Complex engineering service systems

Journal of Service Management

ISSN: 1757-5818

Article publication date: 14 October 2014



Neely, A., Ng, I. and Roy, R. (2014), "Complex engineering service systems", Journal of Service Management, Vol. 25 No. 5.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Complex engineering service systems

Article Type: Guest editorial From: Journal of Service Management, Volume 25, Issue 5


Complex engineering products are those that require complex engineering capabilities to support their design, construction, operation and maintenance. Typical examples include aerospace and defence systems, transportation systems, medical equipment, power plants and office buildings.

Recent years have seen an increase in the number of organisations aiming to develop service strategies which complement and support the provision of such complex engineering products. In addition, manufacturers are also seeking to strengthen their relationships with customers through the provision of lifelong support service outcomes, which are enabled by both the complex product and the services within a complex system. The design, strategy and management of these types of services have been identified as an area in which there is a knowledge shortfall. Better understanding of the use and outcomes of complex engineered products has entailed a longer life span for such products. There is also increasing budgetary pressure, sustainability issues as well as demands for more stable cost predictions throughout the life of the product. The contracting and business models associated with the hybrid equipment and service provision has also been under-researched. For manufacturers of complex engineering equipment, the move towards service and providing benefits to customers rather than manufacturing more products is the key towards future survival. Yet, the capability to provide service for complex engineered products is less understood.

This special section aims to advance knowledge in the theory and research of the management of complex engineering service systems. It addresses:

  • the theoretical, empirical and practical aspects of contracting, managing, designing, leading, delivering, marketing and operating services associated with complex engineering products; and

  • the management and business of an organisation seeking to provide the service.

This special section seeks foundation-building research on the management of complex engineering service systems. The first paper by Yufeng Zhang and Lihong Zhang on “Organising complex engineering operations throughout the lifecycle: a service-centred view and case studies” looks to identify the key organisational issues in managing complex engineering service operations throughout the product lifecycle. To identify these issues, Zhang and Zhang used instruments developed from product lifecycle management (PLM) technologies and the network configuration concept, as well as case studies on complex engineering products and services systems across a variety of industrial sectors. They found that the case studies demonstrated different organisational features and strategic priorities of engineering service operations along the whole lifecycle. There is also a trend of engineering systems moving from being design-, development- and manufacturing-focused to embracing support and end-of-life recycling matters.

In the defence industry, challenges are often experienced when estimating costs at the bidding stage of complex engineering services such as contracting for availability. In their paper “An innovative uncertainty management framework to support contracting for product-service availability”, John Ahmet Erkoyuncu, Rajkumar Roy, Essam Shehab and Elmar Kutch build on the theory behind risk and uncertainty management to propose an innovative framework to manage the influence of uncertainty on cost estimates. Interacting with four major organisations in the defence industry through document sharing, semi-structured interviews, workshops and case studies, Erkoyuncu et al. developed a framework that allows avoiding the assumption of “perfect” knowledge by raising questions about the validity of the input data.

Over in the healthcare industry, OEMs are offering maintenance services such as remote diagnostics for complex high-tech equipment, and there is a need for insights to help advance these new service technologies and improve the offerings. Stefanie Paluch's paper on “Customer expectations of remote maintenance services in the medical equipment industry” provides an original perspective on these new service technologies. Conducting a qualitative interview study with 11 organisations in the healthcare industry, Paluch empirically investigates the requirements and expectations of remote diagnostic services from the users’ point of view. Her study found that the focus on providing high-technology services is not sufficient to increase customer's usage. Also, the main expectations for customers in the medical equipment industry were soft factors such as personal interaction, integration and individualisation.

Finally, the concept of service modularity has been offered as a means of coping with the challenges faced in dealing with integrated solutions with complex capital goods, but there seems to be a lack of empirical studies on modularity in this area. Magnus Hellström aims to address this with his paper “Solution business models based on functional modularity – the case of complex capital goods”. Employing an illustrative case study design constituting two action research projects on the delivery of complex product systems in two organisations, the paper addresses how modularity can be used in developing a business model for the delivery of integrated solutions. The paper outlines a business model based on modularity for both main suppliers and sub-suppliers that wish to extend their scope of delivery and share the responsibility with their networks, in considerable contrast to conventional models in which the main supplier typically assumes most of the responsibility itself.

The papers in this special section provide a snapshot of some of the most current work in engineering services. They also, however, raise a variety of interesting and important new questions. Issues such as through-life support, cost and risk management, as well as business model innovation and new forms of contracting – all require further work and exploration. We hope that the papers in this special section will encourage scholars to engage in this important area of research and further strengthen and broaden the knowledge base on which providers and customers of complex engineering services can draw.

Professor Andy Neely, Department of Engineering, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK

Professor Irene C.L. Ng, Service Systems Group,Warwick Manufacturing Group (WMG), University of Warwick, Coventry, UK

Professor Rajkumar Roy, Manufacturing and Materials Department, Cranfield University, Bedford, UK

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