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Service operations strategy, exibility and performance in engineering consulting rms

Daniel Arias Aranda
n de Empresas, Departamento de Organizacio Universidad de Granada, Granada, Spain
Keywords Service operations, Flexibility, Industrial performance, Spain Abstract In this paper, the relationship between operations strategy and performance through exibility as a moderating variable is analysed within the service setting of engineering consulting rms in Spain. A framework for service strategy dimensions is suggested while manufacturing exibility dimensions are applied to service operations considering necessary adaptations. A path analysis model is applied in order to enhance the understanding of interactions. This research proves that service operations strategy has a signicant positive and direct effect on service delivery performance. The fact that is especially relevant is that exibility plays a more intense moderating role for efciency performance measures than for customer satisfaction performance measures.

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Introduction Operations strategy has been contemplated in the eld from a conceptual point of view and has dealt mainly with the content of strategy (Anderson et al., 1989; Skinner, 1978; Smith and Reece, 1999). All this research has congured the operations strategy concept as a pattern of decisions and actions driven to support the strategic goals established by the business unit. Operations should t the requirements of a business by striving for consistency between business capabilities and policies and business competitive advantages (Adam and Swamidass, 1989; Wheelwright, 1984). However, the scarcity of studies that analyse the effect of strategy on performance through its relationship with competitive priorities has become one of the great challenges in operations management research (Dangayash and Deshmukh, 2001; Sazadeh et al., 2000). Moreover, in service operations strategy, this panorama is still more meagre which leads to higher research opportunities (Nieto et al., 1999). Nowadays, the changing environments make exibility one of the competitive priorities that most service rms have to deal with. The concept of exibility of service processes suffers from the same confusion that overwhelmed manufacturing for years (Harvey et al., 1997). The nature and sources of manufacturing exibility have been broadly studied, so comparison between manufacturing and services provides a good starting-point for the study of service exibility. Flexibility is generally regarded as the ability to
The author wishes to thank anonymous reviewers whose suggestions have been of inestimable help for improving the present paper.

International Journal of Operations & Production Management Vol. 23 No. 11, 2003 pp. 1401-1421 q MCB UP Limited 0144-3577 DOI 10.1108/01443570310501907

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respond or conform to new situations, being usually classied as process, product or infrastructure related (Noori and Radford, 1995). Although the importance of exibility has been broadly acknowledged, efforts to bring the existing theoretical research and practices together have not reached a substantial progress in order to evaluate both manufacturing and service exibility (Suarez et al., 1996). In particular, the relationship between operations strategy and manufacturing exibility has not received adequate attention at the time of making investment decisions in manufacturing technology (Adler, 1988; Arias-Aranda et al., 2001). Moreover, adequate recognition has been especially scarce in the implementation phase (Jaikumar, 1986). The relationship between operations strategy and exibility has been understood in operations management (OM) literature in terms of environmental variability (Riley and Lockwood, 1997). The operations strategy intends to react to the changes that affect competition due to new industrial and social trends. The structural and infrastructural decisions that congure the operations strategy in services directly inuence the exibility level of the delivery system (Bucki and Pesqueux, 2000). When the levels of exibility in every dimension of the service delivery system support the implemented operation strategy, it directly affects operational performance (Spina et al., 1996). When analysing this relationship, traditional cost performance measures lack relevance in the service environment, as they do not reect the customer-focus factors of quality, exibility or satisfaction, which have become crucial to rm success (Neely et al., 1997). Performance measures, which capture and reect service operations strategies, are required to examine whether non-cost-based measures cover the range of service operations practices (Ghalayini and Noble, 1996). According to these bases, the purpose of this paper is multiple and twofold: (1) to apply a manufacturing exibility framework to service operations considering necessary adaptations to service industries nature; and (2) to enhance the understanding of interactions between service operations strategy and long and short-term performance measures by applying a path analysis model to the different dimensions dening both constructs in order to investigate the relationships between them. The empirical verication of this research will be developed within the service setting of engineering consulting rms in Spain. Service operations strategy Issues regarding operations strategy content and process are often discussed in the current operations literature. The process of operations strategy is termed according to how strategic decisions are made in an organizational setting (Ho, 1996). Denitions of strategy always mention enhancement of the rms

