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Operating without operations: how is technology changing the role of the firm?

Christoph Breidbach (School of Computing and Information Systems, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia)
Sunmee Choi (School of Business, Yonsei University, Seoul, The Republic of Korea)
Benjamin Ellway (School of Management, University of Canberra, Canberra, Australia)
Byron W. Keating (Research School of Management, College of Business and Economics, Australian National University, Acton, Australia)
Katerina Kormusheva (Research School of Management, The Australian National University, Canberra, Australia)
Christian Kowalkowski (Department of Management and Engineering, Linköping University, Linköping, Sweden) (Department of Marketing, Hanken School of Economics, Helsinki, Finland)
Chiehyeon Lim (School of Management Engineering, Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology, Ulsan, The Republic of Korea)
Paul Maglio (School of Engineering, University of California, Merced, California, USA)

Journal of Service Management

ISSN: 1757-5818

Article publication date: 7 September 2018

Issue publication date: 8 November 2018




The purpose of this paper is to analyze the history and future of service operations, with the goal to identify key theoretical and technological advances, as well as fundamental themes that can help to imagine the future of service operations in 2050.


A review of the service operations literature was undertaken to inform a discussion regarding the role that technology will play in the future of service operations.


The future of service operations is framed in terms of three key themes – complexity, orchestration, and elasticity. The paper makes three contributions to the service science literature by: reviewing key themes underpinning extant service operations research to frame future trajectories of service operations research; elaborating a vision of service operations in 2050 based on history and technology; and outlining a research agenda for future service operations.

Practical implications

The case of service automation is used to provide an illustration of how the three themes converge to define future service operations, and in particular, to show how technology is recasting the role of the firm.


Service operations in the next 30 years will be very different from what it was in the past 30 years. This paper differs from other review papers by identifying three key themes that will characterize and instill new insights into the future of service operations research.



Authors are listed alphabetically and have contributed equally to this paper.


Breidbach, C., Choi, S., Ellway, B., Keating, B.W., Kormusheva, K., Kowalkowski, C., Lim, C. and Maglio, P. (2018), "Operating without operations: how is technology changing the role of the firm?", Journal of Service Management, Vol. 29 No. 5, pp. 809-833.



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