Win of £6 million to research Digital Interfacing.

I am pleased to form part of a team, with computer science colleagues at UCL, Imperial and QMUL, who have been awarded a EPSRC programme grant for over £6 million to research the interfacing of digital systems. The overall research programme (titled Interface reasoning for interacting systems (IRIS)) aims to research the correct functioning of digital interfaces from technical, social, managerial and organisational perspectives – with my focus being on these latter three topics. Commercial partners involved in the programme include Amazon Web Services (UK), BT, Facebook (International), and Hewlett Packard.

Better understanding the effective management of interfacing is vital as companies and individuals harness new digital innovations and integrate them digitally within their processes and practices. Many digital innovations including the Internet of Things, SmartCities, Platforms and Artificial Intelligence, involve a myriad of systems owned and operated by a myriad of different companies which become tightly coupled together through their digital interfaces (e.g. though APIs and cloud computing). Yet little is known about how the organisations involved in such innovations define such digital interfaces, how they evolve, and in particular what organisational or management commitments are embedded within them.

The research project will formally start in January 2018, with recruitment for a post-doctoral researcher here the LSE starting shortly afterwards. The project will run until December 2023.

http://gow.epsrc.ac.uk/NGBOViewGrant.aspx?GrantRef=EP/R006865/1 

The text below provides a more academic introduction of the project.

Within the field of management, “interfaces” are of significant interest[1]; defining organisational boundaries which differentiate “insiders” and “outsiders” and providing connections across these boundaries. Interfaces are thus more broadly defined than engineered logical or digital interfaces as traditional conceived. Yet this broader understanding, in which digital interfaces are considered “boundary resources” for organisations (Eaton et al. 2015; Ghazawneh and Henfridsson 2013), is increasingly important since large-scale composite distributed organisations are emerging from the digital interfacing of organisational entities (e.g. through the growth of cloud computing[2] and the use of APIs). Within these organisational arrangements digital interfaces instantiate, represent, uphold and negotiate boundaries and separations. We therefore need to extend academic understanding of the digital interfaces between digital systems, and connect it to the social, economic and managerial boundaries and connections they create for organisations and society.

 1         Research Challenges

There is considerable research interest in boundaries within management and information systems. The internet allowed organisations to transform value-chains by digitally connecting with customers and suppliers; by harnessing cloud provided digital services (Venters and Whitley 2012); and by transforming physical products into digitally connected services (e.g. IoT – Internet of Things) (Porter and Heppelmann 2014). This transforms organisations leading to organisational arrangements whose defining characteristic is their constitution out of complex information technologies stretched across space and time, and defined by interconnections (Monteiro et al. 2014) (e.g. Netflix or Uber). Termed “cloud corporations” (Willcocks et al. 2014) such organisations evolve and change and challenge managerial and organisational assumptions of boundedness, stability, and even stable motivation of boundaries(Monteiro et al. 2014). Yet such boundary resources are poorly understood as are the wider ‘service ecosystem’ they form part of (Barros and Dumas 2006; Fishenden and Thompson 2013). There is a paucity of research on the specifics of the interface within such service ecosystems.

Consider for example Adur and Worthing[3] (a UK local council) harnessing (through Methods Consulting – a programme collaborator) Salesforce.com, Braintree Payments and MATSSoft for their services (Thompson and Venters 2015). Their value-chain leverages this extended digital supply chain such that the council is, to a significant extent, constituted from these services and must continually evolve its business, technology and management in the face of interface evolution of these components. This, it is argued, will instigate “profound changes in the ways that firms organise for innovation in the future”(Yoo et al. 2010). Reasoning about the interfaces by which such “cloud-corporations” emerge is however lacking. While sophisticated mathematical tools exist for systems modelling (Collinson et al. 2012) such tools are poorly adopted in practice. A significant focus then of this programme of work will be to seek to drive innovation in interface reasoning and systems modelling into tools for business leaders to apply in reasoning about the interfaces they are exploiting within their organisations. Further as new technologies emerge (e.g. block-chains and Machine Learning) and become available as services through interfaces so reasoning about the managerial, contractual and organisational challenges, and about the systemic nature of interfaces, is necessary. We will therefore research how computer science understanding of interfaces might be useful in understanding the social, managerial and organisational boundary.

