The doctoral dissertations of the former Helsinki University of Technology (TKK) and Aalto University Schools of Technology (CHEM, ELEC, ENG, SCI) published in electronic format are available in the electronic publications archive of Aalto University - Aaltodoc.

Expertise as Business. Long-Term Development and Future Prospects of Knowledge-Intensive Business Services (KIBS)

Marja Toivonen

Dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy to be presented with due permission of the Department of Industrial Engineering and Management for public examination and debate in Auditorium TU2 at Helsinki University of Technology (Espoo, Finland) on the 12th of November, 2004, at 12 o'clock noon.

Dissertation in PDF format (ISBN 951-22-7315-2)   [1046 KB]
Dissertation is also available in print (ISBN 951-22-7314-4)


Knowledge-intensive business services (KIBS) are expert companies that provide services to other companies and organisations. IT services, R&D services, technical consultancy, legal, financial and management consultancy, and marketing communications are typical KIBS industries. KIBS have aroused broad interest, several studies having indicated that they are active innovators, as well as facilitators and carriers of innovations of other companies. A futures perspective is essential from the viewpoint of innovation, and the study in hand intends to link this perspective to KIBS research. The study applies the so-called foresight approach, which, instead of predicting, focuses on creating views of alternative futures. In this study, the significance of historical analysis as a basis for foresight is stressed: the study starts with an examination of the long-term development of KIBS.

The study has mapped the future of KIBS both generally and particularly from the innovation perspective. The general examination consists of analysis of driving forces, strong prospective trends and weak signals. Driving forces refer to those phenomena at the level of the entire economy that constitute the framework for the future of KIBS. Strong prospective trends and weak signals outline the internal development of KIBS: the main lines of development and unexpected outturns. In the analysis of innovation activities, promising new innovation opportunities, the generality of innovation activities, and new spheres of skills were explored. Both literature and empirical material were used as information sources; the empirical material was collected in the Finnish KIBS sector through face-to-face interviews.

The main trends in the KIBS sector according to this study can be summarised as follows: The long-established growth trend of KIBS can be expected to continue. A central reason for growing service demand is the versatile and up-to-date expertise of KIBS, which derives from abundant client contact. Clients' purchasing know-how is, however, decisive for the success of the service. Besides the quantitative growth, the role of KIBS can be anticipated to strengthen as their services link ever more tightly to clients' strategies. The service content is also changing in KIBS: client-specific know-how becomes stressed and the service content broadens to include packages and comprehensive solutions. The way of providing services is more and more often consultative. This induces KIBS from other sectors to penetrate the field of management consultancy. Convergence among KIBS – as well as between KIBS and neighbouring sectors – is progressing in many other ways, too; the development of ICTs is an important factor accelerating this development. Along with the emergence of big multisectoral KIBS, increasing concentration in the sector can be found. The significance of internationalisation is growing and the forms of international activities are diversifying. As regards KIBS' innovation activities, an important finding was that promising fields for innovation also exist in the non-technological KIBS, which earlier have only been studied to a small extent. In the area of skills, KIBS face a challenge to reconcile very different, partly opposite, requirements, e.g. combining expertise and entrepreneurship.

Keywords: knowledge-intensive business services (KIBS), role of services, innovation, knowledge economy, foresight, trend analysis

This publication is copyrighted. You may download, display and print it for Your own personal use. Commercial use is prohibited.

© 2004 Helsinki University of Technology

Last update 2011-05-26