Digitalized industrial equipment : an investigation of remote diagnostics services

Sammanfattning: With the ubiquity of digitalization, digital convergence of applications, devices, networks and artifacts presents both challenges and opportunities for individuals, organizations and society. Physical artifacts that were not digital in the recent past are now increasingly becoming intertwined with digital components, providing them with digital capabilities. As a consequence, vast amounts of information that used to be invisible can now be captured, digitized and used in new places and novel ways. Organizations thus seek to innovate IT-enabled services based upon the flows of information across both internal and external organizational boundaries. Because IT-enabled services support organizational actors in communicating and collaborating both inside and outside the organizations’ boundaries, they can also assimilate and diffuse knowledge across these boundaries. The thesis is a collection of five papers and a cover paper reporting an exploration of the role of digitalized equipment in boundary-spanning practices as a contribution to the design and implementation of IT-enabled services. Three embedded case studies of Swedish industrial organizations provide an opportunity to address the research question. The findings are based on studies of remote diagnostics services for industrial equipment enabled by remote diagnostics systems, an application family within ubiquitous computing. The thesis illustrates that remote diagnostics systems have a profound impact on how organizational boundaries that were drawn as ‘cross-overs’ are becoming less limited by constraints of time, space and the type of data shared. These systems permit workers at remote sites to gain access to information about external dispersed equipment and production processes. They also create new boundaries between entities that were not previously connected and across existing boundaries with new information and knowledge. This thesis gives insight into how such information sharing across boundaries may leverage multicontextual practices. This thesis contributes to the existing literature with the development of a conceptual apparatus for understanding how embedded technology transforms boundary-spanning practices from a pure social activity to a boundary-spanning assemblage. Boundary spanning is an increasingly complex sociomaterial practice that fundamentally rests on technology as well as human competencies. The technology is deeply intertwined in the boundary-spanning activity as the sensors installed in the monitored equipment serve as the remote technicians’ eyes and ears. Together, the technology and the technicians form a boundary-spanning assemblage. While information systems research has called for attention to the ‘IT artifact’, this thesis underscores the importance of the characteristics of the specific technology and the profound effects it has had on its surroundings. In contrast to predominant ubiquitous computing research that mainly explores mobile applications, this thesis also shows how the increased embeddedness of IT makes technology an invisible but ever-present part of everyday work practices. Digitalized equipment with embedded technology thus raises not only novel opportunities but also novel challenges for both users and researchers. We can design IT solutions today where people close to the technology have no access to or awareness of it. People can be monitored without visual cues revealing the monitoring. Furthermore, developing or using an IT-enabled service is not merely about developing/using a technology or a system; it also involves issues about the technology’s value creation, its ownership, competencies and customer relationships. IT and services should thus not be considered as separate and subsequent processes: they are deeply intertwined and mutual. This thesis thus suggests that digitalized equipment with embedded technology deserves critical scrutiny.