The significance of researching interfaces as “boundary resources” has been recognised (Ghazawneh and Henfridsson 2013; Hanseth and Bygstad 2015; Yoo et al. 2010) particularly in studying software platforms whereby (Eaton et al. 2015) they are negotiated over time. These authors acknowledge we lack a coherent methodological framework for examining such boundaries – the gap we will ultimately address.

2        Scientific Approaches

This research is exploratory drawing on theoretical lenses from information systems, management and sociology as well as computer science. First we will systematically evaluate a range of theories and management ideas and evaluate their appropriateness for researching different forms of interfaces. Two specific theoretical lenses we consider within this exploratory research and application are:

Control and Coordination: Harnessing an interface cedes control for an action to a third party and devises mechanisms for control and defines boundaries. We will therefore seek to understand control and coordination in interfaces, and to devise mechanisms by which managers may better understand how they control or are controlled by interface design. This extends Venters previous work (Whitley et al. 2014) and links to ideas of control whereby interfaces are socially interpreted and significant in driving algorithmic agency and culture. This research will contribute to understanding platforms (de Reuver et al. 2017; Gawer and Cusumano 2002) whereby an interface provider is often dominant (e.g. Apple provides iOS to App developers) in providing boundary conditions for control (Eaton et al. 2015) though their boundary resources (Ghazawneh and Henfridsson 2013). This understanding will, we hope, complement and extend the resource focused modelling of control within distributed systems logic.

Temporality, emergence and evolution: Within commercial settings interfaces regularly change. This project will evaluate the relationships between evolutionary change across multiple interfaces, contexts of use, and organisational goals. Interfaces enable resources to be decoupled and recoupled generating new possibilities and increasing the liquidity of resources within value production. Exploring how interface verification alters resource liquidity may be an important avenue of study, drawing upon service dominant logic (Bardhan et al. 2010) to better understand interface consumption. Exploring how organisations can verify evolving and changing interfaces in a timely manner is an important research question for the wider research programme.

We will seek to explore the inter-organisational architectures which emerge through ecosystems: The prevalence of digital interfaces has allowed a unbundling of enterprise software from vertically integrated technology stacks (Chang and Gurbaxani 2012; Hagel and Singer 1999) towards widely distributed flat architectures spanning multiple global supplier networks (Friedman 2005; Susarla et al. 2010). Tracing and understanding this change in terms of enterprise architecture, and its impact on interfaces is relevant.

2         References

Bardhan, I., Demirkan, H., Kannan, O., and Kauffman, R. 2010. “Special Issue: Information Systems in Services,” Journal of Management Information Systems (26:4), pp. 5-12.

Barros, A. P., and Dumas, M. 2006. “The Rise of Web Service Ecosystems,” IT Professional (8:5), pp. 31-37.

Chang, Y. B., and Gurbaxani, V. 2012. “Information Technology Outsourcing, Knowledge Transfer, and Firm Productivity: An Empirical Analysis,” MIS quarterly (36:4), pp. 1043-1053.

Collinson, M., Monahan, B., and Pym, D. J. 2012. A Discipline of Mathematical Systems Modelling. College Publications.

de Reuver, M., Sorensen, C., and Basole, R. C. 2017. “The Digital Platform,” Journal of Information Technology (Forthcoming).

Eaton, B., Elaluf-Calderwood, S., Sørensen, C., and Yoo, Y. 2015. “Distributed Tuning of Boundary Resources: The Case of Apple’s  Ios Service System,” MIS Quarterly (39:1), pp. 217-243.

Fishenden, J., and Thompson, M. 2013. “Digital Government, Open Architecture, and Innovation: Why Public Sector It Will Never Be the Same Again,” Journal of Public Administration, Research, and Theory (23:4), pp. 977-104.

Friedman, T. 2005. The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Globalized World in the 21st Century. London: Allen Lane.

Gawer, A., and Cusumano, M. 2002. Platform Leadership. Boston,MA: Harvard Business School Press.

Ghazawneh, A., and Henfridsson, O. 2013. “Balancing Platform Control and External Contribution in Third-Party Development: The Boundary Resources Model,” Information Systems Journal (23:2), pp. 173-192.

