Interactive Innovation of Technology for Mobile Work


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Despite the increasing popularity of mobile information systems, the actual processes leading to the innovation of mobile technologies remain largely unexplored. This study uses Action Research to examine the innovation of a mobile RFID technology. Working from Activity Theory, it departs from the prevalent product-oriented view of innovation and treats technology-in-the- making as a complex activity, made possible through the interaction of manufacturers, their organisational clients and their respective mobile workers. The lens of a normative Interactive Innovation Framework reveals distinctive interaction problems that bear on the innovation activity. In addition to difficulties emerging from dissimilar motivations for the innovation project, the mobile setting presents unique contradictions based on the geographical distribution of its participants, the diverse role of mobile technology, the complexity of interacting through representations and the importance of the discretion with which mobile work activities are carried out today.

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Interactive Innovation of Technology for Mobile Work

  1. 1. European Journal of Information Systems (2008) 17, 305–320 & 2008 Operational Research Society Ltd. All rights reserved 0960-085X/08 innovation of technology formobile workJan Kietzmann Abstract Despite the increasing popularity of mobile information systems, the actualSimon Fraser University, Burnaby, BC, Canada processes leading to the innovation of mobile technologies remain largely unexplored. This study uses Action Research to examine the innovation of aCorrespondence: Jan Kietzmann, Faculty of mobile RFID technology. Working from Activity Theory, it departs from theBusiness, Simon Fraser University, prevalent product-oriented view of innovation and treats technology-in-the-250-13450-102nd Avenue, Surrey, making as a complex activity, made possible through the interaction ofBritish Columbia V3T OA3, Canada. manufacturers, their organisational clients and their respective mobile workers.E-mail: The lens of a normative Interactive Innovation Framework reveals distinctive interaction problems that bear on the innovation activity. In addition to difficulties emerging from dissimilar motivations for the innovation project, the mobile setting presents unique contradictions based on the geographical distribution of its participants, the diverse role of mobile technology, the complexity of interacting through representations and the importance of the discretion with which mobile work activities are carried out today. European Journal of Information Systems (2008) 17, 305–320. doi:10.1057/ejis.2008.18 Keywords: interactive innovation; mobility; technology for mobile work; mobile technology; action research; activity theory Introduction The past decades have unveiled an impressive trajectory of mobile technology, marked primarily by the advancements from early mobile telephones, available to the elite few, to the highly advanced and diffused mobile devices of today. Intrigued by new technological affordances (Gibson, 1977), Information Systems (IS) scholars increasingly turn their attention to the impact of mobile devices on individuals and organisa- tions. In the meanwhile, manufacturers, concerned with staying compe- titive in an industry actively rivalling for corporate accounts, are starting to invite their future users to participate in the process of innovation. These evolving cooperative innovation projects between manufacturers and users are highly complex and benefit from an innovation approach that clearly defines the roles and responsibilities of each participant. Some lessons can be learned from fairly recent co-constructive developments; however, these lessons are largely based on single organisational contexts, non-mobile computing devices and a dialogue between innovators and users in fixed-location settings. But since mobile settings and technologies that span time and location fundamentally challenge the interaction habits subsumed by non-mobile contexts, manufacturers and innovatorsReceived: 7 August 2007Revised: 4 December 2007 support a fresh approach for interactive innovation within mobile2nd Revision: 12 June 2008 environments.3rd Revision: 24 June 2008 Commissioned by a leading mobile device manufacturer, our researchAccepted: 25 June 2008 focused on first developing a conceptual framework for interactive
  2. 2. 306 Interactive innovation of technology for mobile work Jan Kietzmanninnovation in mobile settings, and second assessing such the mobile guard had been and what the status of eachframework in a real innovation project. A fundamental premise was.assumption of this inquiry was that innovation as an In the process of developing this innovation, bothinteractive activity in mobile work settings involves Nalle and Morrison relied on the help of Morrison’scategorically different participants, including innovators, mobile employees. These mobile workers formed theprimary and secondary users. The aim of this paper is to primary users for the interactive innovation activity,analyse how these groups and their respective work those who would use the actual artefact under develop-activities established an influential context for the ment. As secondary users of Nalle’s technology (Friedmaninteractive innovation of new technologies for mobile & Cornford, 1992), Morrison’s managers would not usework. the technology directly but would benefit from tying We pursued this research objective in a 1-year Action information gathered from the field with the help ofResearch study. The technology under development was a mobile RFID into existing corporate IS.synchronous, mobile radiofrequency identification, or The empirical findings were analysed using Enges-‘mobile RFID’ device, and the innovation activity was ¨ trom’s interpretation of Activity Theory (AT). Particularlydriven by the innovator, a handset manufacturer anon- his framework of activity systems allowed the researcherymised here as Nalle. The company, experienced in to examine interactive innovation as a complex processdeveloping personal mobile devices, understood that it that involved different groups of participants. AT’sneeded to ground this organisational innovation within premise of contradictory motivations played an impor-real mobile work settings. Nalle found an appropriate tant role in the analysis of the individuals’ contributionsponsor for its project at Morrison Patrolling, a security to the collective activity of developing the handheld,services company that had an interest in learning more synchronous RFID device. The resulting discussionabout how their mobile security guards conducted work. acknowledges both social and technical constituents of Morrison Patrolling’s problem was that the organisa- IS that are tied to mobile work practices; it does nottion only had a basic understanding of how its mobile specifically focus on mobile RFID affordances (Angell &security guards carried out work. Essentially, a mobile Kietzmann, 2006). To understand how participantssecurity guard arrived at work, collected a car and actually interacted, the principle of mediated actionsnavigated an enormous terrain throughout his workday enabled the researcher to look at the role of tools,to secure buildings, check the status of schools, patrol the including mobile technologies, and explicit and implicitperimeter of construction areas, etc. Throughout this rules that affected the activity and its outcome.time, Morrison had no information about the specific This study yielded a number of interesting results.location of each guard and the status of the premises. Specific to the scope of the project, it led to manyWhen a guard was needed for an emergency, a suspected refinements of the mobile RFID systems withinbreak-in for example, all guards who could possibly be in Morrison’s organisational settings. Beyond the study, itthe vicinity needed to be called via their mobile phones. helped Nalle innovate its mobile RFID technology for aThis uncertainty also affected clients, who never knew if much wider audience. More conceptually, the study ledtheir premises had been checked, and therefore called to the development of an Interactive Innovation Frame-Morrison’s managers, who then had to contact the guard work that was evaluated empirically during the study.via mobile phone. By and large, the information flow to Here, the theoretical result of its analysis quite clearlyand from those in the field was very inefficient, and a underlined that interactive innovation is different whensolution to Morrison’s problems was sought. conducted in mobile environments. The very specific Morrison and its mobile workforce decided to partici- complexity of the activity of innovation, in AT parlance,pate in the interactive innovation activity of mobile resulted from unique contradictions of motives of itsRFID, a technology that promised to address many of participants, from the effects of geographical distributionthese mobility-based shortcomings. RFID essentially and modalities of mobility and from contradictoryconsists of two components. A number of transponders, roles that technology assumed. Further contradictionsor tags, in the shape of small stickers, would be attached emerged from representations as boundary-spanningto various elements of the premises patrolled by objects and contradictory interaction requirements ofMorrison’s guards (e.g., to a gate). The main innovation the discretionary practices of mobile workers and thewas the mobile transceiver, a synchronous reader that interactive, knowledge-sharing innovation activity.communicated with the tags once they were in close The following section briefly introduces aspects ofproximity. Once tag and reader had connected, the guard mobility and innovation that are relevant to this study.could select a message on the reader, for instance ‘all ok’. Next, AT with its focus on motivation, object-oriented-Immediately, the serial number of the tag, tied to the ness and transformation is introduced as a theoreticalspecific premise, would be sent along with a time-stamp foundation. Contradictions, as the impetus for changeand the selected message to Morrison’s office. This within these activities, are emphasised as the mainsynchronous information exchange would also update analytical tool. After setting the theoretical foundation,the field data stored on an extranet, so that Morrison’s the individual stages of Action Research provide themanagers as well as the company’s clients knew where structure for the subsequent sections of this paper. TheEuropean Journal of Information Systems
