Flying start for Service Science Factory

It’s a fledgling field and a hot topic worldwide. And now the Maastricht University School of Business and Economics (SBE) has brought service science to Maastricht. Read on to find out why, how – and what the Service Science Factory can do for your business.

Human error. It’s one of the leading causes of death in hospitals worldwide, and costs healthcare systems millions per year in incorrect medication dosages and administration.

The Vassar Brothers Medical Center in New York was all too aware of the need to minimise these adverse and often dangerous effects.

But how? Through creative, interdisciplinary thinking – that’s how.

They introduced an innovative blend of technologies, including barcode readers, wireless communication devices and a digital prescription procedure.

Under the new system, doctors issue a prescription using a wireless handset. The pharmacy is automatically notified, and sends the correct medication to the nursing station. The nurse then checks the barcode on the medication against the barcode on the patient’s bracelet, to ensure that the right drug is being given in the right dose at the right time. Even the nurse has a personal barcode to ensure accountability.

The result: errors have been reduced by 95%, saving the hospital up to $50 million per year.

The art of service science

So how did this complicated, multidisplinary solution come about? You guessed it: through service science.

But what is service science? In a nutshell, the concept was first introduced by IBM, and at its core lies the recognition our modern world is built upon service systems that are at once crucial and highly complex.

Think education, healthcare, the pension system and so on. Designing and managing these services in an efficient, reliable and cost effective way is no easy task, and there is increasing recognition that the traditional, one-dimensional approach is no longer sufficient. Service science offers a way forward.

Under a single, interdisciplinary umbrella, it brings together experts from fields as diverse as mathematics, economics, electronics, IT, psychology, social science, HRM and more.

The goal: to ‘co-create’ value by connecting people, organisations, knowledge and resources, in order to address the full spectrum of issues involved in today’s service systems.

SBE in action

And when it comes to promising new fields, Maastricht University SBE is never one to drag its feet.

The School recently launched the Service Science Factory to help businesses in the Limburg region and beyond tap into this worldwide movement. Its office is already open in Maastricht’s Kapoenstraat, with ambitious plans to set up others elsewhere in the Netherlands and even abroad.

Companies can approach the Service Science Factory for help with a wide variety of challenges, ranging from the development of new, service-oriented solutions to the rethinking of existing services.

A team will be set up to work on the project, consisting of top researchers and academics, business representatives and R&D experts, and students from Maastricht and around the world.

In effect, a multidisciplinary, multicultural think tank – the perfect solution for businesses that are too small, too busy, or lacking the expertise to do the work themselves.

And while the businesses end up with a genuinely original, innovative and creative solution, the students involved gain a valuable learning experience.

They are carefully selected based on their interests and knowledge in relevant areas.

They are introduced to in-depth service research and a new style of interdisciplinary education. They also take home important lessons from their fellow contributors, who will include representatives from ABN AMRO, the Dutch Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS), the Maastricht Academic Hospital, and knowledge institutions from as far away as Haifa, Brisbane and Bangalore.

What’s more, according to the Service Science Factory’s initiator and director Professor Jos Lemmink, “The unique thing about this concept is that a student’s voice can be worth as much as that of a professor or a business representative. It offers a great, controlled environment in which they can collaborate on interesting developments.”

Factory in full swing

As of mid May, the first two Service Science Factory projects are underway.

The clients are the Océ printing corporation and the APG pension group. Both of these organisations have their own specialists and departments that are involved in new product development – but developing a new service is a different beast altogether.

For each project, the Service Science Factory has set up a team consisting of a company representative, a UM student, and three students from the Indian Institute of Management (IIM). The IIM is a prestigious partner institution which specialises in management processes and the underlying ICT systems that facilitate these processes.

The first step has been to familiarise the team members with one another and with the projects: they have taken a guided tour of the workplace and University Library, bonded over lunch and dinner, and been introduced to Problem-Based Learning.

For their part, the businesses have put their their needs and expectations on the table. Now, they need only sit back and wait until 7 July, when the teams will present their results during a café meeting.

Concrete results

But Océ and APG are not the only ones keen to get a piece of the action.

There appears to be a real demand for the Service Science Factory and, according to director Lemmink, a number of businesses both from Limburg and abroad have already made commitments to the initiative.

From the business world’s perspective, there are various possibilities for collaboration: companies may commission a single project, or seek a long-term partnership if they prefer. But most importantly for the participating businesses, the results will be tangible and concrete.

The contributors are given not just the necessary freedom, but also the practical framework through which to innovate services and create new knowledge. Employees from the commissioning business also participate on the project team, which means they gain valuable insight and experience that they take directly back to work.

And the interaction with business and industry means that real-world data is used and genuinely feasible solutions are provided. In short: fast-track innovation, for lower investment costs.

Lemmink: “Broadly speaking, service provision is crucial for Limburg’s economy. You have to continue to invest in order to keep up with the latest developments. With the Service Science Factory, we want to make service provision faster, easier and more client-oriented. To bring about new concepts developed by students, academics and company staff all working together at the same table. So the Service Science Factory is something that is very concrete. We’re looking for questions that can genuinely give rise to new knowledge, to make it interesting for all parties involved. The dream is that within a year we will have developed and sent out into the world a range of new service provision concepts. I hope that companies will also take these ideas on board, so that further entrepreneurship is fostered in the region. Maybe even by students from our own knowledge institutions.”

For more information on the Service Science Factory, or to find out how you can submit your business project, visit

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