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Industrialization of Services

Technology and Routinization in the 21st Century

Time: Wed 2022-04-27 13.00

Location: U1, Brinellvägen 26, Stockholm

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Language: English

Subject area: Industrial Economics and Management

Doctoral student: Richard Backteman , Hållbarhet, Industriell dynamik & entreprenörskap

Opponent: Docent Anna Jonsson, Lunds universitet

Supervisor: Professor Niklas Arvidsson, Industriell ekonomi och organisation (Inst.); Professor Eric Giertz,

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Sweden has a long tradition of process improvements, productivity increments, waste reduction in manufacturing, continuing a mode of industrialization that helped achieve prosperity. With growing urban centers, mechanization of agriculture, outsourcings by manufacturing and the public sector with subsequent acquisitions, large service firms have appeared in an ever-growing service sector. Some firms with a previously simple operation have become employers of hundreds of thousands of people in what can be described as a Nordic phenomenon in its origin when looking at the roots of the largest firms.

With this development in mind, the aim of the thesis is to explore the factors that can be found in the case study of industrialization of services in Nordic based firms. Using an abductive approach and mixed methods, the theoretical focus has been on the organization, routines, and knowledge. The data used in this thesis originates from three embedded contexts ranging from power and telecom infrastructural services, facility management, and a payment service provider. Summarily, the research questions touch upon (1) tacit knowledge and its transfer; (2) technology adoption; and (3) the grander implications of technology and industrialization in services.

The thesis has four main contributions. First, the first paper provides a unique empirical insight into firms that rarely see any academic attention, a domain dominated by craftmanship to some degree, and with that an environment saturated with tacit knowledge. Secondly, the results indicate that while tacit knowledge is a significant part of service firms, recent technological advancement can overcome difficulties of transferring certain somatic aspects it. Capturing tacit knowledge digitally and transforming it into rich data, turns it into a crystallized artifact that is separated from time and space. High bandwidth enables the transfer of these crystallized artifacts of rich data, to any place, at any time. Thirdly, looking at the adoption of automation technology in various firms, it becomes clear that firm leadership has the pivotal role when it comes to technology adoption in contrast to the user. Depending on firm characteristics the readiness varies. Furthermore, technology itself may provide more opportunities than it originally intended. However, there are further dimensions that come into play such as network effects. Finally, the thesis can summate that technology has an incredible importance in industrializing services, but also posits that it may change the concept of what services truly are.

For practitioners it is important to appreciate that technology has an increasingly important role in Services. Service firms that are geographically dispersed, or plan to become so via growth, do not necessarily need to be constrained in terms of knowledge transfer. However, adoption of technology requires a deliberate strategy from an enabling and proactive senior leadership.