  3. 3. Interactive innovation of technology for mobile work Jan Kietzmann 307diagnosis outlines the motivation for the interactive However, the cooperation, coordination and collabora-innovation project, the planning stage provide details of tion (Kaptelinin & Nardi, 1997) with mobile workers andthe normative interaction framework that was developed the connection to mobile work continue to present afor it, the action taking stage describes the introduction considerable struggle. What truly happens in the field isof the mobile RFID technology, and the evaluation and really only known to mobile workers. The rich informa-learning stages outline the results, for scope of the project tion from the multitude of contexts they navigate is oftenand more generally for interactive innovation of tech- reduced to paper logs or summarised through voicenology for mobile work. conversations with mobile phones. In this process, important contextual detail gets lost, requiring frequentThe messiness of mobile work and innovation of verification and validation between communicationtechnology partners. Similarly, not all mobile work contexts areIn the midst of recent advances of mobile technology and suitable for all mobile technologies, and mobile workersemergence of new mobile devices, it is hardly surprising select how to deploy and appropriate technologies inthat mobility is at the fore of academic work, too. correspondence to their actual needs in the field. ItNew developments are theorised as emerging mobile appears that mobile technologies do not fully respond to(Sørensen & Pica, 2005), pervasive (Hansmann et al., the needs of mobile work, and at times exacerbate rather2003), nomadic (Lyytinen & Yoo, 2002b) and ubiquitous than improve mobile work and managerial efforts(Lyytinen et al., 2004) constellations of work and (Wiredu & Sørensen, 2005).interaction. In order to address these difficulties and to improve the In the course of these conceptualisations, some authors interaction among mobile and non-mobile individuals,primarily study technological aspects of mobility (e.g., manufacturers are busy innovating new devices. CaughtPierre, 2001; Izadi et al., 2002; Kim et al., 2003), while in the traditional trajectory of invention–innovation–others examine mobility from a social (e.g., Castells, diffusion, mobile devices are often developed before users1996; Ling, 1998; Urry, 2000; Agre, 2001; Fortunati, 2001; become actively involved. The actual mobile workPlant, 2001) or a socio-technical research perspective activities that these innovations are to serve are black- ¨(e.g., Kristoffersen et al., 1998; Wiberg & Gronlund, 2000; boxed, and users are only involved in testing theLyytinen & Yoo, 2002a; Pedersen & Ling, 2003; Pica & functionality and interface design. At this stage, theSørensen, 2004). Contrary to earlier arguments that innovations are already conceptually fixed, closed, andproclaimed the proverbial Death of Distance (Cairncross, non-malleable, and the primary concern of innovation1997) and Anytime, Anywhere computing (Kleinrock, studies is the technology’s effect on the user. Examples1996), this abundance of recent mobility-related research include innovations that are regarded as elicitingprojects and publications highlight that space, location disembodied changes to knowledge and skill sets (Cohenand the distribution of data, individuals and devices & Levinthal, 1990), leading to competitive advantagecontinue to be important factors of human interaction (Porter & Millar, 1985; Davis & Devinney, 1997), or(Olson & Olson, 2000; Wiberg, 2001). introducing key changes in production or process In this context, mobility is associated with the management in the work organisation (Whipp & Clark,conscious, rational choice of people to move, to meander 1986; Christensen, 1997; Tidd et al., 1997, p. 23; Porter,and to change location, often in a fluid, unstable way and 2001). In most cases, these effects are examined post-at times unpredictable to themselves and to others innovation, based on historical accounts and before-and-(Kakihara & Sørensen, 2001; Brown & O’Hara, 2002; after comparisons. The innovation practice is treatedLilischkis, 2003). Various modalities of mobility delimit purely as an outcome, the opus operatum, rather than inmobile work according to the mode of transportation and concert with the activity of innovation, the opus operandiuse of technology (i.e., travelling occurs when people (Bourdieu, 1977).move in vehicles), the time spent at any one site (i.e., Those who involve the user as a valuable input into thevisiting occurs when a person temporarily stays at one innovation process often pay close attention to howplace on a transitory basis before moving on) and consumers and lead-users modify existing products.location (i.e., wandering occurs when a person moves Bricolage, user-innovation and technologies that emergeabout a building or specific premises) (Kristoffersen & in situ demonstrate how the use of technologies can differLjungberg, 2000). Throughout their workdays, most from their intended application (Ciborra, 2002; Shah &mobile workers negotiate a multitude of modalities and Tripsas, 2004; Haddon et al., 2005; Von Hippel, 2005).contexts (Scheepers et al., 2006); they may drive or walk, Nonetheless, these phenomena still do not describethen spend time at a specific place, perhaps wander about co-constructive activities or the underlying motivationand then continue to drive to different sites. of the various parties involved. However, they underline At first sight, the affordances of mobile technology the disconnect between existing innovations and thesuggest that others could easily relate to such diverse actual needs of their work activities from a distance, that mobile With a focus on the causal involvement of the user andinformation systems provide the communication link the activity of co-constructive efforts, studies have beenbetween those in the field and those in the office. conducted in non-mobile environments. An essential European Journal of Information Systems
  4. 4. 308 Interactive innovation of technology for mobile work Jan Kietzmannpremise is that developers and users are teams of different collective activities. We selected AT (Leontiev, 1974,experts (Bjerknes & Bratteteig, 1987), and that innova- ¨ 1978; Vygotsky, 1978; Engestrom, 1987) as an analyticaltions ‘should be done with users, neither for them nor by lens that focuses on the context of meaningful, goal-them’ (Ehn & Kyung, 1987, p. 54). Participatory Design, oriented and socially determined interaction betweenfor instance, underscores the involvement of users in the human beings and their material environment (Bannon,planning and designing of information systems (Floyd 1997).et al., 1989; Bødker & Grønbæk, 1991; Ehn, 1993; Jones, AT lends itself to IS studies in general and to mobility1995, p. 72; Piller et al., 2003). Particularly Bødker’s studies in particular as it pays particular attention to theparticipatory human–computer interface (HCI) design role of tools and artefacts as mediators of humanstudies adopt such an activity-lens; however, Participa- activities. In this realm, a number of ISscholars (includingtory Design and interactive innovation place the user in a Bødker, 1991; Nardi, 1995; Wiberg, 2001; Wiredu &fundamentally different role. Sørensen, 2005) have demonstrated the usefulness of AT. Participatory Design, with the underlying assumption ¨ Especially Engestrom’s interpretation and extension ofthat design is mostly concerned with determining details to AT (1987), through his framework of activity systemsmeet a particular purpose, focuses on an emancipatory (Figure 1), has become a recognised conceptual frame-element that is guided by conflicts and concerns as work for describing the structure, development andperceived by the user. Examples include HCI work, in context of computer-supported activities (Kuutti, 1996;which the functional properties of the respective devices Kaptelinin & Nardi, 1997).are already established and inscribed into the artefact. In an A T approach to understanding human beha-Users are involved to identify the drawbacks of current viour, ‘all human experience is shaped by the tools andinterfaces and are tasked with improving their usability sign systems we use’ (Nardi, 1995, p. 5). These so-calledand usefulness (Bødker, 1991), without a direct focus on mediators are represented above through tools, rules andthe actual functions, the affordances, of the device. a division of labour that mould our interaction with Interactive innovation, on the other hand, is first and objects in the real world. In AT, subjects’ activities areforemost concerned with determining the purpose of an motivated to transform these objects into desired out-innovation. In