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Digitalized industrial equipment: an investigation of remote diagnostics services
Umeå University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Informatics.
2010 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

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.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Umeå: Institutionen för informatik, Umeå universitet , 2010. , 105 p.
Research reports in informatics, ISSN 1401-4572 ; 02
Keyword [en]
boundary-spanning practices, e-maintenance, industry, information technology, IT-enabled services, remote diagnostics systems, ubiquitous computing
National Category
Computer and Information Science
URN: urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-33717ISBN: 978-91-7459-003-6OAI: diva2:317569
Public defence
2010-06-04, MA 121, MIT huset, Umeå universitet, Umeå, 13:00 (Swedish)
Available from: 2010-05-12 Created: 2010-05-04 Last updated: 2010-05-12Bibliographically approved
List of papers
1. Technologies for value creation an exploration of remote diagnostics systems in the manufacturing industry
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Technologies for value creation an exploration of remote diagnostics systems in the manufacturing industry
2008 (English)In: Information Systems Journal, ISSN 1350-1917, E-ISSN 1365-2575, Vol. 18, no 3, 227-245 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

With firms increasingly relying on ubiquitous computing to implement major business initiatives, it is becoming ever more necessary to understand the technological aspects of business developments. This paper analyzes the use of remote diagnostics systems in the manufacturing industry and discusses the opportunities and challenges for the early adopters. It pays specific attention to the impact on business aspects such as the value creation process consisting of relationships, roles, and architecture and the value proposal consisting of a business offer and customer value. The study shows how ubiquitous computing allows manufacturers to become remote service providers while customers can either become co-creators of value or passive receivers of created value. Ubiquitous computing also creates possibilities for the manufacturing industry to design new kinds of business offers based on remote presence. Studying remote diagnostics systems shows that ubiquitous computing creates value when deployed in products, and not just in relation to individuals. Moreover, the design of the value-creation process should not be limited to the single supplier or customer organization, as ubiquitous computing applications take no notice of organizational boundaries.

business model, embedded systems, services, business design, value creation
urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-9498 (URN)10.1111/j.1365-2575.2007.00267.x (DOI)
Available from: 2009-12-08 Created: 2008-04-10 Last updated: 2011-05-04Bibliographically approved
2. Developing integrated solution offerings for remote diagnostics: a comparative case study of two manufacturers
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Developing integrated solution offerings for remote diagnostics: a comparative case study of two manufacturers
2009 (English)In: International Journal of Operations & Production Management, ISSN 0144-3577, Vol. 29, no 5, 539-560 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Purpose – This paper analyzes two manufacturing firms entering condition based maintenance business reveals the complex nature of establishing integrated solutions. Existing literature on integrated solutions is contrasted critically against empirical findings. Design/methodology/approach – Descriptive, comparative case study focuses on solution offerings in two different companies. The data consist of 57 thematic interviews of both manufacturer and customer representatives and company documents. Findings – In integrated solutions, value is created incrementally through the customer-provider co-production process. Building integrated solutions business requires managing the interdependence of the solution components – both within the provider company and the offering, and between the provider and the client – to enable this collaborative process. Research limitations/implications – The case studies were first conducted separately and later compared. However, despite some minor differences in case methodologies, no problems were encountered in the comparative analysis of the data sets. Originality/value – The paper departs from the canons of earlier literature as it proposes a revised definition for integrated solution offerings; it emphasizes balanced amalgamation of multiple perspectives instead of just replacing the old ones; it questions the view of solutions development as a straight-forward implementation process; and it switches perspective from the manufacturer to the business of the client as the main system.

