RESER 2014: The key to economic development is interaction between services and technology

VTT hosted the 24th annual RESER (European Association for Research on Services) conference that took place during September 11–13 at the Finlandia Hall in Helsinki. VTT’s Research Professor Marja Toivonen was responsible for scientific questions at the event.

The theme of this year’s RESER conference was “Services and New Societal Challenges – Innovation for Sustainable Growth and Welfare”. Emphasis was on the central role of services in solving current economic problems. Problems such as the ageing population, social exclusion, climate change and economic recession demand the development of service industries and systems. In all the developed countries, the service industry forms about two thirds of production and employment. Added to this, today’s key phenomenon is the growth of services within industry, a change that the industrial internet will help to accelerate in the near future.

The introductory speech was made by VTT Executive Vice President Jouko Suokas, who used examples from the business world to illustrate how interaction between services and technology can be used to promote both economic success and user satisfaction. The conference closed with the chance to hear the ideas of Pekka Lindroos, Commercial Counsellor from the Ministry of Employment and the Economy, on how services can be raised to a prominent position in Finland’s industrial policy.

The main speakers at the conference were Professor Stephen Vargo from the United States, who researches value co-creation and service ecosystems, and Professor Jon Sundbo from Denmark, a specialist in innovative service strategies. Conference participants made a total of 142 presentations in 36 separate sessions. Session subjects covered e.g. social innovations, smart transport and other systemic innovations, new business models, agile innovation processes and the challenges of internationalisation.

RESER is a network of groups and individuals active in services research and strongly focused on societal issues, targeting results that can be applied in practice. The multidisciplinary association involves the participation of specialists in economics, engineering, commercial science, sociology, regional science and humanities. Taking part in the conference were 194 representatives from 27 countries, those outside Europe including Japan, China and South American countries.



Service research gains more momentum at VTT

VTT is undergoing a large restructuration process and the new organizational structure will be effective from the beginning of the year 2014. One of the guiding principles behind the transformation is to more strongly connect technological and business aspects of research together. At the same time the aim is to increase both the scientific and the societal impact of the research carried out at VTT. This is good news for service research as it is increasingly acknowledged that the service perspective relates to all business. Along with the spread of the service-dominant (S-D) logic perspective, it is realized that service provision is the enabler of value co-creation and that value is always co-created with customers. Therefore, service business is not limited to specific types of industries or products, but it is the fundamental basis of all economic activity.

OpportunitiesVTT’s has strong expertise in service networks and value chains. In the last couple of years this competence has been enriched by the ecosystem perspective that emphasizes the dynamics and dependences among the actors. VTT excels in studying these dependencies e.g. by system modelling methods. In VTT’s new organization the ecosystem perspective is explicitly emphasized when defining new Expert Areas; this perspective is important for both traditional and newly developing industries.

In addition, major emphasis is placed on innovation and foresight. In business development it is not enough to consider current challenges, but the aim should be in identifying the future opportunities for innovation.  VTT is one of the few research organizations in the world, who is actively combining S-D logic and innovation research together. S-D logic highlights the importance of innovations that change the logic of markets and are not limited to specific products or services. An important question is how innovations gain ground in markets – to answer this question S-D logic examines the process of institutionalization of novelties.

VTT has a dual role of being a research organization and a provider of knowledge-intensive expert services. This combination creates a challenge of how to simultaneously serve our customers here and now in the best possible way, and to increase our knowledge and competences in the long run so that we can serve them also in the future. For VTT’s business research this means that we have increasingly ‘package’ our competences and make them visible. Already now VTT has several tools, such as business models and service productization models, that can act as the basis for such packages. Collaboration between the experts in VTT is increasingly required in order to apply these models together with our customers. In addition, collaboration is needed among the broader research community – in Finland and internationally.

The future prospects for VTT’s service and business research look promising, but making them reality requires intensive work from us all.

Marja Toivonen, Research Professor