competitive position in the marketplace through resources building or positioning (Swink and Way, 1995). Most research focused primarily on the number of decision areas and goals of manufacturing in terms of performance criteria (Leong et al., 1990). Skinner (1969) identied a set of decision areas through which manufacturing objectives are achieved. Later research proves a generally high agreement; even though many authors have developed different sets of manufacturing decision areas (Mills et al., 1998). However, traditionally OM literature has addressed service operations strategy to the development of the service delivery system in order to match the customer expectations with customer perceptions (Armistead, 1992). Models and frameworks have been suggested to explain this process through different services classications and schemes (Johnston, 1994; Nayyar, 1992; Normann, 1984; Sampson, 1996; Schmenner, 1986). However, only a few studies analyse the differentiation and interaction between the different dimensions conguring the service operations strategy. In this context, Arias-Aranda (2002) proposed a model based on the three basic operations strategies identied in service literature according to the rms focus of activities. These basic operations strategies pursued by service industries are process, service or customer-oriented operations strategies (Berry and Parasuraman, 1997; Bowen and Youngdahl, 1998; Collier, 1994, 1996; Desatnik, 1994; Hart, 1995; Haynes and Du Vall, 1992; Johnston, 1994; Lusch et al., 1996; McCutcheon et al., 1994; Sampson, 1996; Tersine and Harvey, 1998). Arias-Aranda (2002) identied nine structural and infrastructural decisions that lead to a determined service operations strategy. These are type of operations layout, PUSH/PULL orientation of the service delivery process, degree of process standardisation, number of different services offered, use of information technologies (cost reduction vs service improvement), back and front ofce activities relationship, human resources specialisation, degree of customer participation, and new service design and development. Service exibility Flexibility as a competitive goal still lacks a clear and accurate denition. In service rms, exibility is a fuzzy concept, as not all service exibility dimensions have been clearly determined. However, exibility is generally accepted as a useful tool to improve the competitive position of the rm, especially when related to the process of decision-making in technologies lvarez Gil, 1994; Jaikumar, 1986). adoption and implementation (Adler, 1988; A Slack (1987) analysed a sample of ten manufacturing rms concluding that managers vision of the exibility concept is only partial and incomplete. Managers usually focus more on machines exibility than on the overall system exibility. Flexibility when focused only on technology implementation does not lead to a competitive advantage (Gupta and Somers, 1996). It is crucial to carefully plan and manage the whole system exibility (Gustavsson, 1988)

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by creating a plant infrastructure that allows such system exibility (Upton, 1995). The above multidimensional view of exibility assumes that one of the key challenges to achieving a exible operations system emerges when focusing and managing the different dimensions of exibility (Gerwin, 1993). This is mainly due to the fact that exibility is not accumulative; so more exibility in different parts of the system does not imply a more exible operations system. Changes in exibility are of strategic nature, so they should not only involve process engineers, but also production and even business managers (Chambers, 1992). Operations strategy determines the level of uncertainty to be supported by the service delivery system by adapting the different exibility dimensions to environmental changes (Chambers, 1992; Gerwin, 1993). In this context, exibility in services involves the introduction of new designs and services into the service delivery system quickly, adjust capacity rapidly, customize services, handle changes in the service mix quickly and handle variations in customer delivery schedules (Suarez et al., 1996). Thus, improving the timing and quantity of resource allocations for performing a process to avoid employing human and material resources when they are not needed represents the core goal of service exibility (Duclos et al., 1995). Under these assumptions, OM literature has focused on identifying different dimensions and types of exibility (Brill and Mandelbaum, 1989; Browne et al., 1984; Carter, 1986; Chatterjee et al., 1984; Gerwin, 1987; Gupta and Goyal, 1992; Gupta and Somers, 1992; Hyun and Ahn, 1990; Son and Park, 1987). However, there is still no clear consensus about which are the exact costs and benets of exibility implementation according to every dimension. In many cases, exibility benets have been considered only in terms of machine programming and production models integration (Taymaz, 1989). In some other cases, these benets are reduced to workforce versatility (Walton and Susman, 1987). Moreover, some authors maintain that exibility is always benecial while some others afrm that it can even be harmful in some cases (Cusumano, 1988; Gaimon and Singhal, 1992; Tombak, 1988). Such discussion reinforces the role of the multidimensional character of exibility. In service industries, customer interaction and customization imply a high degree of exibility according to the specicity of services such as, for instance, the main input ow is information, while material handling plays a less important role (Adler, 1988). Nowadays, customers are more demanding for integral services provided by the same rm (Vandermerwe, 1992). This fact will entail a new and different conception of service exibility. In addition, process equipments in service industries are mainly based on information technologies (Gouillart and Sturdivant, 1994). Personnel exibility and versatility must be directly considered as they perform a higher degree of the service delivery compared to machines in manufacturing industries (Harvey et al., 1997). Interconnection and interdependence between information

