Santi Novani: Her “Why” Behind Service Science

It’s her call to engineer ‘gotong royong’ in Indonesia’s strategic sectors. Where does the drive come from?

Back then, Santi Novani first joined SBM ITB as a research assistant in 2005 and a tutor in 2006. After finishing her doctoral degree in Value and Decision Science at Tokyo Institute of Technology, in 2013, Santi Novani came back to SBM ITB and joined as a lecturer in Decision Making and Strategic negotiation expertise group. She initiated Service Science course, which is a relatively new domain in the decade, yet it’s very essential as innovations are now shipped daily by a cross-disciplinary team.

In brief, service science, often called as value co-creation, is about how we can establish a situation where stakeholders can get the greatest benefit through collaboration based on what they can bring to the table—which in Indonesian, people know the concept as ‘gotong royong’.

“Many entities from governments, NGOs, to the private sector have been reaching out to us (SBM ITB Decision Making and Strategic Negotiation expertise group),” she said, “they need a help in improving their ways to create values and implement innovations. Furthermore, they also come from various sectors. We have to make prioritization.”

Indonesia has many social issues therefore it makes Indonesian government tried to provide quality service to its citizens. Tourism is the third largest contributor to total Indonesian GDP. However, comparing Indonesia and Singapore in terms of total visitors, Indonesia is left far behind. This does not make sense. As an archipelago country with more than 17,000 islands, Indonesia should be better than this. For that reason, tourism become the one of the sectors that she concerns it.

Connecting The Dots Between Stakeholders

Her recent research with Dr. Eng. Pri Hermawan is entitled Co-Creation Platform for Coastal Tourism Development: A Lesson Learned from Southern Beaches in West Java. Supported by Department of Tourism and Culture of West Java, they researched on the southern beaches of West Java, which includes Garut, Cianjur, Sukabumi, Pangandaran, and Tasikmalaya.

The research findings revealed that the inaccessibility of the location and the minimum public facility such as accommodation, restaurant, praying room, and even restroom as the major problems. To tackle these issues, a collaborative effort from each player in the West Java tourism sector is needed. “This is where service science comes into play,” she said. “Formulating the best way for them how to collaborate to create value together.”

As part of the solution, her team created a website which invites all stakeholders from local government, visitor, and local vendor to promote their firsthand experiences. “Considering it as an ecosystem, the stakeholders need a place to interact, to co-create,” she pointed out. “Because distance is one of the major obstacles to coordinate, we proposed a co-created website to make the big movement happen.”

Important to be highlighted that website is only an enabler, as a tool that helps the solution to scale. The essential part is finding how to establish a fruitful ecosystem which enables the stakeholders to collaborate with the skills they have. To discover the suitable formula, they spent hours and days of FGD, interview, and site visit with the villagers. “They feel that they could be more open to share their concerns with us, academicians, than to the government officials or any other stakeholders,” she said. “They believe academicians are neutral and don’t have hidden agenda towards them,” she added. The key is: listen to understand, not to react. After the connection and shared meaning are built, trust emerges. People become more cooperative and full of initiative. Here, they are halfway through the progress in establishing a fruitful ecosystem.

Obstacles in Synergizing Academicians

The challenge of putting the villagers with government officials on the same page lies in the difference in culture, lingo, and best practices. However, it turns out that connecting people within the same academic institution is not an easy task either. “Yes, they have the understanding of the skill sets needed in completing a research or innovation, they know what’s on their to do list,” she said. “But, they have the ego. That is what gets in the way and holds them back.”

In her role as Secretary of Entrepreneurship at Innovation and Entrepreneurship Institution (LPIK) ITB, her focus is on facilitating faculties and students from majors across ITB to work on innovations together. She also develops co-creation platform which call as Innovation Entrepreneurship System (IES) to give an entrepreneurship support and innovation for the ITB students and inventors. SAPPK, STEI, FTMD, and FMIPA are some of the faculties who already actively engage. “Well, some of the disciplines in ITB needed deeper research as the complexity of the research is high. Now, we’re working on finding the feasible collaborative research efforts.” Besides that, she also involved in carrying out smart city initiation projects by LPIK ITB which collaborate with city government.

