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Serviguration

Serviguration: Summary

My PhD thesis (dissertation) is entitled Software-aided Service Bundling - Intelligent Methods & Tools for Graphical Service Modeling.

Serviguration is the term I coined for my research on service bundling by means of configuration, and for the outcome of that research: a service ontology that I developed for my PhD. The service ontology - a formalized conceptual model of services - can be used for developing software for software-aided service bundling.

A service bundle consists of more elementary services, like a PC consists of smaller hardware components. Service providers can offer service bundles via the Internet. The realization of websites where customers can find and buy a service bundle that suits their needs requires that software supports service bundling. Software, in turn, can reason only about formalized knowledge. Ontologies – for example the serviguration service ontology – provide the necessary formality for software support.

Why is service bundling an interesting topic?
The practice of selling services as bundles has been gaining ground in recent years. Service bundling is the sale of two or more services as one package. From a customer perspective, the price of a bundle is often lower than the sum of the prices of the elements within the bundle. Furthermore, a service bundle can often satisfy complex customer needs, while the single services in the bundle fail to do so. Also from a supplier perspective, bundling presents a number of advantages, including cost efficiency, product differentiation, increasing revenues and increasing a firm’s competitiveness by introducing entry barriers.

Core idea: service bundling is a component configuration task
Thus a service bundle is a complex service, including a number of more elementary services, that are packaged together such that the bundle presents added value to customers and to suppliers. A service bundle is a complex artifact, similarly to a PC that is composed of a motherboard, memory, a processor and more. Composing these components into a PC is referred to as a configuration task. A wealth of research has been performed within computer science and artificial intelligence departments about configuration, a task of designing a complex artifact based on a set of components, a description of how these components can be connected to each other and a description of the desired artifact.

In spite of the growing importance of the service industry in general and of service bundling in particular, so far the Internet has mainly been used to allow customers design complex goods, for example PCs or cars. Examples are websites of market leaders as Dell, Cisco and BMW. In these examples a customer is guided through the design – or configuration – of a final product out of more elementary components. Such e-commerce scenarios are facilitated by a component-based description of elements that constitute the final product. Similar scenarios for services would require a formalized component-based description of services as well. Such a description does not yet exist, as research on services has so far been performed in business schools, where formal and computer-based reasoning and knowledge representation techniques are not common.

Challenge: services differ from physical goods
A number of software based product configurators exist on the market, based on the fruits of configuration research. Product configurators have two important characteristics that are not applicable for services. First, elementary components and rules for connecting these components are described in product configurators based on physical properties of the components. A main difference between services and goods is the intangibility of services. Goods are objects that one can hold in your hands and drop on the floor. Services, on the other hand, are of an intangible nature; the provide experiences and capabilities. Even when a service is accompanied by a so-called physical evidence, for example a transportation ticket, this physical evidence merely functions as an enhancer of customers’ impression, but it is not the essence of the service itself. Second, product configurators do not take higher-level business logic (e.g., marketing considerations, competition) into consideration in the configuration process. In real-world, however, services are composed into service bundles based on business logic.

The solution: serviguration
I developed a service ontology to overcome differences between service bundling and traditional configuration of physical goods. The ontology is called serviguration because we use it for service configuration. I show in my PhD thesis that service bundling can be represented as a configuration task, and that software can be developed to configure service bundles, just like software configures a PC out of more elementary components. To achieve this, the ontology describes services from a business value perspective. First, instead of describing services by physical properties, we describe them by the exchange of economic values between suppliers and customers. At the same time, service description adheres also to component description, as described in literature about configuration. Second, rules (so-called ‘constraints’) for combining services into bundles represent a firm’s or an industry’s business logic, rather than constraints on how physical elements can be connected. For example, one service may substitute another, or two services may not be sold together because their suppliers are competitors who do not wish to collaborate.

My studies show that software configurators can in fact configure complex intangible artifacts – services – based on our ontology’s service description. I used my ontology and a self-developed serviguration software tool to configure service bundles in complex real-world studies in the energy sector and in the health sector.

An own software tool for serviguration (developed at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam) demonstrates another important principle in this work: different knowledge representations are required for different stakeholders. I represent the ontology using semi formal UML diagrams and a Web based knowledge representation standard (RDFS) to facilitate automation. However, domain experts who would have to actually model their services are not helped with such knowledge representation techniques. To this end, the service ontology also has a graphical representation. Our experience shows that a graphical notation is very suitable for communication with non-ICT stakeholders.

For the results of my research please see the publications page.

How to Obtain a Copy of my PhD Thesis?

This research is fully described in my PhD thesis, Software-aided Service Bundling - Intelligent Methods & Tools for Graphical Service Modeling, available as a hard copy or as a PDF file.

A hard copy of my PhD thesis can be ordered by sending an email to ziv@baida.nl. Please read the book details below.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 301 pages
  • Publisher: Ziv Baida (May 29, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN: 90-810622-1-2 (ISBN-13: 978-90-810622-1-3)
  • Product Dimensions: 24 x 17 x 1.9 cm
  • Shipping Weight: >600 grams
  • Also Available in: e-book (Download: Adobe Reader)
  • Price: 45 € excluding shipping costs

A digital copy of my PhD thesis can be downloaded:

Software Support for the Serviguration Service Ontology

A beta version of the service modeling and configuration/bundling tool (.jar file) can be downloaded from here. You can use the tool once you have installed The Java runtime environment 1.4.2.  You find it at the website of SUN:
http://java.sun.com/j2se/1.4.2/download.html , select " Download J2SE JRE ", Accept the License Agreement, and then download " Windows Offline Installation, Multi-language (j2re-1_4_2_10-windows-i586-p.exe, 15.37 MB) ".

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