technology and personnel exibility allow us to consider both as a whole (Hyun and Ahn, 1990). However, electronic data interchange (EDI) and information technologies (ITs) provide new market opportunities for service rms without high exibility investment efforts. According to this idea, Harvey et al. (1997) suggested a model of exibility in services in which technology controls variability reduction through the following dimensions: volume, time and place, needs and customer. Consequently, as ITs become widely used in services, reengineering processes are easier to accomplish in service delivery systems than in manufacturing systems (Hammer and Champy, 1993). In addition, service rms are able to design delivery systems in which customers are actively involved, becoming self-service delivery systems. This makes exibility simpler and easier to implement considering that the customer develops certain activities of the service delivery system, especially when compared to the high costs of workers training for manufacturing rms (Bowen and Lawler, 1995). Performance measures Performance measures reect how well the different competitive priorities t in the implemented operations strategy (Suarez et al., 1996). For service industries, effective performance measures related to operations strategies require a shift from measures that focus on manufacturing efciency to those capturing the critical success factors related to customer initiated demands (Abernethy and Lillis, 1995). Traditional nancial accounting measures are short-term oriented and aggregate. Hence, they usually are not capable to support operations strategic priorities (Govindarajan, 1988; Simons, 1987). In addition, operations assumptions of standardisation and mass production in a stable environment inspire nancial performance measures (Kaplan, 1983). However, environmental conditions of manufacturing industries differ from those found in service industries, which consider nancial measures of operations performance less relevant (Brownell and Merchant, 1990). Empirical literature has determined in many studies the strong inuence that exibility has on performance, especially for non-nancial measures (Feigenbaum and Karnani, 1991; Jaikumar, 1986; Tombak and De Meyer, 1988). However, nowadays, service operations managers need relevant and specic feedback in order to take effective decisions in a changing environment (Chenhall, 1995). Non-nancial measures contribute to enhance performance within these environments, as they deal with causes instead of effects. Hence, managers have an incentive to maximize performance on those activities on which their performance is measured (Hayes et al., 1988). As such, the dimensions of operations strategy need to be embedded in the performance measurement system (Sampson, 1996) in order to be enhanced. However, this argument does not intend to deny the role of nancial performance measures,

