A Modeling Framework for Analyzing the Viability of Service Systems

A Modeling Framework for Analyzing the Viability of Service Systems

Arash Golnam (Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), Switzerland), Gil Regev (Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), Switzerland) and Alain Wegmann (Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), Switzerland)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-3894-5.ch012
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Abstract

Recent research has explored the principles of service system viability based on systems inquiry invoking perspectives from Systems Theory and Cybernetics in particular Stafford Beer’s viable systems model (VSM). However based on Banathy and Jenlink (2004), Systems inquiry encompasses more than just Systems Theory and includes domains such as Systems Methodology and Systems Philosophy. Building on the extant literature, this work has the following particularities: 1) it is based on an explicit systems philosophy in which the authors explicitly define what they view as viability and, 2) it involves a systems methodological approach to either analyze the viability of a service system or to design a viable service system. This is achieved by means of applying a systems modeling technique called SEAM (Systemic Enterprise Architecture Method). SEAM rests upon systemic principles and embodies conceptualizations from VSM. The authors apply SEAM to concretely model a utility company in Geneva, Switzerland in order to gain an understanding of how a service system maintains its identity and remains viable in its environment.
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Introduction

The concept of “service system” is central to Service Science and Service-Dominant (SD) logic (Vargo & Lusch, 2004, 2008; Lusch & Vargo, 2006). A service system is defined as “a configuration of people, technologies, organization and shared information, able to create value to providers, users and other interested entities, through service” (Maglio & Spohrer, 2008). A service system delivers this value for as long as it remains in existence. Service Science researchers have therefore recently shown an increasing interest in studying the viability of service systems (see for example Barile et al., 2010; Saviano et al., 2010).

Following systems inquiry, this body of research uses Systems Theory and Cybernetics for understanding the factors that can contribute to the viability of a service system (see for example Barile et al., 2010; Saviano et al., 2010). However, systems inquiry encompasses more than just Systems Theory and Cybernetics.

Banathy and Jenlink (2004) proposed to conceptualize systems inquiry into three sub-parts: Systems Philosophy, Systems Theory and Systems Methodology.

Systems Philosophy embodies the fundamental assumptions about the domain of inquiry. Systems philosophy defines the worldview of the systems thinker. The systems theory and systems methodology used by the systems thinker depend on his or her systems philosophy. Banathy and Jenlink (2004) identified three aspects of systems philosophy, epistemology, ontology and axiology. Epistemology is concerned with the origins of the systems thinker worldview, or how we know what we know. Ontology is the worldview itself, the systems thinker’s view of reality. Axiology defines the ethics of the systems thinker in terms of what is right or wrong, elegant or not. Of the three components of Systems philosophy ontology is the only one that is often made explicit. Epistemology and axiology remain implicit in most systems thinking discourse (for exceptions to this rule, see Weinberg, 1975; Vickers, 1968, 1987). But implicit or not, epistemology and axiology determine systems theory and methodology just the same.

Systems theory provides the set of principles that can be invoked to build an understanding of some aspect of reality. Systems theory refers to the science of systems that resulted from General Systems Theory (Bertalanffy, 1976). General Systems Theory provides “models, principles and laws that can be generalized across various systems, their components and the relationship among them”. General Systems Theory is, in effect, a theory of universal principles that are common and apply to systems in general. Finally, systems methodology aims at the instrumentalization of systems theory and its application to a functional context (Banathy & Jenlink, 2004). It involves developing models and methods to make adequate predictions or retrodictions about some aspect of reality and to learn how to control a phenomenon of interest in a desirable way (Klir, 2001).

Based on Banathy’s Systems inquiry, our research has the following particularities. (a) It is based on an explicit systems philosophy, and most specifically an epistemology in which we explicitly define what we view as viability. (b) It involves a systems methodological approach to either analyze the viability of a service system or to design a viable service system. This is achieved by means of applying systems modeling.

Our epistemology is often called interpretive (Checkland & Scholes, 1999). It defines a worldview where knowledge is created as a relation between an observer and the observed. The systems modeling reported in this paper follows our epistemological worldview.

In systems modeling we construct systems that are models of some aspects of reality (Klir, 2001). The first step of systems modeling process is for the modeler to observe some aspect of reality referred to as the “universe of discourse” (UoD). Employing a set of conceptualizations, the modeler then tries to distinguish a set of entities that compose the universe of discourse and the relationships between them. In effect, the conceptualizations employed in a model form a lens through which the modeler observes phenomena of interest in a UoD (Tarski & Corcoran, 1983).

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