Hagel, J., and Singer, M. 1999. “Unbundling the Corporation,” Harvard business review (77), pp. 133-144.

Hanseth, O., and Bygstad, B. 2015. “Flexible Generification: Ict Standardization Strategies and Service Innovation in Health Care,” European Journal of Information Systems (24:6), pp. 654-663.

Monteiro, E., Pollock, N., and Williams, R. 2014. “Innovation in Information Infrastructures: Introduction to the Special Issue,” Journal of the Association for Information Systems (15:4), p. I.

Porter, M., and Heppelmann, J. 2014. “How Smart, Connected Products Are Transforming Competition,” Harvard Business Review).

Susarla, A., Barua, A., and Whinston, A. B. 2010. “Multitask Agency, Modular Architecture, and Task Disaggregation in Saas,” Journal of Management Information Systems (26:4), pp. 87-118.

Thompson, M., and Venters, W. 2015. “The Red Queen Hypothesis: Exploring Dynamic Service Ecosystems,” in: 4th Innovation in Information Infrastructures (III) Workshop, P. Constantinides (ed.). Warwick, UK.

Venters, W., and Whitley, E. 2012. “A Critical Review of Cloud Computing: Researching Desires and Realities,” Journal of Information Technology (27:3), pp. 179-197.

Whitley, E., Willcocks, L., and Venters, W. 2014. “Privacy and Security in the Cloud: A Review of Guidance and Responses,” Journal of Information technology and information management).

Willcocks, L., Venters, W., and Whitley, E. 2014. Moving to the  Cloud Corporation. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Yoo, Y., Henfridsson, O., and Lyytinen, K. 2010. “The New Organizing Logic of Digital Innovation: An Agenda for Information Systems Research,” Information Systems Research (21:4), pp. 724-735.

[1] E.g. The Academy of Management (AoM) conference theme for 2017 is “at the Interface” (premier global academic conference in management) and defines interfaces in these terms.

[2] Willcocks, L., W. Venters and E. Whitley (2014). Moving To The Cloud Corporation. Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan.

[3] https://www.publictechnology.net/articles/features/adur-and-worthing%E2%80%99s-journey-%E2%80%98government-platform%E2%80%99

 

Photo (cc) foto1897 with thanks!

Teaching digital innovation at the LSE: Sprint week reflections

The following article was written by students attending the our Digital Innovation Sprint Week at the LSE:  MISDI students race to innovate during Sprint Week

 

This October, 120 MSc Management, Information Systems and Digital Innovation students took part in LSE’s first ever Sprint Week- an intensive exercise in innovation and collaboration that forces teams to go from idea to prototype in just five days. It is designed to accelerate decision processes and produce clear results within a short time-span- a method used by many start-ups and innovation departments. They were supported by faculty and by consultants from Roland Berger who run similar sprint innovations for blue-chip clients, and by the client’s digital innovation expert.

In this article we hear from two students about their Sprint Week experience.

Organisations need to innovate digital products and services faster than ever before. This requires new skills for digital innovation but gaining skills is challenging. Traditional university lectures and classes are excellent at providing the vital theoretical backgrounds; for example in platforms, business strategy, digital infrastructures, systems development approaches, cloud computing and agility, yet they are poorly designed to provide a visceral understanding of how agile teams really innovate. Responding to that challenge is the aim of the Sprint Week.

Will Venters, Assistant Professor of Information Systems

martin kassethMartin Kasseth, 2017-18 MISDI student from Norway:

Tell us a little about your Sprint Week experience- which company were you working with and what approach did your team take to their problem?

We were working on an exciting project for an internationally recognised financial company (that unfortunately I can’t name here for legal reasons), with some help from consultants from Roland Berger to come up with an innovative idea to help the corporation and their issuers (banks) to engage with younger generations. My group came up with the idea of creating a new, flexible and disposable payment mechanism that we named “VSticky”. The purpose behind the solution was to engage new generation audiences and facilitate small payments at events. Enabled by NFC (contactless) technology, these sticker devices were limited by a geo-fenced and time-limited area, and could be easily deactivated and disposed after use. The sticker is linked to your own digital wallet via a mobile app, where you can set your own spending limits. We envisaged that this solution could be used at events to allow quick and safe payments within geographically-limited areas. Possible use cases included sports games, concerts, schools/universities, street markets, conferences, amusement parks, etc.