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but to demonstrate the limitations of nancial measures in the service industry context. Methodology In this research, we analyse empirically the relationships between service operations strategy and service delivery exibility in order to know the inuence of this relationship on operations performance. As both constructs are multidimensional, we will also analyse the interrelationships among the different dimensions conguring both constructs as well as the strength and magnitude of such relationships. Hence, the main hypotheses to be tested in this study are as follows. H1. The direct effect of operations strategy on nancial performance is higher than the indirect effect through exibility as a mediating variable. H2. The direct effect of operations strategy on non-nancial performance is lower than the indirect effect through exibility as a mediating variable. These hypotheses can be disaggregated into a total of 36 subhypotheses. Each one of these subhypotheses refers to every direct and indirect effect (through exibility) of the nine service strategy dimensions on the two different types of performance measures. Sample and the sampling procedure This study was conducted in the context of Engineering Consulting Firms in Spain. Three rm types (civil, industrial and environmental) were considered covering most activities of Engineering Consulting Firms. The sample is the same used by Arias-Aranda (2002). A questionnaire was used to obtain the data for the study. Initially, a copy of the questionnaire was sent to ten rms representing every turnover and activity group as a pre-test. They were requested not to answer the questionnaire, but to remark all doubts or possible mistakes detected. Only small syntactic changes were made, but none of the rms remarked difculties for concept understanding or misuse. Afterwards, the questionnaire was sent and collected from participating rms mainly via e-mail to the operations managers/executives or equivalent of the companies in the sample. The Spanish Association of Spanish Engineering Consulting Firms (Tecniberia) provided all the information about addresses and rm names. Initially, in order to attract the maximum number of participating rms, an e-mail was sent to all rms registered in Tecniberia asking for their participation while stressing the importance of the study. Finally, 129 rms with a turnover higher than 150.000 euros were selected as the target population. Twelve rms requested the questionnaire to be sent via


ordinary mail with a 100 per cent response rate. Non-respondents were contacted at least three times in order to invite them to participate in the study. Of these, usable data were collected from a total of 71 rms (55 per cent). The original language of the questionnaire was Spanish. Table I shows a description of the sample according to the ve turnover categories. Comparing the sample distribution with the sector as a whole, no signicant discrepancies were observed. Most of the rms turnover ranges from 300.000 to 3.000.000 euros (60 per cent approx. of the total sample). On the other hand, civil engineering rms represent the higher percentage of the sample (49 per cent) compared to 17 per cent of industrial engineering and 34 per cent of environmental engineering. Table II shows the turnover distribution of the rms according to the Spanish Ministry of Industry (1998).

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Measures The dimensions of operations strategy considered for the study are those of Arias-Aranda (2002). Questions dening such dimensions related to operations strategy are based on a ve-point Likert scale. Every one of the nine dimensions of operations strategy was clearly represented in differentiated blocks in the questionnaire. Control questions were included in order to verify the internal consistency of the questionnaire. For every dimension, a set of items was included in the questionnaire. For every item a Likert scale ranging from 1 (completely agree) to 5 (completely disagree) was used to measure the agreement of the operations managers/executives with such items.
Cat. Turnover (euros) Civil Firms Percentage 1 2 3 4 5 , 300.000 300.000-600.000 600.001-3.000.000 3.000.001-6.000.000 . 6.000.000 Total 7 11 11 3 3 35 20.0 31.4 31.4 8.6 8.6 100.0 Group of activity Industrial Firms Percentage 3 3 4 0 2 12 25.0 25.0 33.3 0.0 16.7 100.0

Environmental Firms Percentage 7 7 8 2 0 24 29.2 29.2 33.3 8.3 0.0 100.0

Source: Own processing

Table I. Sample distribution (turnover and group of activity)

Turnover (euros) , 300.000 300.000-600.000 600.001-3.000.000 3.000.001-6.000.000 . 6.000.000 Percentage of rms 27.3 32.3 27.2 6 7.2 Source: Spanish Ministry of Industry (1998)

Table II. Distribution in percentage of engineering consulting companies in Spain

