2006).
2) Lovelock, C., and Gummesson, E., 2004. Whither Services Marketing? In Search of a New Paradigm and Fresh Perspectives. Journal of Service Research 7 (1), August, p. 21
3) , 8) , 11) Sampson, S. E., 2001. Understanding Service Businesses: Applying principles of the Unified Services Theory, 2nd Edition, John Wiley & Sons, New York.
4) , 9) Sampson, S. E., and Froehle, C. M., 2006. Foundations and Implications of a Proposed Unified Services Theory. Production and Operations Management 15 (2), Summer, pp. 329-343.
5) Sampson, S. E., 2000. Customer-supplier duality and bidirectional supply chains in service organizations. International Journal of Service Industry Management 11 (4), pp. 348-364.
7) Lovelock, C., 1983. Classifying Services to Gain Strategic Marketing Insights. Journal of Marketing 47 (3), Summer, pp. 9-20.

[up to index]

== Public sections == * [[usb:toc|Understanding Service Businesses]] book. * [[ibm:ssme:ust|UST paradigm for Service Science]] * [[ibm:ssme:cambridge07|Cambridge 2007 notes]] ---- * [[:start]] * [[http://services.byu.edu/sw/doku.php?do=index|Site map]] * [[http://services.byu.edu/sw/doku.php?do=recent|Recent Changes]] * [[:wiki:dokuwiki|Help]] == Private sections == * [[gscm:pub|BYU GSCM student recruiting]] * [[ibm:scm|IBM SCM case study]] * [[cos:top|Commoditization of Services]] research

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