Sunday, April 23, 2006

 

Disciplining Services Science

Last week I attended a conference on "Education for Service Innovation" at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington DC. A couple dozen people from academia, industry, and the government met to discuss the emergence of "services science" -- a hybrid academic field that seems to be emerging from the fuzzy intersection of economics, computer science, information technology and systems, document engineering, law, management, industrial engineering, and organizational sociology to provide perspectives on the evolution of the information and services economy and insight about the services lifecycle. (Steve Lohr mentioned this event in a April 18 2006 NY Times article). IBM has been leading the charge -- I recommend their excellent compendium of Services Science Stuff -- but that's not surprising since IBM, like many other technology firms, has seen its revenue mix shift profoundly toward services in recent years.

Several universities are creating courses and curricula on the services economy and on the design, implementation and deployment of services, including UC Berkeley, where I'm part of a small faculty group developing a Services Science, Management, and Engineering (SSME) certificate for master's students in the School of Information, in the College of Engineering, and in the Haas School of Business.

I think that Berkeley and North Carolina State are the only universities with programs that are called "SSME" -- but that's only because some other schools like Penn State, RPI, Maryland and ASU have already been teaching about services in their departments of Industrial Engineering, Decision Sciences, Business, or Management.

I gave a talk about our efforts at Berkeley, and I raised the bigger question about the relationship of a discipline of Services Science to the various curricula that are springing up. A DISCIPLINE is a principled model of a coherent body of research and practice, while a CURRICULUM is a set of courses or program of study leading to a degree or certificate. The distinction seems pretty important, because the SSME programs that emerge are going to be pretty different, reflecting the emphases and character that reflect the history, location, faculty, typical employers for their students, etc. of the universities or departments that create them. I think a model of a discipline can generate many different curricula and can be used to assess and compare their coverage. Without some intellectual foundation and principles that are explicitly shared by all the curricula, their surface differences will make it hard for a Services Science to mean anything.

So what we're doing at Berkeley is somewhat different from the other universities. Instead of starting from any existing curriculum or course, we're asking "What are the key concepts, themes, and challenges that a SSME discipline should encompass" and generating questions that the disciplines that are coming together in Services Science should be able to answer. For example:

We're not quite there yet, but we are developing new courses in Services Science that will be organized around these kinds of questions. We need to discipline ourselves to make this happen by the Fall semester, because we are already scheduled to teach the first of these new courses, one called "The Information and Services Economy."

-Bob Glushko

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