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Partial indicators were developed in order to know the rms positioning for every operations strategy dimension. Such indicators combine the different items corresponding to each dimension in order to measure the rms trends. A global indicator was developed to measure operations strategy according to such trends taking into account that indicators rank should ow between the values of 1 and 5 in order to be consistent with the Likert scale previously used (see Appendix). The exibility dimensions of Ramasesh and Jayakumar (1991) were used as the main framework for the analysis of exibility in services. According to the specic nature of service industries, some adaptations were included in the model in order to ensure the validation of the study. Some of these adaptations were suggested by the operations managers during the pre-test stage. A factor analysis was performed in order to test whether the items used to measure the different exibility dimensions grouped consistently. Finally, seven exibility dimensions were identied through this analysis. They were named as expansion; distribution of information; routing; equipments and personnel; market; services and servuction[1], and process, programming and volume exibility. Items conguring each exibility dimension were also measured through a ve-point Likert scale. In this case, the responders degree of agreement with each of the statements dening every exibility dimension congures all items relating to system exibility. Table III shows the exibility dimensions and measures. Performance measures used in this study were classied according to Abernethy and Lillis (1995). Respondents were asked to indicate the importance of each measure in the range of little or no importance to of utmost importance in a ve-point Likert scale. Operational measures were categorized as nancial/efciency and customer satisfaction measures. Slight adaptations were made according to the pre-test in order to conform measures to engineering consulting rms. Respondents were asked to assign a level of relevance to each measure in a Likert scale (1-5). Measures are shown in Table IV. Inter-item analysis was used to check scales for internal consistency or reliability. Specically, Cronbachs reliability coefcient (alpha) is calculated for each scale (dimension), as recommended by empirical research in operations by many researchers (Flynn et al., 1995; Smith and Reece, 1999; Swamidass and Newell, 1987). Cronbachs alphas and trends for every dimension according to the indicator values are shown in Tables V and VI. Usually, a value of 0.7 in the Cronbachs alpha is considered adequate in order to ensure reliability of the internal consistency of the questionnaire (Nunnally, 1978). However, a margin of 0.5-0.6 is generally considered adequate for exploratory work as well (Nunnally, 1978; Srinivasan, 1985). Construct validation is a process of demonstrating that an empirical measure corresponds to the conceptual denition of a construct (Schwab, 1980). Consequently, three types of validity can be established: nomological or theoretical validity, vertical

Flexibility type Browne et al. (1984) and Carter (1986)


Suggested measures


Expansion exibility

Chatterjee et al. (1984) and Newman et al. (1993)

Browne et al. (1984) Chung and Chen (1990) and Kumar (1986)

Brill and Mandelbaum (1989) Gerwin (1987) and Sethi and Sethi (1990)

Ease with which capacity can be added Overall cost and time needed to add when needed capacity Upper limit on the amount of capacity expansion Distribution of Capability to distribute and share Ratio of the number of information information information through the service paths available in a system to the exibility delivery system number of possible paths Increase in the performance of service delivery through the use of IT Routing exibility Capability to use alternative processing Average number of ways in which a routes to deliver a service service can be delivered Routing entropy Decrease percentage in the throughput caused by breakdowns Cost of production lost due to rescheduling an urgent job Labour and Capability of personnel and machines Number of different operations equipment exibility to perform different operations performed by machines and personnel weighted by the importance of tasks Cost of switching from one operation to another Extent of variation in the inputs that machines or workforce can handle Market exibility Capability of the service delivery Cost of orders inattention system to adapt to market changes Cost of order delays Gupta and Sommers (1992)

(continued )

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Table III. Different types of service exibility and some suggested measures


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Flexibility type

Services and Capability of the system to add or servuction exibility substitute services without major efforts

Process, programming and volume exibility

Source: Adapted from Ramasesh and Jayakumar (1991)

Table III. Suggested measures References Browne et al. (1984) Jaikumar (1986) and Son and Park (1987) Browne et al. (1984) Falkner (1986), Gerwin (1987) and Jaikumar (1986)


Ratio of total output to setup costs Number of services delivered by year Time or cost to change from one service to another Option pricing approach Capability of a system to operate Expected percentage uptime during unattended for long periods second and third shifts Capability to produce different part Number of different parts that can be types without major effort produced Capability to operate at different levels Changeover costs between different of output known jobs within the current production plan Expected value of a portfolio of product for a given set of contingencies Ratio of average volume uctuation to total capacity Stability of manufacturing costs over widely varying levels of production volume Smallest volumes for protable operation of the system

Financial and efciency measures Volume of services delivered Firm prot on net income Set up times Real costs t in relation to standard costs ROI Variation on prices of raw services and materials Percentage of use of service delivery capacity Percentage of no activity time Cost reduction due to quality increments

Customer satisfaction measures Number of customer claims Level of workers efciency Frequency of errors in service delivery system New service development Number of services not nally delivered because of customer demand Time between service order and delivery Ability of service customisation Level of customer satisfaction Level of workers cooperation at interdepartmental level

