The Strategic Value of Product Service System - An Empirical Investigation
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SubjectCompetitive advantage; Sustainability; Product-service system; Economic sustainability; Competitiveness determinants; ING-IND/35
Product Service System is a business model focused toward the provision of a marketable set of products and services, designed to be economically, socially and environmentally sustainable, with the final aim of fulfilling customer's needs. Literature on Product Service System began to emerge after the publication of the work by Goedkoop et al. in 1999, with seminal works published between 2000 and 2004. The number of publications about Product Service System, as well as scholarly interest, has continued growing until the present, with considerable academic production. Literature provided several examples of Product Service System implementation: moving from the simple case of extra services added to the product offering, to reach examples of sharing economy and also cases of complete dematerialization of the offering, with providers and customers agreeing on the delivery of a result. First aim of this thesis was to investigate in detail the topic of Product Service System and its main characteristics, so as to identify main research gaps and design the overall research activity on the topic. A two-step literature review was performed, in order to shed light on the topic of Product Service System: the first narrative study focused on the term Product Service System and its synonyms, evidencing differences and similarities, according to ontological/epistemological views; the second study, a systematic review, involved an in-depth analysis of the topic, its origins, current development and future research directions. The findings of the literature review show that there is a shared consensus about Product Service System benefits, barriers, and partly also on drivers, but from the descriptive and thematic analysis what emerged is a lack of clarity about Product Service System and its main fields: it started as a topic closely connected with sustainability, but subsequently different fields have developed other terminologies and focuses of research, developing their own theoretical base and frameworks. Therefore, the review proved a lack of interconnection among fields and subject areas. A critical aspect in current literature is about the analysis/evaluation of Product Service System performance: economic and environmental analyses need to be updated with new perspectives (i.e. privileging an ex-post perspective rather than an ex-ante one) and new methodologies. Among a set of possible research directions, this thesis focuses on two thematic research gaps, concerning Product Service System’s competitiveness and strategic value, and decision-making for Product Service System implementation, together with a methodological gap about the adoption of variance theory approach. The first thematic aim is that of understanding how Product Service System could contribute to reach firms’ strategic goals, analysing its (strategic) value after implementation. To do so, the purpose is to explore if it can really be a successful proposal, bringing a competitive advantage thanks to a set of distinctive elements and concrete economic results. Together with the above aim, the analysis of previous studies focusing on Product Service System’s competitive value and its performance showed a need to conduct researches on wider empirical bases, adopting a variance theory approach (methodological aim), in order to facilitate theory-building efforts and a generalization of results. The first two empirical studies of this thesis addressed these two research aims jointly. Results highlight the presence of important factors influencing Product Service System’s competitive success, like for instance Path dependence, Strategic aims of differentiation, Replicability of competitive factors, and the implementation of Circular Economy-related services. These factors (and theoretical propositions concerning them) have been employed as inputs for the theory testing survey: results mainly confirmed theoretical constructs emerged from multiple case studies. On the other hand, the second thematic aim is related to an analytical effort of evaluating Product Service System strategic value before implementation, from a decision-making perspective. Despite the variety of possibilities concerning Product Service System and its implementation, which involve different degrees of change radicalness, there is still a shortage of effective guidelines to support and guide companies in the adoption of Product Service System. This thesis proposes a suitable methodology that could be replicated whenever the evaluation of a perspective PSS strategy, and markedly of its qualitative aspects, comes into play. The first step is linked to the study and the estimation of advantages and disadvantages involved in each Product Service System’s design process. Given the high probability that these pros and cons vary from case to case, insightful evaluations are required from each company analysing the possibility of introducing a Product Service System-related business model. The methodology has been therefore tested through a field study, involving 6 cases of Product Service System implementation, proving its validity and capability of addressing non-monetary variables coming into play in Product Service System’s implementation process. This work gave a contribution in the advancement of knowledge about PSS, highlighting new research directions that have been partially addressed and need to be deeply studied. For scholars, the review of literature and empirical studies brought new insights that could (and should) be tested and verified more in deep, together with new unexplored research directions, mainly focused on PSS strategic value and its key competitive factors/elements. For practitioners, this thesis produced interesting guidelines that can be useful for companies willing to implement PSS solutions, and also for companies that already have implemented PSS-related business models
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