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Service ecotones: the complex boundary zones of service (eco) systems

Hamish Simmonds (School of Marketing and International Business, Victoria University of Wellington, Wellington, New Zealand)
Aaron Gazley (Department of Marketing and Information Systems, American University of Sharjah, Sharjah, United Arab Emirates)

Journal of Service Theory and Practice

ISSN: 2055-6225

Article publication date: 10 April 2018

Issue publication date: 10 May 2018




The purpose of this paper is to introduce ecotones to the service literature as a conceptual extension of the service ecosystem (SE) framework.


To synthesise the contribution, an illustrative empirical case study with research of nine organisations and their service systems is developed.


Boundaries connect systems with their environment. Ecotone, a concept from natural ecosystems, provides a useful concept representing the boundary zones between adjacent systems, supporting emergent phenomena. The authors find that a service ecotone emerges through the interactions occurring at the intersections of relational, technological and institutional boundaries of two unique SEs. The case demonstrates ecotone edge effects – the unique landscape and diversity of actors and their roles – which play a role in the co-evolution of the separate SEs.

Practical implications

The ecotone concept provides an understanding of SE boundaries, helping practitioners understand the complex environments they operate. Developing strategy in complex ecosystems requires a clear understanding of where the boundaries of dependence and interdependence lie. The ecotone concept helps practitioners to develop responsiveness and resilience to their environment and take advantage of resources that may be currently unrecognised.


The authors introduce the ecotone concept and integrate it with service theory. This paper develops service ecotones for understanding the relationship between different systems that influence their functioning and development. Thus, ecotones suggest new avenues for understanding the diversity and roles of actors, and how new structural properties, resources and practices come to be through the tensions and interactions created in these complex boundaries of SEs.



Simmonds, H. and Gazley, A. (2018), "Service ecotones: the complex boundary zones of service (eco) systems", Journal of Service Theory and Practice, Vol. 28 No. 3, pp. 384-404.



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