Do Services need Science? Are there any hard problems?

Richard Taylor, Chris Tofts

(Hewlett Packard Laboratories Bristol)

Services, or non-productive labour, have become nearly 80% of economic activity. Although service activities are now dominant, there appears to be very little understanding of how they should be designed, delivered and optimised. Public service systems that rely heavily on IT have a well documented record of costly failure in delivery, expectation or unintended consequences. In many respects this should be unsurprising as it is human components that usually underpin these systems. The totality of a service system is one of the most complicated conceived by humans, formed from the interaction of computing and communications hardware, deep software stacks and human operators. To make things worse from a corporate perspective services have proved remarkably resistant to delivering the same kind of productivity improvements which manufacturing has seen in the last 50 years.

As IT based services now represent about 10% of high value services, it is not surprising that there is a great deal of interest in achieving the efficiency gains shown by manufacturing. As a consequence of this IBM and HP along with BT have research and development activities in the area. The Communications of the ACM dedicated its July 2006 issue to Services Sciences, and the Cambridge Institute for Management recently held a meeting on "Succeeding through Service Innovation" along with the emergence of a knowledge sharing network for the activity within UK universities.

Should we leave the provision of "good" services to the dead hand of economics via the market and penalty clauses - or the blind eyes of the law through contract clauses and the courts? Or should we develop understanding which permits all of the parties in a service system to understand the value they obtain and deliver.
Tuesday 4th March 2008, 14:00
Robert Recorde Room
Department of Computer Science