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Systems, networks, and ecosystems in service research

Sergio Barile (Department of Management, Sapienza University of Rome, Rome, Italy)
Robert Lusch (Eller College of Management, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona, USA)
Javier Reynoso (EGADE Business School, Tecnologico de Monterrey, San Pedro Garza García, Mexico)
Marialuisa Saviano (Department of Management & Information Technology, University of Salerno, Salerno, Italy)
James Spohrer (IBM Research-Almaden, San Jose, California, USA)

Journal of Service Management

ISSN: 1757-5818

Article publication date: 15 August 2016




The purpose of this paper is to create awareness on the need for lifting up the level of analysis in service research by focusing on systems, networks, and ecosystems to contribute to the research expansion of the traditionally narrow view of service.


This conceptual paper is built upon three blocks. First, the viable systems approach is revised to highlight the survival, viability, and complexity of service systems. Second, the dynamics of service networks is discussed using an ecological view of service with a nested, networked configuration. Third, these two previous perspectives are integrated using the fundamentals of ecosystems thinking.


This paper outlines a novel, tri-level approach reorienting and reframing our thinking around systems, networks, and ecosystems. Some research challenges and directions that could expand the body of knowledge in service research are also discussed.

Research limitations/implications

The tri-level approach proposed in this conceptual paper could be enriched with other theoretical perspectives and empirical explorations.

Practical implications

Lifting the level of analysis by focussing on service systems, service networks, and service ecosystems would allow practitioners to expand their business perspective to better face the challenges of complex business settings, enabling them to co-create value for all their stakeholders.


The paper contributes to set the foundation for the next stage of service research by going beyond dyadic interactions to address dynamic systems, networks, and ecosystems across different interaction patterns in complex business configurations.



Javier Reynoso would like to acknowledge the collaboration of senior researcher Karla Cabrera in the preparation of this manuscript.


Barile, S., Lusch, R., Reynoso, J., Saviano, M. and Spohrer, J. (2016), "Systems, networks, and ecosystems in service research", Journal of Service Management, Vol. 27 No. 4, pp. 652-674.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2016, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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