Systems, networks, and ecosystems in service research

Sergio Barile, Robert Lusch, Javier Reynoso, Marialuisa Saviano, James Spohrer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

168 Scopus citations


Purpose – 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. Design/methodology/approach – 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. Findings – 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. Originality/value – 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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)652-674
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of Service Management
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 15 2016


  • Service ecosystems
  • Service networks
  • Service systems
  • Systems thinking
  • Viable systems approach

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Business, Management and Accounting (miscellaneous)
  • Tourism, Leisure and Hospitality Management
  • Strategy and Management


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