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Servitization: Revisiting the State of the art

Our latest research paper just got accepted for publication at the International Journal of Operations & Production Management (24 July 2016 - DOI: 10.1108/IJOPM-06–2015–0312). This paper consolidates the servitization knowledge base from the perspective of organisational change, and identifying topics both developed and undeveloped to direct future research.

Underpinning this agenda was 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, and has ultimately resulted in the agenda presented in the below tables, with the key research topics identified. To summarize, a) developed topics illustrate research contributions, and so represent established knowledge, b) developing topics illustrate growing concentrations, and so are opportunities for incremental and confirmatory studies, and c) undeveloped topics represent opportunities for new, exploratory studies.

In the analysis of the selected papers against the theoretical framework, papers were reviewed with increasing depth, their contributions established and clustered, and the topography of the topic in the literature became clearer. Particularly, 1) the developed topics illustrate the research contributions and so relatively established knowledge, (2) the developing topics illustrate the growing concentrations and so opportunities for relatively incremental and confirmatory studies, and (3) the undeveloped topics represent significant opportunities for new and exploratory studies. The topics in the below Tables represent how the research community is developing servitization knowledge stocks. 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.

The analysis the selected papers and the development of the framework assisted us in identifying several challenges concerning approaches authors use during research:

  • Language and style: Evident in many theoretically strong papers are laudable intentions to influence manufacturing performance, but the language and style of many papers 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 transdisciplinary (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.

This paper orchestrates the direction of future research on servitization. The Tables presents a range of topics for such studies, and is foundational to the grand challenges identified in the discussion. 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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