other words, innovators invite users to comes (Vygotsky, 1978). For instance, a Nalle engineerhelp develop the functions that the device is to serve. The used his tools, physical or intangible, to transform aresulting back-and-forth between innovators and users regular mobile phone into an RFID-enabled handset. Aindicates that contradictions, perhaps between what is mobile security guard used his keys to transform antechnically possible and what users demand, require unlocked building into a secured premise. Accordingly,further negotiation. Such a struggle emphasises that each activity is expressed through a clear object-orient-learning occurs when these two parties try to align their edness, and the motivation to transform each object intorespective activities, which then informs the actual a new outcome.innovation process and the resulting product itself. ¨ Favourable for this study, Engestrom’s activity systemsOvercoming these contradictions during this collective suggest a move from an instrumentalist approach ofinnovation activity affects the actual purpose the in- looking at discrete tools, etc. to an interactionistnovation will serve, not just its design component. perspective that supports the holistic interplay of the Consequently, a practice-based approach to innova- inherent elements. In recognition of the impact of thetion, one that involves the interaction of a number of supra-individual influences on activities, even when aparticipants, motives and concurrent activities, responds subject is apparently working alone, the communitymost favourably to a mobile reality that is often messy, component gives weight to the social and culturalnon-linear and not necessarily sequential. Nonetheless, context of the work environment and to neighbouringdespite calls for investigating these emerging practice- activities. For an interactive innovation study, this focusbased activities (Fontana & Sørensen, 2005; Scarbrough & is of paramount importance, as it allows the researcher toSwan, 2005) within the ‘bewildering array of definitionsand approaches’ regarding innovation (Swan & Newell,2000, p. 27), the causal involvement of the user has Toolshardly been studied. The interactive innovation lensintroduced below treats the process of innovation ‘not ina normative or naturalistic way, but as a sociallyconstructed constellation of activities and practices’ Transformation(Scarbrough & Swan, 2005, p. 2) involving technology Subjects Object Outcomesand mobile work. ProcessInnovation and the theory of activityAn investigation that aims to examine the process of Rules Division of Labour Communityinteractive innovation, not its outcome or its effect onthe user, requires a theoretical framework centred on Figure 1 Engestrom’s framework of Activity Systems (1987). ¨European Journal of Information Systems
  5. 5. Interactive innovation of technology for mobile work Jan Kietzmann 309examine the activities of Nalle, Morrison and the security into the dynamic aspects of their work through the eyesguards and their impact on each other’s activities. of a researcher and the researcher’s findings were In this complex view of activity systems, all the enriched through actual active participation in theelements are interdependent and (re)shape each other complexities of work; ‘research inform[ed] practice andthroughout the duration of the collective activity. practice inform[ed] research synergistically’ (Avison et al.,However, the framework of activity systems does not 1999, p. 94).suggest harmony between all of its elements. On the The research study was grounded in a highly complexcontrary, the value of their interaction lies in the learning interactive innovation project that involved the manu-that occurs during the negotiation of problems that occur facturing company Nalle, who as the primary innovatoreither between the nodes (for instance when a subject had set out to innovate a mobile RFID technology.does not have the appropriate tools for the activity), or Moreover, it involved the security services companywithin them (for example when there are two rules that Morrison Patrolling, as a secondary user and innovationcontradict each other). These problems, called contra- partner that agreed to host a number of highly interactivedictions in AT, may at first sight be seen as complications trials within the boundaries of its organisation. Lastly, thefrom an innovation perspective. Nonetheless, they also trialists were Morrison’s respective mobile security guards,lead the activity system through constructive, expansive the primary users of the technology (Table 1).cycles, in which the negotiation of contradictions Empirical materials were collected over the course of aprovides the sources of new knowledge and drives the 12-month project in which the chosen AT lens wasresulting transformation of an object into an outcome. operationalised through Action Research. The principal When considering a complex collective activity such as researcher actively engaged in both action and researchinteractive innovation, neighbouring activity systems of activities with the innovator Nalle, mobile workers asinnovator, primary and secondary users add to the primary users and Morrison as a secondary user of mobilepotential for problems and to the learning that can arise RFID. Evidence was collected through logs of interviews,from their interaction. The fluid negotiation of contra- audio and video recordings of work activities, with anddictions within and between their activities permits a without the new mobile RFID device, drawings of workpractice-oriented view of interactive innovation instead practices and server data (Table 2). Through the interac-of a mechanistic product-oriented perspective of innova- tion of the participants and the interdependency of theirtions. In combination with its premises of motivation, activities, AT principles were applied in Action Researchmediation, object-orientedness and transformation, AT to develop an interactive innovation framework.allows us to examine interactive innovation as a process The Action Research project took place in 2005, andrather than a product, as dynamic and flexible as opposed strictly adhered to the basic stages of (a) diagnosing,to rigid, and as open rather than closed to interpretation. (b) action planning, (c) action taking, (d) evaluating In light of the growing mobilisation of work and the and (e) specifying learning (Susman & Evered, 1978;increasing diffusion of mobile devices, this study un- Baskerville, 1999), which are discussed in the sameiquely addresses the merger of three key interests for sequence throughout the remainder of this paper.scholars and practitioners. First, it looks at co-construc-tive efforts, aimed at the innovation, not the design, oftechnology. Second, it examines innovation as an A case of interactive innovation of technology foractivity, not a product, and third, it questions how user mobile workinvolvement and mutual learning is affected by mobile Before this particular innovation project, RFID was at awork settings. With this background, the question that very interesting junction; it had existed for quite somemotivated this research project was: How does the time as asynchronous or mobile systems. Synchronous,interaction with mobile work affect the innovating of mobile handheld RFID devices had been heralded as atechnology? ‘killer combination not killer application’ (Roberge, 2004, p. 1). The potentially enormous impact of contactlessThe method of action research interaction on work encouraged the three differentIn pursuit of this question, the researcher needed to parties’ involvement with the interactive innovationbecome part of the social forum that engaged with theinnovative process. Especially for a study of mobileactivities, which are not really ‘observable’ from a Table 1 Interactive innovation participantsdistance, proximity to all research subjects was essential. Subject IndividualsFurther, the activity of innovation needed to take placewithin real, mobile settings. As a methodology that Innovator: Nalle Nalle product innovation, R&D and ITsupports such intervention, while at the same time mobile solutions managerscontributing to scientific knowledge, Action Research Innovation partner: Mainly managers and IT staff, secondary Morrison patrolling users of mobile RFID and field datawas adopted as the most suitable research method Trialists: Mobile Mobile security guards, traffic dispatchers,(Baskerville & Pries-Heje, 1999; Baskerville & Myers, workers primary users of the technology2004). In this case, all practitioners gained an insight European Journal of Information Systems
