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New Center to Serve as Knowledge Hub for Service Science

January 26, 2015

Even when we don’t notice it, service is a huge part of everyday life, from the people who make our morning cups of coffee to the doctors who save our lives, said Professor Paul Maglio, the founding director of UC Merced’s new California Center for Service Science.

As traditionally measured, the service sector of the economy includes all economic activities that are not manufacturing or agriculture. Service accounts for as much as 85 percent of the U.S. economy today.

While researchers from a wide range of disciplines examine various aspects of service — such as operations, the workforce, economics and marketing of services — there hasn’t been a hub in California for gathering all that research in one place, until now.

“There are people at all the UC campuses who focus on parts of this,” said Maglio, with the School of Engineering. Maglio, along with Professor Vish Krishnan of the Rady School of Management at UC San Diego, formed the cross-campus center with seed funding from the UC Office of Research, the UC Merced Office of Research and the School of Engineering.

“Different people talk about service in different ways — they do not even use the same language. We want to bring all these people together to talk about research in service so that we can help create an interdisciplinary core of theories and principles, and so that we can educate the future workforce,” Maglio said.

“We see service all the time, and never really think about it. But if the economy is all about service, then most of our students are going to get service jobs. It’s time to focus on service.”  

Maglio and Krishnan launched the cross-campus center with a Service Science Summit in San Diego last year, with attendees from around the UC and other universities, the National Science Foundation (NSF), and large and small technology companies based in California. The center now includes more than 20 UC faculty members from nine campuses, as well as faculty members from California State University campuses and other universities across the country.

One issue the California Center for Service Science is focused on is creating a service-educated workforce, a topic that was clearly of interest to the industry participants at the Service Science Summit.

The center has worked with the NSF to cultivate funding opportunities for basic and applied service research. It also has initiated a speaker series and is developing a multi-campus online class in service innovation to be offered in Spring 2015 by Maglio at UC Merced and Krishnan at UC San Diego.

Maglio, who teaches cognitive science, engineering and management, said one goal for the center is to promote and conduct research on service interactions, including the dynamics of how service providers interact with customers. A senior scientist and manager at IBM’s Almaden Research Center for many years before joining UC Merced in 2012, Maglio researches the areas of IT services, big-data services, service innovation and service-system modeling. 

“In a sense, all human interactions are service interactions,” Maglio said. “We try to create more value by doing things together. We can often make things simpler, easier, cheaper, by working with others.”

The California Center for Service Science is already an example of that kind of value creation, joining experts from some of the country’s most prominent universities to share work and collaborate, he said.

“Together we’re better,” Maglio said. “That’s the essence of service.”