Guest article by Alexander P. Henkel for our Service Centers series.

At the Pulse of Innovation

The Center for Actionable Research of the Open University (CAROU) is the research valorization arm of the Open University of the Netherlands (OU) and situated at and a stakeholder of the Brightlands Smart Services Campus in the beautiful hills of South Limburg in Heerlen. The campus is a major innovation hub in the Netherlands where knowledge institutes, companies, government agencies, and social organizations come together to develop smart services. The geographical location uniquely positions CAROU right at the boarder triangle of the Netherlands, Belgium, and Germany. Being still a very young research center established only in 2019, CAROU currently counts a team of about 20 international service enthusiasts (including project managers and PhD students) from various backgrounds. However, the center’s organization is open and fluid, and the team is regularly complemented with other OU faculty on a project basis. While the team is also involved in executive education, supervision, and other teaching responsibilities, its major focus lies on research co-creation projects revolving around smart services.

Interdisciplinary Focus

One of the most defining characteristics of CAROU is its interdisciplinary outlook. While united by the fascination about smart services, the research center’s faculty integrates various backgrounds, ranging from management, marketing, and psychology to information systems and computer science. This amalgamation of different vantage points always provides a breeding ground for lively discussions, unconventional perspectives, and novel insights. It also provides us with the ability to combine the study of current state-of-the-art service practice in organizations and the development and testing of new service innovations under the umbrella of one single research center. For instance, our work on service robots partly focuses on the implications of deploying off-the-shelf solutions for service consumers, service employees, and service organizations, and partly it involves developing and testing new prototype features for service robots. Another example is our research line on affective computing where we have used insights from the social sciences to develop an algorithm with computer science, the performance and implications of which were again evaluated through both a computer science and a social science lens. As such, on the one hand, we aim to integrate more data and computer science-related knowledge into the service community and on the other hand, transport service-relevant discussions to other disciplines.

Research for Impact

Our ambition at CAROU is to produce actionable research insights with relevance for service practice, including service organizations, service policy makers, and service consumers. We see rigorous academic research not as an end in itself, but rather strive to also produce immediate value, from managerial insights via knowledge transfer sessions, industry papers and white papers, to prototypes for algorithms and software solutions, often with an emphasis on Artificial Intelligence. While our interdisciplinary approach seemed ambitious for both project execution and academic communication of research projects when we launched the research center, we strongly believe in its imperative to address the latest developments and impeding challenges of service organizations and service consumers in an increasingly complex and interconnected world. The appreciation we have received for our efforts so far both across and beyond the service community, including the feedback from our industry partners, academic publications and awards (e.g., Robert Johnston, RRBM Honor Roll), feels encouraging and we are excited about the path ahead of us.

Engage with us

If you are interested to learn more about our research center, or if you would like to discuss collaboration opportunities of any sort, please do not hesitate to get in touch. You are also always welcome to pay us a visit when you are in the area (e.g., we are only a stone’s throw away from next year’s Frontiers in Service conference).

Alexander P. Henkel
Assistant Professor
Center for Actionable Research of the Open University
Open University of the Netherlands