  6. 6. 310 Interactive innovation of technology for mobile work Jan Kietzmann Table 2 Action and research activitiesSubject Location/medium Action and research activitiesInnovator (Nalle) Various physical locations Action: In meetings and interviews, we discussed the development Meetings, conference calls, email, of mobile RFID technology, its constraints and affordances, the role written reports, memos of the primary and secondary users. We worked on developing the device in accordance with the contradictions that emerged, within Nalle, but also at Morrison and its mobile workforce. Research: On a conceptual level, what was the motivation for involving other participants? How could the interaction between subjects be facilitated? How could empirical materials be collected and analysed?Secondary user Morrison headquarters and regional Action: In meetings, the technology and its objective affordances(e.g., Morrison patrolling) offices were introduced, including the fundamental properties of mobile Face-to-face meetings, but also email RFID. We discussed the context of work at Morrison, but also out in and telephone communication the field, and designed trial applications accordingly. Further, we discussed the role of the technology for Morrison, potential trial difficulties, access to organisational data, research sites and how mobile RFID would be implemented throughout the geographically dispersed and mobile settings. Research: How do we trigger feedback from primary users? What was Morrison’s motivation? What transformation was necessary? How could both action and research be staged at this company?Primary users Regional offices, patrolling vehicles, Action: The researcher accompanied security personnel on day and(e.g., Mobile security public spaces, client sites, restaurants, night shifts to learn about the central activities of these mobileguards) etc. workers. Later, the researcher introduced the device, provided training, helped troubleshoot the technology if needed, tested its functionability and introduced the interaction protocol and fora that were to be followed throughout the project (contact details, issue logs, change logs, etc.). Research: Approximately 200 open-ended, formal and information interviews, conversations and field observations elicited what functions the technology should offer, but also how mobile RFID performed in the trials, how it changed mobile work activities and how the innovation could be improved. Also, how could these individuals interact with Nalle and Morrison to help negotiate the functionality of the actual device, etc? How did they interact?project. However, each party participated for different Nalle spent immense time and energy on enabling thereasons, or in AT terms each party was motivated to technological aspects of the mobile RFID system, but thedevelop mobile RFID by its own real-world contradictions real innovation of the technology and its businessand problems. The first step in Action Research was applications only began after the functionality of itstherefore to diagnose these different motives according to synchronous communication and auto-identificationthe chosen Activity System framework. Built on this technology was achieved. Nalle was motivated to com-conceptual understanding of motivations in terms of pete actively in the corporate sector; however, a contra-object-orientedness and outcome-transformation for diction existed between the experience the companyeach participant, an action plan for interactive innova- possessed, based on generic technologies, and the skills ittion was developed and executed. now required. Nalle’s previous activities were focused solely on device manufacturing; the company did not have the expertise needed to tie its technologies specifi-Diagnosing the motivation for the interactive cally to mobile work. Accordingly, Nalle’s motive for theinnovation project project was to gain this knowledge to extend its mobileAs introduced earlier, mobile device manufacturers have RFID prototype into an auto-identification device thatbeen very successful at tailoring to the needs of private would enable new work practices and information flowsusers. For the innovator Nalle, the current shift to the across changing mobile work contexts. Based on thecorporate clientele meant developing technologies that abovementioned contradiction of experience vs skillswere not generic, off-the-shelve solutions, but that could required, this meant that the technology needed to bebe embedded within various organisational contexts. grounded in actual work contexts, co-constructed byEuropean Journal of Information Systems
  7. 7. Interactive innovation of technology for mobile work Jan Kietzmann 311those who would later use it. An interactive and activity- mobile workers became involved in the project with thefocused approach was seen as elemental to the success of objective of actively interacting with their managers andthis innovation. The project was further supported by the with Nalle throughout the innovation process in order tofact that interactive innovation had no precedence in improve mobile working conditions and environments, which motivated the design of a Lastly, the researcher was interested in examining theinteraction framework that would lay out how innovator, effect of mobility on interaction and innovation. Thisinnovation partner and trialists would exchange infor- desirable outcome was an empirically tested and practice-mation pertinent to the technology under development. based understanding of innovation, interaction and As an innovation partner, Morrison Patrolling was mobility of work.motivated to take part in this project to improve the Applying the activity lens to the context of allcompany’s ability to understand and manage mobile participants in the diagnostic stage not only revealedwork. The diagnostic stage uncovered contradictions many interesting contradictions within each activity, butwithin the organisation between information sought also unveiled contradictions between them. Each partyfrom the field and information available from the was motivated to overcome its own contradictions, butworkers. Morrison’s interests in mobile RFID was further all three pursued a different object transformation andmotivated by the promise to improve such organisational outcome (Table 3). The shared motivation that broughtinformation flows and to overcome many other non- all parties together was their common desire for the finalautomatic interaction difficulties previously experienced outcome of the interactive innovation activity, thebetween mobile workers and their stationary colleagues. mobile RFID system. In recognition of the uniquenessMorrison was reluctant to wait until a suitable technol- of the different perspectives (motivations and objectogy was available, and hesitant to buy an off-the-shelve transformations), and the complexity of an activity thatsolution that could not be tested thoroughly. Interactive aims to align them, all parties emphasised that aninnovation promised the development of a technology interaction forum was needed that also placed emphasisthat was developed around Morrison’s contexts, that on the interactive activity itself. Based on these premiseswould address the contradictions within its current of AT, a practical framework need to be established thatmobile work activities and that could be improved would outline an interaction system for the duration ofthroughout the various iterations of innovation cycles. the innovation activity, including who would commu- Although trialists did not instigate the innovation nicate with whom about specific topics related to theproject directly, indirectly their actual mobile practices project and how. This request provided the motivationmotivated it. Their participation, however, was motivated for developing a methodology that would ensure theby their need to improve their professional relationship continued discourse between innovator, innovationto their colleagues and superiors by enhancing the partner and trialists.interaction and information flows with them. Contra-dictions within the mobile work activities emphasised adisjoint between the guards’ central activity (ensuring the Action planning: how should participants interactsecurity of various premises), and the administrative tasks throughout the project?that often took most of their time. For example, During action planning, the researcher conducted a base-recording every task via paper-based methods was not line study to set the start parameters for the innovationan appropriate solution for their demanding mobile work activity. This included reflecting on the results of theenvironments. Similarly, a guard’s use of his mobile diagnosis stage, and facilitating the interaction betweenphone as a means of constantly updating others on his the different participants. For this purpose, the researcherlocation and current job tasks interrupted his work and and practitioners (innovation partner, Nalle and trialists)thereby contradicted with his central activity. As a result, collaborated in designing a normative framework that Table 3 Motivation for interactive innovation participantsParticipant Transformation of object Desired outcomeInnovator Nalle Exploit proof-of-concept (of mobile RFID) in a A mobile RFID device that responds to the manner useful for mobile work contexts. requirements of mobile work environments.Innovation partner Improve existing information systems by Improved organisational information flows atMorrison embedding technologies throughout mobile work Morrison involving mobile work(ers). settings.Trialists mobile security Reduce effort required to log work activities, Ability to focus solely on central work activity,guards replace paperwork with automatic data capture. without need to report everything manually.Researcher Examine interaction and innovation in the context Empirically tested and practice-based of technology and mobility of work. understanding of innovation, interaction and mobility of work. European Journal of Information Systems