What challenges did your team face?
I think the greatest challenge for both me and my team was communication. We were a very international team, with students from Norway, Germany, the U.S., Iran, China and Estonia. While this was one of the most exciting dimensions of the week, it also posed some communication problems. Even something as simple as saying that someone’s suggestion is “okay” might have completely different connotations in different languages and cultures. This resulted in quite a few funny episodes that we also learnt from throughout the week!

How did you do?
Of the 18 groups, the top six were selected for the last day’s “Dragon’s Den”, where representatives from the financial corporate client, external consultants and industry experts listened to the groups’ presentations and asked questions about the designs. There were many creative and really good ideas presented by all of the groups. In the end, the jury picked a winner, which actually was my team’s solution!

What was your biggest takeaway from the experience?
Probably that innovation processes are much more complex and challenging than I imagined beforehand. It is not simply enough to have a good idea – you also need to think thoroughly through the possible usage cases, target groups, the value creation, in addition to the system design itself. Nevertheless, parts of the innovation process can be compromised into a single week and still produce good results. This provided me with a method and toolkit that I am sure I will bring with me into my future career.

Everyone has the opportunity act as the group’s leader for a designated day, providing you with valuable insight into team-work management and challenges, which are crucial for your future career. Moreover, getting the opportunity to work on a real-life case challenge for a global company, with the input from industry experts, is a really inspiring factor. It is probably the best academic learning experience I have had so far during my studies!

We all got together and celebrated with a big party on the Friday – it is important to celebrate after a week with hard work!

IMG_7499 resized

_____________________________________________________________________

Timo Fuhrmann, 2017-18 MISDI student from Germany:timo

Do you have any advice for future students about Sprint Week?

Before the Sprint Week, I would definitely recommend students read the book, Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days on which the project was based. It gives you a comprehensive overview and explains in detail the tasks that have to be done during the week.

The outcomes were very diverse among the 18 groups that took part in the Sprint as everyone approached the problem in a different way, leading to interesting products. My group worked on a mobile app and a smart card to unify payment and authentication. Other groups focused more on the payment aspect and also trying to approach new markets.

What did you find most challenging about the week?

I believe that the biggest challenge was to bring everyone on the same track during the first two days. There was not always a clear way forward and there were also many discussions on various aspects. We had to make sure that everyone knows our goal, agrees with it and follows it. We needed to achieve a common understanding of our main idea to be able to find a good solution and work on our prototypes. On Tuesday, we managed to overcome this challenge and found our common understanding, enabling us to work more efficiently and to come up with a great solution in the end.

What did you learn from the experience?

For me, the Sprint Week has been the highlight of the MISDI programme so far. It was intense and demanding but a lot of fun to work together with my group on a real-life problem, creating our own solution and presenting it in front of experts and receive feedback. The Sprint Week is a useful and effective concept to think about and test new product ideas. This hands-on experience gave me a good understanding of the concept and I believe that I can use this framework for my future work life.

Sprint Week1
Timo’s Team
Sprint Week2
The “Rich Picture” from Day 1.

ISChannel – 12th Edition out now

The 12th edition of the IS Channel is out here. This is an annual journal on the social study of information systems which is produced, edited and double-blind reviewed by the students of the Information Systems and Digital Innovation programmes at the LSE, with advice from myself and our editor Marta Stelmaszak.

As a core subject, the journal focuses on the study of ICTs, and the social implications of technological innovation. Research works from other perspectives are considered for publication, provided that they place the discussion on ICTs at the core of analysis and problematisation.

We are already hard at work with the next edition of the journal so if you are a recent graduate from our MSc and would like to develop your Merit or Distinction dissertation into an article please contact us:  Is.Channel@lse.ac.uk

Editorial for this edition by Mame Frimpong (Associate Editor)

From my fellow associate editors and reviewers, it is my pleasure to present the 12th issue of the iSCHANNEL. Congratulations to our writers! To mirror the words of Associate Editor, Marta Stelmaszak, to submit to the journal is a worthy accomplishment and challenge for all who are dedicated to the process. To our readers, thank you for taking the time! We hope that in the next edition, we will be celebrating your work. As a note, we do not impose copyright on articles written so if you wish to develop your article further for other publications that is welcomed rather than discouraged (though a small acknowledgment would be appreciated).

