Service innovation and non-technological innovation

Rationale and objectives

With lagging productivity and slow job growth, many OECD governments are looking for new sources of growth and have also recognised the importance of services in this regard. Services already account for around 70% of gross domestic product (GDP) in OECD countries. The expansion of services has largely been fuelled by globalisation and widespread use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) to provide more standardised services (health, education, government services). New market opportunities for services are also created by deregulation and privatisation of the public sector (financial, telecommunications and energy services) as well as by outsourcing of activities by manufacturing firms.
In spite of the growth in services, productivity in services has risen slowly in many OECD countries. Policy makers are therefore giving greater attention to promoting innovation in services through the design of appropriate framework conditions, such as regulation and competition policy and more targeted innovation policies.
Innovation in service activities extends beyond the services sector per se, as it can also be carried out by manufacturing firms. Examples include new channels for customer interaction, new business models or new service applications embedded in manufactured products (e.g. service and maintenance contracts, applications on smartphones). Service innovation often has technological (mainly information technology) and non-technological aspects and does not necessarily rely on R&D. Service innovation is also characterised by proximity to users and customers who often participate in the joint development (or co-creation) of such services.

Major aspects

In OECD countries innovation policy increasingly addresses service innovation (Denmark, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Korea, Sweden and the United Kingdom) and many have adopted targeted support instruments (Australia, Austria, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Japan and Sweden). Service innovation is also being mainstreamed into broader STI policy agendas, for example to address societal challenges (Germany, Japan, Korea, Sweden and the United Kingdom) and to revitalise public-sector services.
However, many policies that support innovation have been developed from a mainly R&D or manufacturing perspective. They may be ill-adapted to the specific characteristics of services (e.g. more direct involvement of users) and to the market or systemic failures that inhibit service innovation (e.g. the intangibility of services limits appropriation and fragmented markets limit transparency). Furthermore, the justification for innovation policy is often based on indicators that are biased towards measuring manufacturing and R&D-based innovation whereas innovation in services may rely more on non-technological components. There is not enough quantitative and qualitative information to inform discussions on how to design new, or to perfect existing policy instruments to support service innovation. Improving the measurement of service innovation (in services and in manufacturing) remains a key challenge.

Recent policy trends

Given the complex nature of service innovation and the heterogeneity of service firms, the policy focus in many OECD countries has evolved from a sectoral perspective (e.g. ICT services, health services) towards mainstreaming or embedding service innovation in the overall innovation policy mix. This implies finding common policy levers across service activities that range from software development, to management consultancy, to communication, to tourism and retail services. At the same time there are key differences in services in terms of the use of ICTs to enable service delivery and the degree of innovation undertaken in different sectors (e.g.  software and business services are highly innovative and R&D-intensive while tourism and retail are relatively less so).
Many OECD countries have launched specific policy instruments to promote service innovation or are currently reviewing how existing innovation policy instruments could better support service innovation (Table 6.3). Possibilities include: i) embedding service innovation in generic innovation policies such as R&D tax credits or grants (in the Netherlands the R&D tax credit was extended to include the development of service-based software); ii) adjusting demand-side innovation policies and instruments such as public procurement (Finland, United Kingdom) and regulations to better accommodate service innovation (Sweden, Denmark, Germany, United Kingdom); iii) embedding service innovation in R&D and innovation policies to address societal challenges such as services for an ageing population (Korea) and sustainable cities (Stockholm Royal Seaport); and iv) integrating service innovation in policies to better link industry and public research (commercialisation policies).

Table 6.3 Major new policy options for fostering service innovation policy in selected OECD countries

Policy option



Launch a specific instrument to foster service innovation

Service innovation research programmes

Austria, Finland (Serve), Germany (innovation with services) and Japan (service science solutions research programme) have dedicated research and innovation programmes covering issues such as engaging users/employees in development, new business models and the “servitisation” of industry.

Service cluster

Denmark introduced the Service Cluster Denmark which supports R&D-based co-creation for services by businesses and researchers.

Innovation voucher

France introduced the green service innovation voucher for SMEs in the construction sector. Ireland has an SME voucher that supports new business models, customer interfaces or a new service delivery.

Service lab

The United Kingdom introduced the public services innovation lab to test innovative solutions and bring them to scale across the country's public services.

Adjusting the scope of horizontal policy instruments

Procurement of innovative services

Sweden introduced an innovative procurement programme to spur procurement of innovation in the public sector.

R&D tax credit

The Netherlands extended the R&D tax credit to include development of service-based software.

Adjusting the governance structure for innovation

Fountain collaboration, i.e. user-defined scope within cross-sector collaborations

Sweden has embedded service innovation in its new challenge-driven innovation approach which emphases co-creation with customers/users and cross-sector collaboration focused, for example, on sustainable cities and future health and care.

Source: Country responses to the OECD Science, Technology and Industry Outlook 2012 policy questionnaire and national sources.

A key challenge for policy makers is to identify and adapt best practices for promoting service innovation. There is little evidence on the design and implementation of policy instruments for service innovation, many of which are new, and impact assessments are rare. Further policy learning is needed to guide OECD policy makers and meet country-specific needs by identifying policy priorities, involving all key stakeholders and designing an appropriate policy mix.

References and further reading

Martinsson, I. (2011), “Promoting Innovation in Service Production Based on Better Practices; Deconstructing Business As Usual” , in Promoting Innovation in the Service Sector, UN Economic Commission for Europe.
Mas-Verdu, F., D. Ribeiro and S. Dobón (2010), “Government Policies and Services: An Approach to the International Context” , The Service Industries Journal, Vol. 30, No. 1, pp. 1-10.
Rubalcaba, L. (2011), “The Challenges for Service Innovation and Service Innovation Policies” , in Promoting Innovation in the Service Sector, UN Economic Commission for Europe.
Vargo, S. and R. Lusch (2008), “From Goods to Service(s): Divergence and Convergence of Logic” , in Industrial Marketing Management, Vol. 37, pp. 254-259.

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Targeted programmes and incentives towards business R&D and innovation

  • Services and non-technological innovation