  8. 8. 312 Interactive innovation of technology for mobile work Jan Kietzmannwould lay out how the interaction protocol for theduration of the innovation project. Clearly, different sets of knowledge existed among theparticipants, which needed to be communicated Innovator Innovationand combined in order for interaction to be fruitful C Nalle Partnerand innovation to be successful (Von Hippel, 2005). MorrisonIn recognition of the complexity of the parties involved,the acknowledgment of different, exclusive skills and Dsets of knowledge became an important factor in the A Bdevelopment of technology for mobile work. In ATterms, the contradictions between these knowledgesets lead the interactive innovation activity into Trialistsexpansive cycles, in which the existing knowledge Security Guardsasymmetries can be balanced. This information exchangewould anchor the innovation within the context ofthe mobile work setting and ensure that the technologyunder development was suitable for the organisationalcontext. Figure 2 Interactive innovation framework. The innovator’s expertise was undeniably the develop-ment of mobile technology. In this setting, it was Nalle’sknow-how of building a synchronous, mobile RFIDreader and driving the transfer of RFID data from the the information asymmetries that existed between themreader to the corporate back-end system. From an (Von Hippel, 2005). Three different sets of knowledgeinnovation perspective, Nalle took a solution-based shaped the interactive innovation of technology forapproach by offering a technology aimed at solving mobile work, which should interactively inform oneorganisational inefficiencies. The innovator’s knowledge, another, eventually allowing the innovator to developaccordingly, was solution-based. technology that is responsive to both primary and The innovation partner, Morrison Patrolling, possessed a secondary users (Figure 2).different set of knowledge. As experts within the context Interaction in Innovation Space A: The interaction in thisof their organisational setting, managers knew the particular space involved the innovator and the trialists.capabilities and limits of their existing IS and how these While the former would provide input regarding thewere tied into their daily operations. In most settings, technological possibilities and the possible affordances ofthese practices involved technological IS and manual mobile RFID, the trialists would provide the needs-basedprocedures, mobile security guards and office-based knowledge of work requirements and practical feedbackmanagers and traffic dispatchers. In other words, the on the functionability of the technology. This representedinnovation partner understood how mobile telephony, talk about work practices and technology development.for instance, and asynchronous, often paper-based Interaction in Innovation Space B: In the diagnosis stage,procedures existed side-by-side within the confines of both innovation partner and trialists realised that thetheir respective organisational objectives and contexts. In corporate understanding of mobile work was removedorder to take advantage of these new developments for from its reality. The input from trialists was needed totheir organisational processes, the innovation partner balance their needs-based understanding of mobile workoffered context-based knowledge to the interactive innovation practices with the context-based knowledge of organisa-project. tional requirements. Their interaction would provide The trialists, Morrison’s mobile security guards, focused input to the improvement of information flows and workon the actual work to be completed. The immediacy to at Morrison. This represented talk about work practices andeveryday tasks placed them into the remarkable position the future of mobile work.that they were the only individuals who really knew what Interaction in Innovation Space C: In an effort to remainhappened out in the field. Although their superiors had responsive to actual work practices, the innovator neededaccess to paper-based logs and other asynchronous to place strong emphasis on the organisational contextsrecords of their work, these were merely accounts of a of the innovation partner. Similarly, for the innovationsubsection of mobile work. Only mobile guards, the partner it was important to learn about the actualfuture primary users, understood their work environment properties and capabilities of mobile RFID so that use-in all of its finesse, and knew the skills and shortcuts cases could be designed and work practices amended. Itneeded to get the work done. Consequently, trialists was elemental that Nalle and Morrison Patrolling closelypossessed needs-based knowledge. interacted so that the new mobile RFID systems and Next, these knowledge sets needed to be combined in a corporate legacy systems could be prepared and inte-way that would allow individuals to transfer their grated. This represented talk about work contexts and systemsrespective knowledge to those who required it, to balance development.European Journal of Information Systems
  9. 9. Interactive innovation of technology for mobile work Jan Kietzmann 313 Collective Interaction in Innovation Space D: Once made to the actual device, the RFID tag technology andcombined, the knowledge exchanges from individual work practices at Morrison.Innovation Spaces (A–C) include all of the different One trialist was recorded saying: ‘I no longer have toperspectives that should inform the innovation of a new answer the phone to respond to the constant questionstechnology. Solution-based, context-based and needs- from the dispatcher. He knows my most recent stop, and Ibased knowledge would coalesce as a united result from can concentrate on my job. The other thing that is reallyindividual dialogues and negotiations within the respec- helpful is that he can look at the electronic log and findtive Innovation Spaces. This does not suggest that all out what happened in the past days. I no longer have tothree parties needed to come together physically in come in to help him read my writing. Now, when we talkInnovation Space D, but rather that the outcomes of it’s about topics that actually make sense’.the previous Innovation Spaces and the resulting knowl- But feedback was not positive all the time, as oneedge bases needed to be combined and aligned. Through respondent pointed out: ‘At the beginning, finding thecontinuing interaction between innovator, innovation tags was a bit of a problem. Different guards installed tagspartner and trialists, the interactive innovation activity at different locations on the premises. Although we hadwould always remain relevant and constantly validate the agreed before where the tags would be, it often took timemobile RFID technology under development – in theory. to find them’. Another trialist reported that ‘tags were very good when they worked, and it was surprising howAction taking: enacting the interactive innovation quickly we got used to the new system. The trouble wasframework when a tag had fallen off, or when the reader malfunc-After diagnosing and planning the interactive innovation tioned. This hardly happened, but when it did we neededproject, in the action taking stage it was time for Nalle and to figure out what was wrong, replace the tag or rebootMorrison to execute their respective plans. This step the device, which was a nuisance and did not always fixinvolved the action researcher and managers from Nalle the problem’.and Morrison intervening with the everyday work In terms of interaction, Nalle and Morrison were inpractices at Morrison. The interactive framework and regular communication, via email, face-to-face meetingsmobile RFID system that were planned and prepared in and telephone conversations. This interaction resulted inthe previous stage were now implemented. the improvements of the technology and the organisa- All three parties were actively engaged with the new tional information systems (Innovation Space C, above).technology. At Morrison, many areas of the mobile work The interaction of mobile workers with Nalle and withenvironments were equipped with RFID tags. Over 2000 Morrison (in Innovation Spaces A and B), however,tags were installed, and each security guard was trained proved to be more complicated than anticipated, andhow to use the mobile RFID reader throughout his work primarily fuelled the evaluation stage of the actionshift. Training sessions were hosted and manuals were research project.distributed to patrolmen to ensure that participants wereable to use their new tools. Throughout their subsequent Evaluation of the interactive innovation activityworkdays, these mobile workers read tags attached to a The mobile work at Morrison provided a suitablenumber of objects (e.g., at gates, doors and windows) and environment for an analysis and evaluation of interactiveselected among responses from the menu on their RFID innovation in action. It allowed the researcher toreader. For instance, when a property was checked, a compare the participants’ ideal, normative interactionsecurity guard read its tag and selected ‘secure’ from the planned and expressed through the Interactive Innova-handset’s menu. This tag event and the status update tion Framework to how these parties actually interacted,were then automatically and synchronously transmitted substantiated through the empirical evidence collectedto Morrison’s main offices. The auto-identification prop- during the action taking stage.erties of the mobile RFID system virtually eliminated The original assumption of various knowledge sets wasmanual logs and worksheets and drastically reduced the quickly validated. Participants had no expert knowledgetime guards had to spend talking on a mobile phone to beyond their respective work domains. Nalle in fact knewreport on their whereabouts. Managers, too, had to spend nothing about security services, either practically ormuch less time manually locating and coordinating the conceptually, and only provided solution-based know-security guards, reports could be drawn up within how. Morrison added the much-needed organisationalminutes and Morison’s customers could access RFID context and trialists offered their needs-based expertiseevents via extranet sites. grounded in their mobile work. The bird’s eye view of this The researcher was active with all three parties, helping array of activities presented in the Interactive InnovationNalle reflect on the events in the field and learn from the Framework suggested a well-balanced relationship be-contradictions that emerged, working with Morrison on tween the three different parties, where the individualimproving the information flows and redesigning the parties would interact through the Innovation Spaces.actual functionality of the mobile RFID system and Together, it would appear, the subjects from each activityaccompanying mobile workers throughout their work. would form a collective of individuals with a commonAs a result of these expansive cycles, various changes were goal in the trial activities. But could their different sets of European Journal of Information Systems
