Over the past few months I have been on a journey to deepen my understanding of the term "service," and to test for some level of consensus among a number of interested parties.
The unclear semantics of "service," "IT service," and related constructs has been a recurring matter of debate in various forums. Some service scholars have despaired of any common definition achieving general acceptance. However, my view after doing this work is that a common definition appears achievable.
I say this after reviewing a variety of existing service metamodels along with the work of leading academics in the field, and corresponding with a number of interested parties including some of the same academics.
First, let's start with where we are in current usage of the term "service." I propose that there are two contradictory ways in which that term (perhaps qualified by "IT") is used. First, there are definitional statements, e.g. from ITIL:
"A service is a means of delivering value to customers by facilitating outcomes that customers want to achieve without the ownership of specific costs and risks." (ITIL 2011)
Contrast this with these various statements deriving from Service-Dominant Logic, Services Science, and aligned theorists:
"we define service as the application of knowledge to co-create value, and service science as the study of diverse, interconnected, complex “human-centered value-cocreation systems” in business and society." (international Society of Service Innovation Professionals, www.issip.org).
"Services are acts performed for the beneift of others." (Steven Alter)
"we define services as the application of specialized competences (knowledge and skills) through deeds, processes, and performances for the benefit of another entity or the entity itself." (Steve Vargo and Bob Lusch, in an early formulation)
In these statements, we already see the semantic ambiguity pervading the topic. In a nutshell:
Is a service a resource or a performance? Is it a capability, or the exercise thereof? Knowledge, or its application? Is it the means or the end? Is it the act, or the actor?
Clearly, the term "service" can have either connotation. We may speak of "performing" a service, and of the performer also being the "service." I am currently receiving a tax preparation service (an act) performed by a tax accounting service (the actor). Notice the two connotations?
I believe, that if IT service management is going to align with services science and service-dominant logic, we need to reserve the bare word "service" for the ephemeral, co-creative act - that which results in a "moment of truth" as Norman would call it. And the act - the specific, time and space bound performance - is neither the play nor the acting company and its theater.
This is why, in some forthcoming work, some colleagues and I will seek to clearly distinguish "service" as an performance (a usage consistent with the state of the art in service theory), from the concept of "service offering" which is the capability. Service offering in turn is distinct from service system... more on that to come.