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Discussion and debate about the meaning of service, service system, IT service, and related to terms has proven inconclusive and frustrating. This preliminary draft provides insights about the nature of the problem and tries to disentangle ideas and expectations related to three portrayals of service. In a nutshell, efforts to understand service as a unitary concept tend to go in circles due to overlapping references to different but overlapping portrayals and contexts. This paper identifies three separate but somewhat overlapping portrayals of service, services as acts, services as outcomes, and services as software entities. Then it introduces a work system perspective on service to explore whether and how the three portrayals of service can be reconciled.

This paper proceeds in layers. The first layer introduces three portrayals of service and cites examples to show that one or several of those portrayals is present in most published definitions of service. The second layer introduces the main ideas in work system theory (WST) as a summary of a work system perspective on systems in organizations. The third layer explains how a work system perspective provides a path for seeing the relationship between the three portrayals of service. The fourth layer answers a number of specific questions related to the ideas in the first three layers.


This is a draft that will be improved based on feedback.

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