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As part of our course on complex systems design & engineering this section gives an introduction to the concept of product-service systems.
Produced by: http://complexitylabs.io
The industrial model to design and engineering was or is very much focused on the production of things, thus we live in a world of isolated things, what we call products; cars, watches, tables and washing machines, they are conceived of, designed, developed and operated in relative isolation from each other.
But over the past few decades there has been a quiet but fundamental revolution in services as they have come to dominated post-industrial economies. Services are not just another sector to the economy they represent a whole new paradigm in how we think about the systems we design, one that shifts the focus from isolated technologies to integrated systems.
Within the services paradigm the post-industrial world is saturated with products and people no longer want more things they just want the functionality of these things that is their service. So I don’t want four credit cards, three debit cards, two bank accounts and a little pile of bank statements sent to me every month, I want a financial service that is there when I need to pay for something and not when I don’t. I don’t want a piece of software that I have to download, install, update, and maintain I want a software service that is there when I need it and not when I don’t. This is the world of services and it is focused upon pure functionality.
So how do we get these magical things called services, well we get them by connecting things, that is integrating products into systems of services, what we call product service systems or more simply service systems.
Service systems can be characterised by the value that results from the interaction between their components. A car sharing service might be a good example of this, by connecting people, technology and information we are able to deliver the end user with close to nothing but the pure functionality or services of personal mobility.
Another good example of a real world product service system is Royals Royce that produces jet engines, but they do not sell these to their end user, they provide them as a service through what they call their “power by the hours” program. The airline gets the functionality of the engine as a service but ownership and maintenance remains in the hands of the producer.
The highly successful website Airbnb is another example of a product service system, they provide a common interface and platform for integrating many different providers of accommodation to deliver a unified service to the end user.
This concept of a service will be very important to us in the design of complex systems as it will help us shift our focus to what we should be really interested in, that is the relations between components, the whole system and most importantly the functionality of the system, because at the end of the day we don't really want things, components or even systems, what we really want is functionality, pure functionality and that is what we call a service.
By focusing on this end service we can work backwards to ask what is the basics we need to deliver this or what do we need to connect to deliver this functionality, because most of these thing are already out there, we just need to design new configurations, new frameworks for integrate them, our example of Airbnb is a good one, the components to their system, that is the people
who actually provide the accommodation, well they were already there, Airbnb just create a new platform and interface for connecting these things to delivering an integrated service.
This new paradigm of service systems bring with it a new logic that is very different to our traditional product centric one, so lets take a look at some of the key characteristics to service systems.
Firstly services are Intangible, they cannot be touched, gripped, looked at, or smelled. Tangibility is an important factor of industrial goods upon which much of our economics is predicated, they can be easily quantified, priced, bought, sold and owned. Many services only have value-in-use meaning the value of the service is often only released when the product is used, thus the enforces shifts from ownership to access. A consequence of this is that defining and measuring the value delivered becomes more complex with the designing of new more sophisticated business models moving to the forefront.
This immaterial nature to services also means the shift towards services represents a powerful way of doing more with less, dematerialising our economies and is often presented as an important method to achieving sustainability.