Industrial services, Maintenance programmes, Manufacturing industries, After sales service
urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-24492 (URN)10.1108/01443570910953621 (DOI)
Available from: 2009-12-08 Created: 2009-07-01 Last updated: 2010-05-12Bibliographically approved
3. Embedded relationship in information services: a study of remote diagnostics
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Embedded relationship in information services: a study of remote diagnostics
2009 (English)In: Journal of Information Technology Research, ISSN 1938-7857, Vol. 2, no 3, 17-34 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Information technology (IT) is increasingly used in the production of services, enabling a self serve channel that challenges the embedded relationship in services. To examine the implications of IT for embedded relationships, we undertook an interpretative case study of a remote diagnostics service in the mining industry. Our analysis suggests that the combination of IT and social efforts by the participants can support embedded relationships to a larger extent than has been shown in previous research.

urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-24493 (URN)10.4018/jitr.2009070102 (DOI)
Available from: 2009-12-09 Created: 2009-07-01 Last updated: 2010-05-12Bibliographically approved
4. The embedded panopticon: visibility issues of remote diagnostics surveillance
Open this publication in new window or tab >>The embedded panopticon: visibility issues of remote diagnostics surveillance
2006 (English)In: Scandinavian Journal of Information Systems, ISSN 0905-0167, Vol. 18, no 2, 7-28 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Remote diagnostics technology is embedded into physical products in order to prevent breakdowns by monitoring the products’ condition via sensors. However, this technology also hides indirect possibilities to monitor the users. The aim of this paper is to explore how remote diagnostics technology changes surveillance and its ethical consequences by studying which surveillance dilemmas users and suppliers identify in remote diagnostics technology and the rationale behind their perspectives. The results show how visibility and non-visibility are of decisive importance concerning whether or not users can examine ethical dilemmas in computer use as visibility seems to be what triggers employees’ feelings of being monitored or not. Despite their monitoring possibilities, remote diagnostics systems do not seem to evoke such feelings. By embedding technology and thereby also the monitoring into physical things, both the technology and the cues of surveillance become concealed, both literally and virtually for the user. To the user the direct reminders of surveillance are thus embedded together with the technology, creating an embedded panopticon. As the users cannot examine possible ethical dilemmas the responsibility remains with the suppliers and challenges them to pick a strategy for how to handle ethical questions.

remote diagnostics technology, surveillance, panopticon, ubiquitous
urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-13222 (URN)
Available from: 2009-12-09 Created: 2007-05-04 Last updated: 2010-05-12Bibliographically approved
5. Turn to the material: remote diagnostics and new forms of boundary-spanning
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Turn to the material: remote diagnostics and new forms of boundary-spanning
2009 (English)In: Information and organization, ISSN 1471-7727, E-ISSN 1873-7919, Vol. 19, no 4, 233-252 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

To learn and adapt, organizations engage widely in Information Technology (IT)-mediated boundary-spanning. This involves making sense of a swath of peripheral information made available by digital means so as to expand local knowledge. Prior research on boundary-spanning has paid scant attention to material differences between IT systems in enabling or constraining such activity. In this article, we argue that material features do matter: features afforded by IT systems have a significant impact on the form and content of boundary-spanning. We analyze material features and related affordances provided by remote diagnostics systems – a family of ubiquitous IT systems. These features allow remote diagnostics systems to collect, store, and continuously analyze data about the state of machinery and related production processes across space, time and organizational boundaries. Organizations use these systems to determine when maintenance intervention is needed, or to improve their production processes. Often, these systems are run by external service providers at remote sites, which become the new ears and the eyes of a focal organization’s production processes. Building on a longitudinal multi-site case study of two organizations, we explore the impacts of remote diagnostics systems on boundary-spanning. We observe that material features afforded by the remote diagnostics led the organizations to change their boundary-spanning in contradictory ways. On one hand, they reinforced existing boundaries. On the other hand, they crossed or cut down others, or created new ones. This suggests that the material features of these systems, when combined with new knowledge creation and sharing practices, within and between the local and the remote sites generate richer, multifaceted inter-organizational knowledge flows. We surmise that IT’s new material features will continue to significantly shape organizing logics that determine where and when organizational boundaries are drawn and crossed. Future boundary-spanning will increasingly be shaped by socio-technical assemblages brought together by increasingly pervasive IT capabilities.

remote diagnostics systems, boundary-spanning, ubiquitous computing, maintenance work
urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-26912 (URN)10.1016/j.infoandorg.2009.07.001 (DOI)
Available from: 2009-12-08 Created: 2009-10-31 Last updated: 2010-05-18Bibliographically approved

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