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Tuesday, August 13, 2013 - The science of service: Focus on complex, interconnected systems results in better, smarter customer service

As the world becomes more interconnected and intelligent, the challenge of fully meeting customers’ needs is growing ever more complex – and critical. Few things impact a company’s ability to survive and excel like customer service.

Today, with a myriad of customer touch points and increasing competition, organizations around the world are investigating ways to fully integrate customer service into all business operations. Service systems management and engineering (SSME) is a new academic discipline created with these realities in mind. SSME is designed to prepare students with the combined business and technology skills needed to enter today’s workforce ready to contribute to their countries’ economic and innovation agendas.     

Oakland University management information systems professor Vijayan Sugumaran spent the last three years immersed in the service science discipline as a member of a small team of professors from around the world who developed and launched an SSME graduate program for Sogang University in South Korea as part of a $10 million grant by the Korea Research Foundation.

Innovations build value

“Through the program, students are equipped to be part of a discipline that has captured the imagination of educational institutions and industries worldwide,” Sugumaran explains.

Korea is one of many countries focused on innovation in the service sector. SSME crosses several sectors encompassing business and technology to produce graduates who can implement systematic innovation – leading to the creation of what IBM calls a smarter planet.

Since IBM Research pioneered the service science field more than 10 years ago, it has become increasingly popular. It is rooted in the realization that knowledge-based services have been overtaking manufacturing as an economic driver globally, and businesses are being challenged to rethink the way they operate.

The ability to integrate science, management and engineering so companies can establish systems that improve the delivery of services or the manufacturing of products is becoming more and more valuable.

“The whole idea of service science is to improve the customer’s experience and build value,” Sugumaran says. “Customers have a lot of choices; if you don’t provide good service, they’ll go elsewhere. Products can come and go, but if you have a strong relationship with the customer, you have staying power.”

Sogang’s entrance into an SSME graduate program started strong. In 2011, 25 students completed the program, followed by about 20 more in 2012. A number of those graduates are now working with major Korean companies such as LG Electronics and Samsung.

While at Sogang, Sugumaran also taught courses in service system design and addressed the concept of value co-creation, which calls for finding ways a service provider or manufacturer can interact with users on a continual basis.

“In service science, once the system is deployed, that’s when the real work begins. You need the ability to monitor and change on the fly,” he adds.


Bringing knowledge home

Sugumaran now brings this wealth of global intelligence to his students. He makes a point to integrate his new cultural, industry and educational experiences into his Oakland University courses.

“Students appreciate hearing about how things are different in eastern cultures and how the educational system works,” he says. “It opens their eyes to a different way of thinking and business practices.

“With respect to SSME, I bring in some of the concepts central to service systems in my systems design class. I discuss a little bit about service systems life cycle and contrast it with traditional software development life cycle.  I also emphasize the notion of value co-creation and how systems design can facilitate it.”

Sugumaran’s Korean experience is also enhancing OU’s Master of Science in Information Technology Management in Business Analytics (MSITM/BA) through his advanced database course (MIS 606), where he incorporates his international knowledge in big data analytics.

While in Korea, Sugumaran worked with the Korea Wireless Internet Solution Association (KWISA) on many issues, including big data analytics. He also presented a keynote address at the OneM2M (machine to machine) conference in Seoul last December on the topic of M2M Big Data Analytics.

With the completion of the Sogang project and three-year grant period, Sugumaran hopes to play a role in bringing service science education to Oakland University.

“There’s been talk about creating a service science consortium with other universities,” he says. Current estimates indicate there are about 500 service science related programs available worldwide.

A rich experience

Sugumaran’s work in South Korea also afforded him unique learning opportunities.  He spent the summer of 2012 studying engineering programs in India as part of the Fulbright Specialist Program.

“Rich,” is how Sugumaran describes his experiences over the last several years, especially the opportunity to explore the sights and experience the culture of South Korea.

“Living in Korea was a learning experience in itself,” he says. “The people were very polite. Seoul was a dynamic city. It was a good experience.”


By Flori Meeks