The Drive Behind The Struggle

Hustling between carrying out research, lecturing classes, executing projects, including supervising students’ thesis are tough. Moreover, she also has to balance her schedule with her family. There were many different career options of easier life and quick wins that she could pick. Why did she choose this path? And when being asked what keeps her going, she shared her memories of her role model. Her father.

“My dad is the first child in the family,” she started her story. “He refused the legacy that his parents, my grandparents gave to him. They owned a business in building materials and supplies near Cikapundung. Also, several plots of land, in strategic place in Bandung. And he just turned their offer down.” Instead, her father and mom started a business from zero to  created female bags.

“I often came along with my father when he distributed the bags to stores. I witnessed how my father negotiated with his clients, arrived at a decision, and closed the deal,” she said. “He was really resilient. Amidst of all the hardships he went through, what I admire the most, he can keep himself altogether, stay humble and kind.” In eid al-fitr, chinese new year, and many other occasions, her father’s clients always sent gift packages to their house. “He was the type of person who can initiate conversations with whoever he met. Never hesitate to open up. Also a great listener. Maybe that’s one of the reasons why people see him trustworthy and loyal.”

In raising up his three children, her father instilled into them that the most valuable asset they will ever have is knowledge, not wealth. What he ever wanted to pass down to his children was useful knowledge. No wonder that when Santi and her brother grow up, they chose to be academicians.

One fact, Santi was always be the first rank student while she was in junior high, and senior high. “No, it’s not because I was born smart. In my brother’s case, yes, he didn’t have to put in long hours to understand a subject,” she explained. “For me, it’s about resilience. Going the extra miles. Having the courage to go on an uneasy path. I learned it from my father.” Moreover, she also likes to put a benchmark. “So, I have a cousino who is really bright. She was our big family pride. I said to myself, ‘I want to be like her, I want to do better than her!’ Hahaha.”

Every decision comes with its consequences—whether it is the one you have planned or not. Some decisions turn out impact people around you and also their future. In the end, you realize that your decisions might not only be about you anymore. That’s what happen to Santi when her father decided to take the road less traveled, to become an entrepreneur. His striving inspired her to have a courage to define her own path.

Success is something that you co-created with people who support and challenge you. It’s never a one man show. “I used my chance to learn a lot from professors at ITB and also, to grow my network. They were one of the reasons why I join SBM ITB and contribute in LPIK ITB.”

Other thing that she really feels grateful to have is her best support system: family. “When I was working on papers, late at night, my father accompanying me,” she said. “There were also some nights where my mom sat by my side, fed me dinner, because I tend to forget eating when I study.”

“My father once said to me, ‘whatever you do, choose the path that leads you to be useful for greater number of people’,” she said. “Take part in something bigger than you.” For her, being an academician with focus on service science is a path for her to contribute in a greater cause. It’s her entry point to create meaningful impact.

What’s Next in Her To-Do List?

Up until now, she has published many research in several international publications, such as Journal Systems Research and Behavioral Sciences, Journal for Global Business Advancement, International Journal of Business and Society,  International Journal of Entrepreneurship and Small Business, International Journal of Business and System Research, International Journal of Business Innovation and research, International Journal of Business Excellence, International Journal of Business and Globalisation, also journal of Service Science Management. She also had presented several papers in international conferences at Sweden, Canada, USA, Japan, and Indonesia.

At the end of the conversation, she shared her next thing in her life to-do list. “I want to develop a startup business. So far, my experience is in building business is just by assisting my husband’s business who is a designer.” she said. “My father is his mentor. They’re really compatible in sharing thoughts. After my father passed away, I try my best to be his thinking partner.” When being asked about how confident she is in starting a business with her husband, she said “as we have a very different skill sets, I think so far we’re doing great in making a co-creation together.”