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Source: Adapted from Abernethy and Lillis (1995)

Table IV. Performance measures

Flexibility dimensions Expansion Distribution of information Routing Personnel and equipment Market Services and servuction Process, programming and volume Source: Own processing

Cronbachs alpha 0.9616 0.9325 0.8755 0.9329 0.8640 0.8676 0.5829

Table V. Cronbachs alphas for service exibility dimensions

Performance dimension Financial performance Non-nancial performance Source: Own processing

Cronbach alpha 0.8981 0.8455 Table VI. Cronbachs alphas for performance dimensions

validity, and horizontal or criterion-related validity. Hence, the measurement instrument establishes the basis for nomological or theoretical validity since all items are developed through an extensive review of the service operations strategy body of research. Factor analysis was used to check unidimensionality of scales, which provides evidence of a single latent construct (Flynn et al., 1995). Cronbachs alpha values address vertical validity, which describes the extent to which a scale represents its construct. Evidence of criterion-related validity is presented through the Browne and Cudeck (1993) cross-validation

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index for covariance structure modelling. Index value for this research is 0.642, which indicates a high probability that the model results are consistent with population parameters. Analysis and results According to the aim of our analysis, the technique of path analysis seems to be the most adequate to empirically verify the hypothesis. Such a technique estimates the magnitude of the linkages between the variables. Through these estimates, it is possible to provide information about the underlying causal processes (Asher, 1983). It also allows for distinguishing between direct and indirect effects in case there are compound paths. Our path analysis model is recursive as it assumes that there is no reciprocal causality in the form of causal feedback. For every path, a beta coefcient is calculated. This coefcients sign indicates the direction of the relationship (positive or negative) and its magnitude represents the strength of the interrelationship between the variables. The path coefcients identify direct and indirect effects of each variable on the respective dependent variables. The total effect is simply the sum of the direct effect and all the indirect effects that occur through intervening variables. Tables VII and VIII report direct, indirect, total and
Dependent variable: nancial performance Indirect Total Spurious 0.312 0.291 0.324 2 0.280 0.354 0.383 0.372 2 0.165 2 0.247 0.777* 0.889* 0.902* 2 0.802* 0.977* 0.911* 0.814* 2 0.454495 2 0.867* 2 0.136* 0.098** 0.127* 2 0.176* 2 0.153* 2 0.115* 2 0.086** 0.886 35.164* 0.10; 2 0.043** 2 0.017 2 0.083* 0.008 2 0.081* 2 0.059** 2 0.040 0.049** 0.077* 0.041** 2 0.013 0.118* 0.081** 0.027 0.042** 0.179*


Direct Independent variable (Op. Strat. Dim.) Layout 0.465* PUSH orientation 0.598* Standardisation 0.578* Offered services 2 0.522* Use of IT 0.623* Back and front ofce act. 0.528* HR specialisation 0.442* Customer participation 2 0.289 New services development 2 0.62* Dimensions of exibility Expansion 2 0.136* Inf. distr. 0.098** Routing 0.127* Equip. and pers. 2 0.176* Market 2 0.153* Prod. and serv. 2 0.115* Proc., prog. and vol. 2 0.086** Standard R 2 F-ratio Notes: n = 71; *p , 0.01; **p , Source: Own processing

r 0.734* 0.872* 0.819* 2 0.794* 0.896* 0.852* 0.774* 2 0.405 2 0.79* 2 0.095* 0.085* 0.245* 2 0.095* 2 0.126* 2 0.073** 0.093*

Table VII. Direct and indirect effects of operations strategy dimensions on nancial performance

