30 November 2013

What is servitization?

I've had a couple of occasions in the last week where I've used the word "servitization" - either in a presentation or an article and someone has responded by saying, "so what is servitization". Given the frequency of the question I thought it might be worth writing a short blog to explain what servitization is and where the idea came from.

In essence servitization is a transformation journey - it involves firms (often manufacturing firms) developing the capabilities they need to provide services and solutions that supplement their traditional product offerings. More formally, my colleagues and I at Cranfield University defined servitization as "the innovation of organisation’s capabilities and processes to better create mutual value through a shift from selling product to selling Product-Service Systems". Two other definitions accompany this: (i) the idea of a product-service system - "an integrated product and service offering that delivers value in use" and (ii) a "servitized organisation which designs, builds and delivers an integrated product and service offering that delivers value in use".

It is worth unpacking these definitions a little, but before I do, let me give a couple of practical examples of servitization. The first, and classic, example is Rolls-Royce selling "power-by-the-hour". Instead of selling aero engines, Rolls-Royce now contracts with many of its customers for "power-by-the-hour". In essence the customer buys the power the aero engine delivers and Rolls-Royce provides all of the support (including maintenance) to ensure that aero engines can continue to deliver power. This shift in business model is important because it means the interests of clients and providers are much more closely aligned. In the olden days Rolls-Royce used to make money on time and materials - basically repairing engines. Put crudely the worse the engines were, the more maintenance they required, so the more money Rolls-Royce would make. Of course customers don't want unreliable engines that are always in the repair shop. They want reliable products that - in Rolls-Royce's case - allow planes to fly safely.

This same trend - selling solutions rather than products - can be seen in lots of industries. In healthcare, for example, many pharmaceutical firms are under significant pressure. The cost of developing drugs is increasing, many of the traditional drugs are coming off patent and so the generic manufacturers can move into the market. As a consequence pharmaceutical firms are rethinking their business models - defining themselves as healthcare solutions providers. Think like a patient - most of us don't want the products that pharmaceutical firms provide. We'd prefer not to be ill in the first place. So if someone can provide healthcare solutions, which reduce the likelihood of illness, the interests of providers and customers are again much more closely aligned.

So let us return to the definitions. To make this transformation - to sell services and solutions - requires significant change inside many traditional manufacturers. They have to recognise that the product is a platform to deliver a service. They have to build solutions that deliver the outcomes their customers want and value. In essence these solutions are often capture in product-service systems, combinations of products and services. Customers only realise value from these when they actually receive the service - hence the concept of value in use.

Servitization as a word has been around since the late 1980s. The most frequently source article is cited as Vandermerwe, S., & Rada, J (1988) "Servitization of Business: Adding Value by Adding Services", European Management Journal, 6(4), 314–324. An article that appeared, but has only relatively recently been getting more attention in the broader academic literature and business press. A recent high-profile example, is UK Government's Foresight Report on the Future of Manufacturing - which identifies servitization as a core element in its vision for the future of manufacturing.