Socially intense environments
Services will be services but are all services services? Services as research area and as an area for practitioners are extensive and have taken steps forward over the past 40-50 years. The definitions of services have been developed and especially so in the area called service management. Leading researchers such as Grönroos have produced great value through their research in the work of describing the distinctive features of services but also by pointing out similarities between service operations and industrial production.
Practitioners have usually taken a different path for the development of services, but over all it can be argued with good reason that service management as a school has provided the foundations for more efficient services providing and service operations have over time been able to deliver faster and at a lower unit cost. The societal benefits so far are therefore significant. Society enjoys services to an extent like never before and often at very reasonable costs.
The service management school has fundamentally adopted the view of process orientation as the leading mantra for efficiency and customer approach. Today, there is probably no service company with self-respect that does not allow process-oriented operations improvement programs in the name of efficiency. And for good reason, since services seen from the service management school are relatively simple services, that are often successfully married to modern IT solutions to enable customers to interact with the chosen service provider over the internet.
Service factories have been set up in remote parts of the world with low wage levels to further affect unit costs. Services seen from the service management school are in many ways a cost-effective support business that is the glue between the customer and the business where the business internally, however, seeks more value-adding elements that can lift the entire business away from an often-bloody price / performance situation.
The service management school has over time come to provide a second perspective where service management is launched as a general way of describing any business’ value creation. In doing so, Grönroos et al raise the question of whether all businesses are to be regarded as service operations.
Much to be regarded as a reaction to the strong focus on process orientation of services, the idea emerged in the 1990s that the efforts of all employees participating in the service operations could not easily be subject to process-orientation. The foundation for this idea was not novel but related to what had already in the 1950s come to be called “the knowledge worker”.
The logics was simply that some employees were in a situation that was characterized by a high degree of knowledge transfer and knowledge refinement. Most actors realized that these services could not be easily, or perhaps not at all, described by a strict process metaphor.
The countervailing answer was launched during the 1990s and was labeled "knowledge management". The idea was to give knowledge-intense, individuals and teams, in a given business a context and support for continued development. An important part of the development was the reuse of produced knowledge, i.e., structural capital would have to be created to a much higher extent than previously.
Knowledge management as a concept was quickly adopted by IT consultants that saw business opportunities in creating efficient databases for knowledge refinement, for sharing (primarily internally) and for building structural capital. With the IT sector's rapid action and adoption of the concept, the concept fell as an instrument in the business as a whole and became synonymous with IT solutions. Truth be told, the IT sector made a very significant effort in this regard, which should in no way be diminished, but the downside of it all was that knowledge management fell into oblivion. In the light of this, the thread was lost in the daily work regarding the parts of the service business that was not perceived to be easily process-oriented.
Our answer to the title's question is that services occur in different forms and that the answer to how these parts of the service business should be handled needs to be nuanced depending on the scope and nature of the knowledge content.
We conclude this section by noting that in part has the growth of service production fueled the effort to identify, to label, what kind the contemporary society is. A variety of headings of society have arisen. The headings proposals have been many, but some of the most prominent can be said to be "the information society", "the knowledge society" and "the individual society". All three labels describe how viewers have seen and described society from an overarching perspective and in doing so captured an important aspect each. However, none of these concepts provide an answer to how businesses should be built, managed, and organized.
On the other hand, if we take the first parts out of each concept, we are left with three keywords: information, knowledge and individual, all which are of interest in the contemporary perspective, the socially intense environment.
The socially intense environment and the socially intense operation The value of information as a strategic asset is clear in modern operations. The information flows freely today in basically all democratic economies and in their business operations. In addition, the flow of information is so extensive that it must be handled in an intelligent way in each business operation. Not least, is this accentuated by the ease with which fake information can be distributed and how sensitive certain information is to society's stability and continued development. It is based on this background that legislation has been implemented, such as the GDPR example shows, and it is based on this background that the area of cyber security has become so important for almost all types of information processing activities.