  10. 10. 314 Interactive innovation of technology for mobile work Jan Kietzmannknowledge really be communicated effectively or if they by the need to improve its knowledge and control ofwere too ‘sticky’ (Von Hippel, 2005, p. 8), too hard to mobile work practices. Mobile workers, on the othertransfer from one party to another? How did the tidiness hand, were motivated to participate by a wider array ofof the normative framework hold up against the messi- needs, including their own desire to advance their workness of mobile work? practices, the felt animosity towards outdated, paper- By and large, the interaction followed protocol. based systems and the persistent need to justify theirIndividuals knew whom to contact to discuss problems, work to ask specific questions or to offer suggestions. Mobile These dissimilar motivations imply that participantsworkers contacted their superiors to talk about misalign- had different predispositions towards the outcome, inments between new information flows and the reality of terms of success or failure, of the trials and the interactivetheir work, and they called Nalle’s support-line for innovation activity. In this context, the innovator Nalleanswers or recommendations specific to the device. was fully aware that failure in the trial activities was aRegardless, while the interaction procedures were fol- possibility, despite all efforts of negotiating the individuallowed, in principle, interaction did not occur as regularly elements. However, even in such an occasion, theor frequently as desirable or warranted by the contra- evaluation of the trials would still be considered adictions that emerged. Mobile workers, above all, did not valuable source of learning for further innovation,always interact with the other parties when they research and development. At Morrison, the abovemen-experienced problems in the field, or when they had tioned EMI problem occurred when the RFID tags couldimprovements to suggest. This was evident when the not be mounted onto the steel containers, since theseresearcher accompanied them, indicating that funda- interfered with the electromagnetic field of the RFIDmental problems existed within the innovation activity communication. The tags had to be re-engineered tothat kept participants from interacting. The analysis of withstand the shielding of the containers. Although thisthese contradictions unveiled important lessons for presented a problem in the context of the innovationfuture interactive innovation studies. partner and trialists by affecting both the schedule and the budget of their operations, the continued interactionSpecifying learning focused on the failing artefact, which enabled Nalle toFrom a research perspective, the events that were advance its solution-focused innovation accordingly.observed during the action taking stage and outlined in For Morrison as the innovation partner, on the otherthe evaluation stage were the sources of learning. The hand, the project was a considerable investment that wasproblems that occurred, or in AT parlance the contra- very clearly aimed at solving real, context-specific needsdictions of the collective activities, illustrated an imbal- of their understanding of mobile work. Especially givenance within and between the activity systems of the financial commitment and time investment, the trialinnovator, innovation partner and trialists. Some of these had to succeed not to be seen as an ill-investment andcontradictions could be resolved, leading to an improve- waste of organisational resources. Success was notment of technology, systems and work practices. For measured in terms of learning, and failure was mostinstance, electromagnetic interference (EMI) occurred definitely seen as an entirely negative outcome.between a tag and a container that it was mounted to, Trialists measured the success of the trial against how itwhich led to the re-engineering and thus the improve- contributed to or infringed on their everyday workment of the tag technology. From an innovation practices. In the event of failure of the innovation, thereperspective, these contradictions were meaningful for were no negative consequences, as trialists had no realthe specific product under development, but they did not investment in the project, and mobile workers wouldtruly advance our understanding of interactive innova- return to their usual work practices and tools. None-tion as an activity. theless, the properties of the new technology would Higher level contradictions, on the other hand, can shape their future work practices, so their involvementfocus on interaction difficulties beyond the setting of this and interaction in the innovation process had a definitetrial. More generally, they emphasise if and how the bearing on their own welfare. In this light, trialists wereuniqueness of mobility shapes the process of interactive placed in a difficult position. In addition to placing theirinnovation and vice-versa, and the expansive cycles own needs and interests first, they had to ‘serve twoprovide the main contribution to the conceptualisation masters’. Should a mobile worker focus his attention onof interactive innovation. helping Nalle develop a new technology or his employer, the innovation partner, understand mobile work andContradictions of motivation improve organisational information systems? ThisFrom the outset of the trials, all three participant groups problem set aside, how should mobile workers interactexpressed collaboration readiness (Olson & Olson, 2000); with the other two parties?however, they were each driven by different motives.Nalle was motivated by a need to innovate and develop Contradictions of mobility and technologysynchronous mobile RFID as a grounded and practice- Important considerations for this study were the mod-driven technology; the innovation partner was motivated alities of mobile work and their potential impact on theEuropean Journal of Information Systems
  11. 11. Interactive innovation of technology for mobile work Jan Kietzmann 315innovative activity. From this perspective, the geographi- Here, Nalle transformed a mobile RFID reader based oncal distance, distribution and mobility of trialists led to the needs and context-based knowledge obtained in thecontradictions unique to mobile interactive innovation. Innovation Spaces. Contrary to mobile workers, Nalle didIn the Morrison case, trialists moved across large not work with mobile RFID at all. Rather, Nalle’s activitygeographical terrains, some wandered or visited and yet involved working on the technology. Using a selection ofothers travelled (Kristoffersen & Ljundberg, 1998). In that other tools, engineers and programmers at Nalle saw therespect, they covered different distances from their main artefact as their immediate focus, the content andplaces of employment (e.g., Morrison Patrolling’s main outcome of their work, not as a tool for mobile workers.offices). The importance of these physical, geographical The Innovation partner, on the other hand, was lessplaces of employment vis-a `-vis their mobile places concerned with the innovation of technologies forof work also introduced interesting contradictions for general use. Attention was closely placed within theinteractive innovation. context of the organisational work. The technology One security guard commented: ‘If there’s no one I can under development, as a result, was to improve thetalk to about using the device, I will not. Sometimes the organisational information flows, to contribute to thereader does not work and I need help, but in other cases overall access to and understanding of mobile work.there should be another function added. If someone was Accordingly, the innovation partner desired to workhere, I would tell them, but later I don’t remember y or virtually through mobile computing systems to reduceI just want to go home after my round’. the distance to the situated, mobile spaces. The trialists’ In the Interaction Framework, the Innovating Spaces A main objective was neither to improve generic devices byand B focus on talk about work practices, mobile working on them, nor to gain access to others’ work bytechnology development and the improvement of orga- working through them; mobile workers plainly workednisational information flows. However, interacting with with technology in the pursuit of their everyday opera-mobile workers is more easily said than done. For the tions. For trialists, interactive innovation aimed atinnovator and the innovation partner it was difficult to developing tools to improve their working conditionsget in touch with mobile workers, to get a practice-based and mobile work practices.understanding of the needs-based requirements during Viewed from these three perspectives, technologythe action planning stage and throughout action taking. under development received a dramatically differentInterestingly, this importance of mobility, distance and focus and level of attention from the various participants.distribution appeared to be valid from both sides, as While at first sight mobile RFID appeared to be quitemobile workers found it difficult, too, to interact with fixed in its ability to perform technical functions andother