In this edition of the journal,
Simon Draxinger uses Facebook Messenger as a case study to argue that chatbots are the potential outcome(s) of digital platforms’ architectural principles. To strengthen this argument, the paper focuses on the theory of Layered Modular Architecture as proposed Yoo et al. (2010).
Yunjing Joyce Li assesses “Emergency.” This innovative in-vehicle emergency response solution for the upcoming era of fully autonomous vehicles is studied as the example of an intelligent “personal assistant” system. In looking at this innovative emergency response solution, design analysis demonstrated that the interplay between human and digital agents will be determined not by machines but by the choices made by individuals, organizations and societies.
Curtis Goldsby examines a closed free-floating car sharing platform, DriveNow. In his analysis, the author determines that the platform struggles to capitalize on multi-sided network effects. Through analysis, the paper determines that closed platform born through traditional ventures, despite growth bottlenecks, also has the potential to disrupt industries.
Marina Alvarez studies how Vendor Relationship Management (VRM) systems, as tools for marketing and consumption practices, can affect aspects of consumer empowerment. Through recognizing the effects of discourses of knowledge, the paper uses the concepts of “choice” and “power” on narratives of information inequities and disciplining to establish a basis for understanding consumer empowerment through VRM systems for marketing and consumption practices.

As an MSc student myself, I know I am not the only one that found this year to be both intellectually stimulating and challenging. It would be amiss of me not to acknowledge the process the writers have gone through to present their ideas and give us the pleasure of reading them. The iterative process of the journal hoped to continue pushing the writers to think beyond established—and their own—frameworks to develop pieces that truly matter to them. The topics found in this journal represent the various interests of the writers and draws our reviewers to refine their ideas. Special thanks to all the
reviewers, associate editors Joyce Li and Marta Stelmaszak, and our faculty advisor, Will Venters. The journal is an indispensable space and one we all enjoyed working on.

Teaching digital innovation at the LSE: Sprint week with Roland Berger

Organisations need to innovate digital products and services faster than ever before. This requires new skills for digital innovation but gaining skills is challenging. Traditional university lectures and classes are excellent at providing the vital theoretical backgrounds; for example in platforms, business strategy, digital infrastructures, systems development approaches, cloud computing and agility, yet they are poorly designed to provide a visceral understanding of how agile teams really innovate. Addressing this challenge we drew inspiration from  Mark Thompson at Judge Business School who has run small sprints within their MBA and we developed a 1-week “Sprint week” bootcamp within our core MSc course.

This week all our 120+ MSc students studying “Management, Information Systems and Digital Innovation” are coming together in teams of 6 to innovate a new product or service for a real global company during a 5 day sprint [1]. They are supported by faculty and by consultants from Roland Berger who run similar sprint innovations for blue-chip clients, and by the client’s digital innovation expert.

In essence our week follows the Sprint method set out in Jake Knapp’s book “Sprint: How to solve big problems and test new ideas in just five days” with some significant changes:

  • Students will use richer (and more complex) modelling methodologies, which makes sure groups appreciate the different cultural, social and organisational perspectives within their design. This ensure they produce designs which are both systemically desirable but also “culturally feasible” wherever they will be applied.
  • Students will be pushed to not just produce solutions based on user interface or web design. They must develop a coherent digital design using basic UML modelling techniques alongside Wardley mapping techniques, to ensure a realistic strategic design.
  • Interspersed with the innovation work are a few short lectures – refreshing them on key techniques and introducing challenges their design will face.

On the Friday, the consultants will select the top groups for a Friday afternoon “Dragon’s Den” where experts from the global company, Roland Berger, and from the consulting and software industry, will put those groups through their paces – asking the difficult questions and pointing out the failings in their design. Finally, and most importantly, there is a party on the Friday evening (kindly sponsored by Roland Berger).

As the week counts for 50% of the student’s course mark, their designs will be marked by LSE academics based on LSE assessment criteria – something that is important to ensure this is not a “game” but a deliverable for our students.

Students will benefit from this unique opportunity and will experience some of the frustration, stress and elation of this kind of digital innovation work. Students will also get a chance to show in future job interviews that they know how to work in groups on digital innovation work, for a real client under real pressure.