0.05; ***p ,

Dependent variable: non-nancial performance Direct Indirect Total Spurious Independent variable (Op. Strat. Dim.) Layout 2 0.486* PUSH orientation 2 0.365* Standardisation 2 0.405* Offered services 0.286* Use of IT 2 0.427* Back and front ofce act. 2 0.437* HR specialisation 2 0.403* Customer participation 0.114** New services development 0.337* Dimensions of exibility Expansion 0.186* Inf. distr. 2 0.073 Routing 0.146* Equip. and pers. 0.113* Market 0.115* Prod. and serv. 0.082* Proc., prog. and vol. 0.041* Standard R 2 F-ratio Notes: n = 71; *p , 0.01; **p , Source: Own processing 0.05; ***p , 2 0.425 2 0.431 2 0.463 0.337 2 0.481 2 0.509 2 0.524 0.280 0.311 2 0.911* 2 0.796* 2 0.868* 0.623* 2 0.908* 2 0.946* 2 0.927* 0.394** 0.648* 0.196* 2 0.085 0.158* 0.127* 0.115* 0.095* 0.056* 0.932 46.415* 0.10 0.016 2 0.038 0.054 2 0.115 0.080 0.134 0.086 2 0.053 0.087 0.009* 2 0.019** 0.011* 0.01* 0.014* 0.018* 0.022*

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2 0.895* 2 0.835* 2 0.814* 0.508* 2 0.828* 2 0.812* 2 0.841* 0.341* 0.736* 0.206* 2 0.104** 0.169* 0.137* 0.129* 0.113* 0.078*

Table VIII. Direct and indirect effects of operations strategy dimensions on non-nancial performance

spurious effects of operations strategy dimensions on nancial and non-nancial performance of the rm. To test H1 and H2, the effects of operations strategy dimensions and exibility on nancial and non-nancial performance were disaggregated into direct, indirect and spurious. The following results were obtained. . The direct effects of the operations strategy dimensions on nancial performance are positive and signicant ( p , 0.01) for all independent variables (direct effects range from 0.442 for human resources specialisation to 0.623 for the use of IT) except for offered services and new services development for which direct effects are negative. Customer participation is not signicant. . All effects of exibility on nancial performance are negative and signicant (ranging from 2 0.086 for process, programming and volume exibility ( p , 0.05) to 2 0.176 for equipments and personnel exibility ( p , 0.01)) except for information distribution and routing exibility for which effects are positive and signicant. Indirect effects of operations strategy dimensions on nancial performance through exibility as the mediating variable are also high with values ranging from 2 0.1655 for customer participation to 0.384 for back and front ofce activities.

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Direct effects of exibility dimensions on nancial performance are negative and signicant (ranging from 2 0.086 for process, programming and volume exibility ( p , 0.05) to 2 0.176 for equipments and personnel exibility ( p , 0.01)) except for information distribution and routing exibility for which effects are positive and signicant. Direct effects of operations strategy dimensions on non-nancial performance are, on the other side, negative and signicant for all independent variables (values range from 2 0.365 for PUSH orientation to 2 0.486 for layout) with the exception of the services offered, customer participation and new services development for which direct effects are positive and signicant. All direct effects of exibility on non-nancial performance are positive and signicant ranging from 0.041 for process, programming and volume exibility to 0.186 for expansion exibility ( p , 0.01) except for information distribution for which direct effect is positive, but not signicant. Indirect effects of operations strategy dimensions on non-nancial performance through exibility as the mediating variable are also high with values ranging from 2 0.5246 for human resources specialisation to 0.337 for services offered. Direct effects of exibility dimensions on non-nancial performance are positive and signicant (ranging from 0.041 for process, programming and volume exibility ( p , 0.01) to 0.186 for expansion exibility ( p , 0.01)) except for information distribution exibility for which effects are positive, but not signicant.

After performing the analysis, H1 is contrasted totally and positively, as all direct effects of the operations strategy dimensions on nancial performance are higher than all indirect effects through exibility. H2 is contrasted partially and positively, as all direct effects of the operations strategy dimensions on non-nancial performance are lower than all indirect effects through exibility except for layout and new services development dimensions. Furthermore, the indirect effects of the operations strategy dimensions on nancial performance are mostly positive while such effects are negative for non-nancial performance. However, this trend turns opposite for exibility, whose incidence is mostly negative on nancial performance and positive on non-nancial performance. The r coefcients calculated let us know the goodness in the model t (Billings and Wroten, 1978). Spurious explanation of the model is obtained by comparing the r coefcients with the total effects explained. In this model, there are only four values higher than 0.10 (10 per cent of spurious explanation). These are routing and process, programming and volume exibility for nancial performance and services offered and back and front ofce activities for non-nancial performance.

