Blagovesta Kostova. PhD student at EPFL.

blagovesta.pirelli at epfl.ch
30 September 2018

Service-Oriented Business Design for IT Students

by Blagovesta Pirelli


Students need to acquire professional skills that will help them understand the complex environment of an enterprise (and the society) where they will most probably end up after their graduatiion. Our research group comes from the world of services; so we believe that services are useful. But the service literature is either too abstract and philosofical, or too techncical and considers only IT services. We, as teachers, need to understand how to teach services.


Principle ideas

In our paper, we describe a re-usable teaching method that combines our insights.

  1. Find your principles: What do you want to teach? We teach domain-independent principles of systems and services and we bring domain-specific principles of marketing and business.
  2. Use the appropriate re-usable structure/form: Models are explicit and help understanding. Instead of free-floating analysis, use a concrete, multi-purpose structure. This will make the comparison between the principles easier because the difference will not come from the form in which they appear. We used SEAM. SEAM is the Swiss army knife of service modeling. You can do anything and nothing with it. Sometimes simultaneously.
  3. Take an example: To paraphrase a famous quote, an example is worth ten thousand theories. This is where the tyres hit the road (I have nothing to do with the Pirelli tyres, btw). The examples are the test field of all theories. The closer to the students’ experience, the better. But then, changing a bit every time is key so that students can learn about new contexts as well.


After we did all this conceptualization of our work, we started thinking how to test our beautiful theory (remember, take an example). What we found: We did not invent the wheel but we turned a couple of stones on the road. At the end of the class, our students said they are comfortable with the thinking model we used in class. It was our intention all along to teach a mindset but we didn’t know if we were managing to do so. Validating that students recognize the thinking model and that they will re-use it is a win for our teaching team.

Our students liked the style of the class, with many guest lecturers, a team project, many modeling exercises but always on a different topic. From what they told us in the studies and in face-to-face discussions, we rest assured that we managed to convey a lot of service-oriented thinking into their heads.

Most didn’t seem to mind. A lot of them even cared.

Because everybody is looking for their place in the world and services are an outstanding way to think about our roles and responsibilities, maybe teaching how to find meaning was what we taught, and not how to think in terms of services.

Also, and very impotantly, both us and students had fun.

Things that are not in the paper

This was one of my first projects, if not the first.

I would like to thank Prof. Wegmann for giving me the opportunity to work on it with him. He has taught classes for more than 20 years. I’ve learnt a lot from him during this collaboration and I continue learning how to teach and how to learn.

Not everything went perfectly (obviously).

I made a rookie mistake in the first question of the first survey. It reads like this: “you came to the class because you wanted to do x or y”. This should have been two questions. I hope Professor Tucci, whose class on Survey Design I followed, is not reading this.

Even if not perfectly designed, our surveys help us during the course. After the first survey, we changed our approach because students wanted something different. We started giving them more time to work on their project. We worked primarily on the cases that guest lectures gave. We abandoned the impersonal style of case studies that students had no real-world experience with.

Some additional thanks are due here

I worked with Laurence Duré for the survey design and analysis, and she was a tremendous help. She was also taking the class. So, we always had some insider information on what students think about the class. (wink-wink)

Of course, let me thank once again Solal Pirelli, my husband, who read the manuscript thoroughly many times and suggested many improvements.

PS: Most probably there are so many allusions to the road, because I’m on the road right now, flying to San Jose, CA for FiE 2018.

tags: teaching, - service-oriented, - business - design