It can be said that there are two main elements in the information handling, can be divided into two major elements in a modern business: statutory restrictions that state who has the right to handle what information, and business requirements that describe the handling of information to have the business to function satisfactorily.
Information as a strategic asset is central to a service business and the information is shared by several different parties in the delivery of services. The parties involved in the service production can be said to be three entities: customer, supplier, and partner.
It is in the interaction between these three parties that the service is performed, delivered, and developed. We can therefore talk about the "position" in this hub of participating actors as being central to the service company's operation. And the position can, consequently, and favorably, be seen as an issue regarding the division of labor between the three participating parties.
Given the view that the position and clarified as "the position in the customer's world", is the starting point for the service company's operations, the insight into the importance of knowledge becomes clear. We can rightly claim that the goal of all operations is to refine knowledge. Knowledge drives development and development provides structural rationalizations and increased societal gains over time. Thus, the focus in the service operation’s activities should also be on knowledge refinement. And this should be stated in a constructively operationally accessible way.
To be sure, the delivery of services should, we argue, be described in terms of knowledge transfer. This transfer of knowledge is bilateral and takes place between all participating parties during the service delivery. In this context, we have often seen how actors tend to see the supplier's knowledge transfer as the key issue, but in the actual case, knowledge transfer takes place between all parties involved.
A couple of illustrative examples can be taken from the service management school's furrow and from the knowledgeable management school's ditto. The first is the telephone customer service that receives a case about a dripping crane in a property and then dispatches the case to a person in the field who acts with the customer at a given time. What happens in the conversation between customer and customer service is a bilateral knowledge transfer that many would consider as information transfer, but we can consider information as the smallest part of knowledge and thus a bilateral knowledge transfer of 1-2 minutes has been carried out between two parties. A call which, incidentally, was made possible by a partner providing a connection over the telephone network.
Another illustrative example may be the meeting in a due diligence process where the buying party and the selling party are at the same table. In this case, the transfer of knowledge is extensive and the time frames for the meeting are highly flexible, often de facto so flexible that an end time has not been set before the meeting. The meeting is most often facilitated by a partner physically present at the meeting, a representative of a bank's M&A department.
The transfer of knowledge is thus central in both cases, even if it seems to be even more apparent in the latter case. What affects the view and makes the understanding clearer in the context of the latter case is the presence of a partner in the flesh – an individual. This highlights an important feature of service operations in that we tend to put knowledge intimately together with an individual bearer, which leads us to see the latter case as knowledge-intense, even though developments in knowledge management in recent decades have provided structural capital to support the type of knowledge transfer that for instance a due diligence consists of.
What may seem obvious in terms of a telephone customer service supporting activities that enable efficient handling of seemingly similar cases has de facto its equivalent in due diligence work in such a meaning that much of what is done is based on the reuse of previously produced material. There is clearly a process element in both situations, although it is more obvious in the customer service case.
This fact has however proven to be deceitful. It has led researchers as well as practitioners to believe that the process metaphor is not only the correct way to develop the whole service operation, but also the only way. We claim that the over-consumption of the process metaphor that has been the case and still is, hinders the development of the service operation in general and in particular, the more complex parts of it.
At a global level, organizational gaps can be seen as the socially intense environment, where the environment is seen as including all business operations for which relevant organizational gaps are studied. A defined service delivery between specified participating parties could then advantageously be seen as a subset of the socially intense environment and therefore could be called a socially intense operation.
The socially intense environment and the socially intense operations are thus about knowledge transfer and knowledge refinement through interaction between participating parties. The definition is strengthened by basically seeing all activities as knowledge transfer and knowledge refinement and by considering the product as a special case.
It is illustrative that at a time when the world's collective research capacity has produced vaccines in record time, the power of the organizational gaps is not seen as the energy source they are in everyday life. The lessons from the pandemic and the results of the research, which is demonstrably a product of collaboration based on organizational gaps, should inspire "great deeds" even in the more local perspective.