project participants. The immediate needs of their support mobile workers, the various roles determined thecentral activity, for example, to check a gate at a specific degree to which individual parties were able to relate totime required that they moved from location to location, one another. In other words, while a mobile worker sawwhich stood in sharp contrast to the requirements of and treated mobile RFID as a tool, he was less able tointeractive innovation, for example, to return to the relate to RFID as an outcome (for Nalle’s engineer). By theoffice to illustrate the shortcoming of the device or to same token, mobile workers were unable to relate to thetake time to compose a detailed error log. higher-level involvement of the technology for improved Another comment was: ‘Sometimes, it [the device] acts information flows for the innovation partner. Similarly,up. I just don’t know what to do; I just restart it and hope for Nalle’s engineers and programmers it was difficult toit goes away. I don’t have time to try to fix it; I have my view the technology as a tool through the eyes of anormal work to do. When I am back at the office I try to mobile worker or as an object for improved informationdescribe what happened, but then I cannot show them flows in the organisational contexts. Nalle’s engineers’and it’s hard to put what happened into words because expertise supported an outcome perspective, not a tool orI am no techie’. object perspective. These object, outcome and tool lenses In their very essence, mobile technologies are to address were intrinsically incongruent and did not allow partici-such problems of spatial, temporal and contextual distance, pants to interact effectively.and to enable and facilitate interaction from a distance. In In cases where the different participants desired to viewthese interactive innovation trials, mobile technology the technology through a different lens, to balance theiradopted a dual role, as technology under development respective know-how and support each other’s activities,and technology in use (Bødker, 1991), it became the focus mobile devices, although synchronous communicationof innovation at the same time as it was used as a tool in its tools, did not always prove to be helpful. On the contrary,pursuit. Defined by the very nature of their profession and at times subjects found that reporting a technological ortheir respective motivation for participating in the inter- procedural problem over the mobile phone was particu-active innovation projects, innovator, innovation partner larly difficult and did not help bridge mobility-relatedand trialists treated technology quite differently, and in contradictions. For instance, mobile workers oftenstark contradiction to one another. needed to call the innovator or innovation partner to As outlined above, the motivation of the innovator was report a limitation of the device or to ask for help. Into create devices in general and for the trial specifically. many cases, this required that the device was used to European Journal of Information Systems
  12. 12. 316 Interactive innovation of technology for mobile work Jan Kietzmannreplicate an error (e.g., read a specific tag), which was traffic managers and dispatchers) made the notion ofdifficult when the trialist was already navigating and representations quite important and interesting. Toholding his mobile phone. One security guard commen- request a summary of the actions and operations ofted: ‘Sometimes, something goes wrong and I call the security guards turned out to be quite difficult; theirNalle helpline. Daniel [from the support team] asks me externalisations (e.g., drawings of maps, verbal summa-what happened, but in order to redo and describe the ries and demonstrations of their tasks) were oftenerror I need to read a tag with the device – but I can’t do incomplete and even plain wrong. Reason for thisthat while I am on the phone’. This is an interesting incompleteness was the routine fashion with which theyre-occurrence of the contradiction between tools and carry out their work; calling their unconscious operationsobjects outlined earlier. When a worker experienced a back into the conscious out of the context of work wasproblem with the RFID device, it moved from being a tool felt to be very problematic. Consequently, the activity of(unconsciously working with it) to being an object of his interactive innovation was partially based on representa-labour (consciously working on it). When he tried to tions that were difficult to derive and needed to bereport this problem from a distance, via a mobile phone, verified and validated throughout the trial activity,he discovered that this, too, degraded from an otherwise leading in some cases to a need to re-design use-casescommon tool of his work to an object, leaving him and technological devices.essentially with two objects and no tools – another very One security guard noted: ‘It is good that you [theinteresting contradiction of tools based on the inherent researcher] are here, since I would not know how to talkmobility of the worker. to the engineers at Nalle about our work, the technology and the changes. It’s like they have to imagine what weRepresentation and contradictory mediation do here and we have to try to tell them everything aboutDuring the interactive innovation project, mobile work- our work to help. The other problem is that we almosters used the technology under development and subjec- speak two different languages. Sometimes what they saytively interpreted it within the context of their work. makes no sense to us. It’s good, too, that we have ourRelaying their experiences to other innovation partici- managers to talk to, although they’re never where we are’.pants (in the Innovation Spaces) fuelled the iterative This statement illustrates that problems emerged wheninnovation cycles. But given the mobility of the worker, these representations and externalisations were exchanged.the distribution of innovation partner and innovator and In their boundary-crossing role (Star & Griesemer, 1989;the ineffectiveness of mobile technology, this knowledge Carlile, 2002), they shaped the interaction betweenexchange rested on the exchange of representations. The innovator, innovation partner and trialists. The subjects’actual device under development was the most obvious incongruent work contexts led to contradictions ofrepresentation, which as shown before proved to be a representations as mediators in the Innovation Spaces.highly contradictory mediator. Moreover, as a mediator it Nalle and the innovation partner were quite able to relatewas ineffective since only Nalle could manipulate it. to one another’s notations and models (Innovation Space One trialist was recorded stating: ‘Some of the features C), including technical mappings of the design elementsare spot on, but some others could be improved. Some of mobile RFID, project management charts, charters andchanges are very small and I know what the mobile RFID flow charts. On the other hand, the experience of thedevice should do to work better for me, but of course I mobile workers had to be connected with the work of thecannot make any changes to it’. innovation partner and Nalle’s developers (Innovation Other representations included drawings, use case Space A and B), so that future improvements of work-abstractions, flow charts and device menus. Here, the flows, hardware, software, middleware and midlets couldinteraction of Nalle, innovation partner and trialists incorporate important fixes, minor corrections andrelied on the manipulation of these common objects, relevant suggestions. Not only were these representationsfrom a distance, as mediators of their subject-object- difficult to construct in the first place, especially forsubject relationships, leading to two main contradictions mobile workers, but also their interpretation was highlyof representations. dependent on sender and recipient, their respective work In their communicative roles, participants were to know-how, work contexts and frames of reference.varying degrees used to express, or externalise, their Interpreting even the most accurate descriptions out ofcognitive understanding through mappings and abstrac- context, by subjects with a different knowledge base, ledtions of their respective work practices and the trial to numerous misunderstandings in the interactive activ-technology. While some participants were engineers who ity and correspondingly to ill alignments of technologicalwere used to group work and abstract notations, others developments, systems and work practices.drove security vehicles for a living and were seldomrequired to describe their work to outsiders. Accordingly, Contradiction of discretionary and standardisedtheir experience with and ability to compose and activitiescomprehend representations of work activities were quite Mobile work, although collaborative in nature and part ofdifferent. The sheer number of different subject cate- collective activities, is frequently carried out alone.gories (project managers, developers, security guards, Security guards, for instance, communicated throughEuropean Journal of Information Systems
