Towards a theory of innovation in services

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Citation: Richard Barras (1986) Towards a theory of innovation in services. Research Policy (RSS)
DOI (original publisher): 10.1016/0048-7333(86)90012-0
Semantic Scholar (metadata): 10.1016/0048-7333(86)90012-0
Sci-Hub (fulltext): 10.1016/0048-7333(86)90012-0
Internet Archive Scholar (search for fulltext): Towards a theory of innovation in services
Tagged: Business (RSS)


Richard Barras's piece on innovation in services is am ambitious theoretical attempt to create groundwork for a theory of innovation in the service sector. Barras notes that the innovation literature has been hugely focused on product innovation while the larger economy had been experience a shift more toward services. In particular, Barras frames his work in terms of a shift to communication technologies and which Barras sees as connected to a shift in services. It offers little empirical evidence other than a set of citations to existing qualitative case-studies done by Barras himself.

Barras connects service innovation first to product innovation in the capital goods industry. He argues that once a new innovation has diffused through the normal product innovation life-cycle, it will be taken up by the consumer goods and services sectors as used as the foundation for new services. A good example might be a new communication technology which is diffused widely and then used as a basis for new service innovations.

In his major theoretical contribution, he argues that service innovation follows what he calls the "reverse product life-cycle" which essentially a more typical Utterback and Abernathy model turned on its head. He argues that services will first be innovated upon to increase the efficiency of existing services, moves to process innovation which improves the quality of services, and then finally results in radically new forms of processes.

Barras brings little empirical evidence to this primarily theory-building piece and the second half of his paper focuses a discussion of "out of phase innovation cycles in the capital and consumer sectors" which seems largely to be an attempt at predicting a new blossoming of services innovation in the following decades and is somewhat difficult to situate in the rest of the article and in the broader literature.

Theoretical and Practical Relevance

The article has been cited hundreds of of times by students of innovation in services which, at the moment, is a quickly growing sub-literature in innovation. As one of the earliest pieces, it still plays an important role in that literature. Barras's work is perhaps less appropriately seen a theory of innovation broadly speaking then one of innovation diffusion and lifecycles. It seems to be cited almost as often as a means of critique as construction upon the theoretical foundation it attempts to lay.