Balancing Customization and Standardization in Knowledge Intensive Business Services: The Use of Modular Service Architectures
38 Pages Posted: 14 Sep 2012
Date Written: September 13, 2012
While the mainstream literature on knowledge-intensive business services (KIBS) has long emphasized their customized nature and their role in exploring new knowledge to satisfy each client's needs, recent research has argued that competition is inducing KIBS firms to standardize their offer. In this paper, we concentrate on a particular type of KIBS firms, third-party logistic service providers (TPLs), and analyze how two TPLs face the customization-standardization trade-off by using service architectures. We find that TPLs do not trade off customization for standardization, instead they manage to pursue both simultaneously relying on modular services, which constitutive elements are standard procedures. Service modularity enables the TPL to exploit its existing knowledge base while only some knowledgeable clients prompt TPLs to explore new procedures. Overall, our results suggest that service customization and knowledge exploration can be separated. TPLs should manage their customer relationships using a portfolio approach, balancing supply relationships in which they replicate existing services with partnership-based relationships with competent customers in which they develop new procedures. Managing the temporal separation between exploration and exploitation consequently becomes a core competence.
Keywords: Services, Innovation, Performance, Standard services, Modular services
JEL Classification: O32, O33
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation