Guru Mantra: Dr. Jim Spohrer, Director, IBM

Guru Mantra” is the series of interviews where senior professionals will share their persepctives on a range of issues related to higher education with special reference to India. I am starting this series with the perspectives of Dr. Jim Spohrer.


Dr. Jim Spohrer is the Director of IBM Global University Programs. This program develops collaborative research and course/skill development projects with universities around the world, on topics such as nanotechnology, cell chips, supercomputing, cloud computing, service science. Formerly, he was the Director of Service Research at IBM Almaden Research Center in San Jose, CA. His work in the emerging field known as Service Science seeks to understand value-cocreation phenomena of service systems and networks. The field seeks to improve service quality, productivity, compliance, and sustainable innovation. As a founding advisor of the Service Research and Innovation Initiate, he works with global universities, governments, non-profits, and businesses to understand future skill needs to create, scale, and improve knowledge-intensive service activities. Dr. Spohrer has a Ph.D. in Computer Science from Yale University, and a B.S. in Physics from MIT.

Jim Spohrer’s Blog

Q.-What excites you about your role as the Director, Global University Programs for IBM?
JS-Working with universities around the world, and thinking about the future of higher education. In a global knowledge-driven innovation economy, universities are key players, and they are evolving! I also enjoyed my role as director of service research, as well, creating the first service research group in IBM, and attaining an 8x return in just six years, as well as launching the Service Science Management and Engineering emerging academic discipline. And before that my role as CTO of IBM’s Venture Capital Group during the big internet bubble in Silicon Valley. This job really gave me an appreciation for how rapidly IBM Global Service Business units could scale up a small VC-backed companies innovation, and impact IBM’s major customers. IBM is a great place to keep learning and broadening one’s experience. The theme in all three jobs was the same — rapidly scaling up new knowledge to make a smarter planet, unlocking the value of that new knowledge in the process.

Q.-What role can SSME play for the developing country like India?
JS-SSME is still in its early stages. India can certainly drive the theoretical foundations of this new area. Also, India has many global service delivery centers and a wealth of data about how to improve existing service systems and design new types of service systems.

Q. What advise do you have for Indian higher education institutes related to SSME?
JS-Become members of SRII (Service Research and Innovation Institute) and volunteer to help build out industry vertical and discipline vertical Special Interest Groups (SIGs). There are already INFORMS (Operation Research and Management Sciences), AMA (Marketing), AIS (Information Systems) and many other groups that have established “service” SIGs. SRII is the umbrella organization that seeks to create practical knowledge at the intersection point of industries and disciplines (e.g., healthcare-operations, retail-marketing, etc). A good SSME graduate can communicate across all these industry and discipline verticals, and is deep in at least one.

Also, drive the theoretical foundations deeper. Create an ontology and epistemology that can underlie service science, and be used to understand service or value-cocreation phenomena between service system entities.