Coevolving Innovations

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Why service practitioners should care about SSME

Since I had already planned to be in Finland for educational purposes, I had offered Juha Hulkkonen (country manager for IBM Global Business Services) some of my time for purposes that might help the company. He asked me to coordinate with Jyrgi Koskinen, who has a more formal role in university relations for IBM in Finland. In addition to lecturing in the afternoon on research that I’m likely to publish over the next year or so, I was asked to give a morning lecture on SSME (Services Science, Management and Engineering) at a Friday morning coffee gathering at the IBM office.

I had seen Jim Spohrer give a version of this talk at the ISSS conference in Cancun last July, and then stepped up as a last-minute speaker on SSME at the IT Strategy Consulting conference in Toronto a few weeks ago. After more than a year of seeing similar presentations based on Jim’s slides, I wasn’t comfortable in presenting that content at IBM Finland. Firstly, Jim’s presentation is deep, and I only had 30 minutes with a casual audience. Secondly, Jim’s presentation is targeted more at universities and researchers, and my audience would likely be management consultants, technical services professionals, and some sales personnel. I decided to customize my own version of the presentation.

Although I definitely have academic research interests, I am a management consultant, and understand the perspective of “why should I care”? I had spoken with Jim before leaving on this trip, and he said that SSME isn’t something that will happen overnight, but it would be rewarding to see the educational system change over a 3-to-10 year horizon. In rewriting the presentation, I came up with four points that services professionals should think about:

  • As a services professional (e.g. a consultant), the next time you get a new or junior team member on your engagement, what skills or knowledge do you expect that he or she should have? The stronger his or her base, the less you’ll have to coach, and the higher the overall productivity of the team. Sure, there’s no replacement for on-the-job experience, but it would be nice if university graduates came with slightly stronger skills aligned with the needs of jobs in today’s society.
  • As much as we, as services professionals, complain about the way our services business runs, there’s a larger context. IBM Consulting Group was formally formed in 1992, so we’ve had the opportunity to try different ways of running the business — certainly with some ways more successful than others. In comparison, however, many other companies are just beginning to seriously entertain how a service-based business is different from one that is primarily product-based. There are lots of things that we “know” that others are still trying to figure out: some knowledge in services science, some in services management, and some in services engineering. At the same time, we should take some humility that we’re at the beginning of a services revolution, in the same way that 19th century society had to deal with an industrial revolution.
  • Universities could use some help and direction from services practitioners in changing the curriculum. Research cites that “The single strongest influence for introducing computers on campuses in the mid-1950s did not come from the schools themselves or from any federal agency, but from IBM”.1 The math departments and electrical engineering departments thought that they had it all covered, but somehow, computer science emerged as a major program at most universities. Where will the curriculum for services come from? It should be related to an understanding of what services practitioners do today.
  • If each of the above is too abstract, then think about what your kids should be studying in university, to prepare them for a career when their life expectancy could be 100 years. Presuming that your son or daughter seeks a job in an industrialized country, the probability is high that he or she will be working in services, not product-oriented industries. Without precluding the vision of higher education as a broadening life experience (i.e. including liberal arts), is it unreasonable to expect young adults to have skills and knowledge with greater relevance than the education given their grandparents?

In order to get interest from businesses and government on the SSME agenda, Irving Wladawsky-Berger has been making it simple: it’s about jobs! At my lecture at HUT in last fall, after Jim Spohrer’s visit to Finland, Annaleena Parhankangas said that a lot of students would be attending because the word had gotten around that there is a path to jobs.

The venue for my SSME presentation at IBM Finland was interesting. It was an open concept, with about 10 seats around a coffee table, facing a screen pulled down from the ceiling. There were maybe another 20 to 25 people ringing the outside, listening to the presentation. I at least kept their interest for the 30 minutes: despite easy opportunities for them to sneak away, I didn’t seem to lose audience. Afterwards, in my conversations with some of the attendees, they said it was the fourth point that got them. When you ask a parent about what his or her child’s future may be, you have a good probability of capturing interest.


1William Aspray and Bernard O. Williams, “Arming American Scientists: NSF and the Provision of Scientific Computing Facilities for Universities, 1950-1973”, IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, Volume 16, Issue 4 (December 1994), pp. 60 – 74.����


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