Contributions and conclusions This research provides several contributions to the eld of service operations management for academicians and practitioners. First, based on the categories of structure and infrastructure decisions proposed by relevant service management literature, this study operationalizes the concept of service operations strategy. By doing so, new research opportunities broaden in order to improve and adapt this concept to different environmental conditions. Future operationalizations of the service operations strategy will require additional perspectives under a contingency analysis. In addition, heterogeneity of the service industries involves further attention according to competitive priorities. In this context, practitioners have a starting point to understand how functional decisions affect the different dimensions that congure the operations strategy in services. Second, a model of exibility in service industries has been applied including some adaptations to the specic nature of service industries. This model is based on the classical manufacturing exibility frameworks. This study examines this critical concept utilizing empirical methods within a eld-based setting. Still, some dimensions show low moderate reliability, so future research efforts may focus on improving and determining the exact internal and environmental factors affecting service exibility according to specic sector characteristics. This can help practitioners in the process of choosing which dimensions of exibility better support strategic priorities. Such knowledge is especially relevant when related to nancial decisions of IT investments and equipments as well as personnel training. Third, this research proves that service operations strategy has a signicant positive and direct effect on nancial performance. The results establish not only the existence of strong links between the service operations strategy and nancial performance, but also the magnitude of the impact of every operations strategy dimension on every single performance dimension. Nonetheless, the generalization of these ndings to other service industries cannot be guaranteed without cautiousness even though the robust statistical results for this relationship suggest that the ndings are quite reliable. Fourth, understanding the effects of operations strategy on performance is one of the major ndings of this study. The different strategy dimensions inuence nancial and non-nancial performance in several manners. It is especially relevant to the fact that exibility dimensions inuence positively on non-nancial performance and negatively on the nancial performance. Hence, investments on exibility lead to enhance the non-nancial performance while negatively affecting the nancial performance. Therefore, practitioners can better establish priorities for competition according to the expected relationship between the operations strategy, exibility and performance. Finally, this research has based all ndings on the empirical methods of analysis supported by the eld-based investigation to give support to concepts

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and relationships that seem reasonable in order to provide empirical verication. The specic methodology of this study and the results suggest that much of the conceptual efforts made in operations strategy for manufacturing may be applicable to service operations as well. However, the variables and dimensions used to congure this study have been adapted to the specic sector of the consulting engineering rm, which limits direct application of the model to other service industries. Further research efforts can help to determine to what extent the strategy, exibility and performance relate in similar ways in heterogeneous service industries.
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Appendix The indicator was designed as follows: h P P i Pd Pb b d 5 +1 i = a A in 2 i= c Ain + i= c A in 2 5 i= a Ain i P Ebn = h P P P b d d 5 i= a Ain 2 + i = c Ain 2 5 b +1 i = c A in i = a A in

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where Ebn is the indicator; Ain is the score obtained in question i of block n in the questionnaire. Rank [a,b ] represents questions scoring towards one of the trends in each block. Rank [c,d ] represents questions scoring towards opposite extremes of rank [a,b ] in each block. Hence, ! d b X X Ain 2 5 Ain
i= c i= a

represents the smallest reachable value, considering that one rm scores the highest (score 5) in all questions for one of the trends and the smallest (score 1) in all questions of the opposite trend. On the other hand, ! b d X X 5 Ain 2 Ain
i= a i= c

represents the smallest reachable value for a rm positioned at one extreme, scoring the smallest (score 1) and the highest (score 5) for the opposite trends. Once the extremes and possible intermediate values have been obtained, the indicator transforms this rank in a scale from 0 to 5 by adding to the value obtained, the smallest reachable value plus one. The value obtained is nally divided by the highest reachable value adding the smallest value plus one in order to make the scale positive. Finally, the value obtained is multiplied by ve to t it to the 1 - 5 scale.