  13. 13. Interactive innovation of technology for mobile work Jan Kietzmann 317mobile technologies and other representations with their was met with resistance by mobile worker and led to anpeers and superiors, but conducted their central work important contradiction for the interactive innovation ofactivity of checking premises and securing buildings, etc. technology for mobile work. Perhaps surprisingly, thisby themselves. The majority of contradictions they was also seen as contradictory by their superiors, whocommonly encountered in the field did not require now had explicit data on the work conducted in the field,collaborative decision-making, and mobile workers used could no longer allow discretionary actions and had notheir discretion, their good judgement, to form their choice but to reprimand their employees for behaviourdecisions. This was evident when contradictions emerged that was previously tolerated.that required a quick decision, which were neverdocumented but were part-and-parcel of being a good Conclusionmobile security guard. For instance, if a guard faced a For Nalle, the appreciation of Innovation Spaces, com-traffic jam, he prioritised between alternate routes and bined with the respective knowledge sets, was recognisedchanged the sequence in which he visited his remaining as invaluable for staging interactive innovation projects.sites. His familiarity with the mobile work environment Moreover, the Interactive Innovation Framework haddefined him and his mobile peers as the only true experts proven beneficial not only for setting out the normativeof the mobile work environment, which allowed them to interaction model, but also as an analytical tool forexercise various degrees of discretion in their decision- identifying interaction contradictions. All of the contra-making in the field. Accordingly, discretionary decisions dictions that emerged in this project (summarised inregarding the multiple contexts are fundamental to Table 4) directly affected the interaction between in-mobile work (Pinelle & Gutwin, 2003; Al-Taitoon, novator, innovation partner and trialists, and indirectly2005), but interactive innovation challenges this discre- shaped the technology under development.tionary work in two ways. Interactive innovation is different in mobile settings. Interaction and knowledge exchange requires that Innovators of mobile technology, striving to involve theirwork practices are formalised and exchanged. Developing future primary and secondary users, face distinct chal-abstract notations of otherwise unconscious operations lenges within mobile settings. Contradictions rooted inwas already discussed as problematic, as was the creation dissimilar motivations provide a complicated foundationand exchange of representations that describe extraor- for interactive innovation activities. The unique condi-dinary events in the field. Moreover, mobile workers tions of mobile work then add novel spatial, temporalexpressed ambivalence towards disclosing how they and contextual contradictions, which mobile technologyexercise discretion in the field. While they wanted itself might be unable to resolve. In fact, the duality of ato help the innovation of the mobile RFID device to device-in-use and a device-under-development can beadvance their mobile work practices, they did not want to disadvantageous to the interaction between participants.disclose the ‘tricks of their trade’, the shortcuts, the As a result, the knowledge exchange with mobile workersworkarounds and the quick fixes that nobody had ever rests on asynchronous representations, including nota-asked about or controlled before. For instance, one guard tions of work practices and more abstract descriptions ofexpressed: ‘We always pinch 20 min here and there; we workflows. However, such externalisations are hard towork long shifts and need breaks. In the meanwhile, the develop, especially by mobile workers who are not oftenvehicle is empty – they [managers] don’t like that. It’s required to reflect on their work practices, and difficult toalways been like that and they have always turned a blind exchange and interpret across the different activities ofeye if we did not overdo it and got the work done. And we innovator, innovation partner and trialists. The fact thatalways did. But now they have proof of where we are and the different parties work either on, through or withwhen, and they have to act on it. They never did this technology adds further complication to interactivebefore and we need to figure out a way around this’. innovation, as individuals are much less able to relate This testimonial shows how mobile workers used to each other’s work. Lastly, an important contradictiondiscretion to structure their workdays, and how their of discretion reveals how mobile workers might object tosuperiors tolerated this level of uncertainty. The inter- revealing their unique work practices in the innovation project now required that such beha- Inscribing their actions and operations into new innova-viour was disclosed. The notion of embedding such tions suggests standardising previously flexible anddiscretionary actions into the functions offered through a discrete work practices. For mobile workers, this inher-new product was seen as contradictory by both parties. ently reduces their future ability to negotiate workMobile work activities that are highly discretionary allow practices and to exercise discretion in the field, aa continuous negotiation between mobile workers and contradiction that strongly influences their motivationsuperiors. Inscribing these activities into new innova- to interact and support the innovation of a newtions would put an end not only to the discretion of the technology for mobile worker, but the inherent standardisation also For manufacturers who desire to develop technologiesprevents his ability to negotiate aspects of his work. For tied to mobile organisational environments, interactiveinstance, the RFID system facilitated insights into mobile innovation activities are important sources of criticalwork that were previously not possible or required, which mobility-specific lessons. Although inviting a multitude European Journal of Information Systems
  14. 14. 318 Interactive innovation of technology for mobile work Jan Kietzmann Table 4 Contradictions of interactive innovationContradiction Conflict ImpactMotivation Innovator Success desired, failure acceptable and not Interactive innovation is flawed if participants negative (solution-focus) are motivated to transform the object into a Innovation partner Success imperative, failure not acceptable different outcome and if success and failure of (context-focus) this transformation are to different degrees Trialist Failure has no impact, success possibly positive acceptable. or negative (needs-focus)Mobility Innovator and Interactive innovation demands stopping work, Interactive innovation is flawed if it requires innovation partner potentially returning to the office, to report different degrees of mobility. Trialists’ primary errors or to refine information flows, etc. concern is motivated by the mobility required Trialist Mobile work activities demand continued by their central work activity, not the mobility of mobility. interactive innovation.Technology Innovator Working on technology Interaction is flawed if parties are unable to Innovation partner Working through technology relate to the central activity of each other (e.g., Trialist Working with technology developers of technology do not know what it is like to work through it, or with it).Representation Innovator and Collaborative work externalised through Interaction is flawed if trialists are unable to innovation partner abstractions of technology or work practices. express their work practices in abstract terms. In Trialist Mostly isolated, individual work, collaborative any event, effective interaction is hindered mostly for exchange of explicit field data. through interpretation out of context (solution- vs context- vs needs-based).Discretion and Innovator Solution-based activity requires feedback from Mobile workers’ motivation is to retain flexibilitycontrol the field. and ability to (re)negotiate working conditions. Innovation partner Context-based activity requires formalisation of This opposes interactive innovation, which mobile work practices. eventually supports closedness and standardi- Trialist High degree of discretion is a primary condition sation. Information from trialists might there- of mobile work. fore not support interactive innovation.of categorically different parties with different activities This activity-based discussion aims to complementinto the innovation process adds to its complexity, the the predominantly product-focused and diffusion-interaction with organisational customers and end users oriented body of innovation and mobility literature.promises access to solution, context and needs-based We anticipate that as the mobilisation of work continuesknowledge sets. Through their initial input, in combina- and the mobile technology industry matures, interactivetion with contradictions that emerge during the innova- projects will become increasingly imperative andtion activity, innovators are able to go through expansive activity-focused methodologies even more crucial forcycles to improve the technology under development. the successful innovation, and study, of technologiesHowever, for the interaction within the innovation for mobile work. We believe that our findings areactivity it is elemental to recognise that mobile workers relevant for other innovation projects, and hopeare motivated to support the development of the that they will not only help motivate research concen-technology on the one hand, but on the other hand trating on the innovation, but also the design,they might resist the impact innovation has on the future adoption and appropriation of technologies for mobileof their mobile work practices. work.About the authorJan Kietzmann is an assistant professor in the Faculty of School of Economics, University of London, specialisedBusiness at Simon Fraser University in Surrey, British in the intersection of innovation, technology and theColumbia, Canada. His Ph.D. research at the London mobility of work, with a particular focus on emergingEuropean Journal of Information Systems