One group might just come up with the next big thing and then, perhaps, be given a chance to work with the client to develop it further!

Will Venters 2017.

  1. Knapp, J., J. Zeratsky, and B. Kowitz, Sprint: How to solve big problems and test new ideas in just five days. 2016: Simon and Schuster.
  2. Checkland, P., Systems Thinking, Systems Practice. 1981, Chichester: Wiley. 330.
  3. Checkland, P. and J. Poulter, Learning for Action: A short definitive account of Soft Systems Methodology and its use for Practitioners, Teachers and Students. 2006, Chichester, UK: John Wiley and Sons.
  4. Checkland, P. and J. Scholes, Soft Systems Methodology in Action. 1990, Chichester: John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

 

Naps in the Huawei office – perhaps the secret of China’s digital success?

We have just spent a week visiting Shenzhen, China to see the headquarters of one of the world’s most innovative and fastest growing companies – Huawei. Since its founding in 1987, Huawei has grown to become one of the world’s largest telecom’s companies with revenue of $75Bn[1]. Globally it employs 180,000 with nearly 60,000 of these based at the Shenzhen campus. 768px-Huawei.svg

Our overall aim is to understand their global innovation practices[2]. We want to understand how management and governance arrangements support the demand for concurrently tightly knit, yet open, innovation networks. In particular we are interested in how they harness digital platforms in support of this global innovation practice. Understanding this is particularly important since Chinese firms must successful harness capital and talent beyond their borders (Fuller 2016) and since, given the diversity, scale, and adoption-willingness of the Chinese home market, innovation networks outside China will be attracted to take advantage of the “world’s biggest Petri dish for breeding world-class competition” (Yip and McKern 2016).

So how does Huawei achieve its amazing growth and success?

It was amazing to spend time digging into the practices of this fast-growing successful Chinese technology company. Away from our intense research activity, we became mindful of stark differences between Huawei and other Silicon Valley technology companies we have visited. We noted two things which we thought particularly interesting (acknowledging that many others have provided much more detailed analysis of Huawei’s management practices (e.g. Tao et al. 2016) which we do not aim to repeat or claim to validate).

Firstly, like many others across China, the employees of Huawei take naps at lunchtime[3]. They have lunch in huge canteens[4] then return to their cubicles, roll out camp beds kept hidden under their desks, and go to sleep (with the office lights turned out and blinds drawn). The whole company knows not to call between 1pm and 2pm, and so sleep is uninterrupted. Talking to an expatriate who now works there it is “like taking a shower” – refreshing and revitalising everyone ready for the afternoon. A downside is clearly that it extends the day in the office, though for many this would also allow them to travel outside commuter hours. But it provides a natural pause in the day, with time to reflect, pause and concentrate on afternoons tasks by reducing the mid-afternoon productivity slump. Naps might also be helped by the focus on tea rather than sleep-depriving espressos and flat-whites!

Secondly, alongside naps, was an overall general lack of overt hubris and self-aggrandising. In the USA and Europe tech-companies invest in amazing offices with slides, banners, bright colours, ping-pong tables, foosball tables etc. At Huawei, the offices felt much more like a university of young clever people – the furniture functional but personal with each workstation organised with bags of tea, pot-plants, posters and the roll-beds. Rather than amazing (like Google’s offices) it felt homely, welcoming and personal. Plastic fruit and cheap toys hung from the ceiling as decoration – presumably put up by the employees themselves rather than interior-designers. Chairs were comfortable rather than “designer” and the focus was upon working efficiently rather than “jerking around” or having fun. It felt efficient, focused, and much more like the university campus’ that tech-companies work so hard to try to emulate. Huawei in Shenzhen was clearly a friendly enjoyable place to work – albeit to work very hard.

* Our research is funded by Huawei’s HIRP Open funding programme.

Will Venters and Carsten Sorensen.

Fuller, D.B. 2016. Paper Tigers, Hidden Dragons: Firms and the Political Economy of China’s Technological Development. OUP, Oxford.

Tao, T., D. De Cremer, W. Chunbo. 2016. Huawei: Leadership, Culture, and Connectivity. SAGE Publications India.

Yip, G.S., B. McKern. 2016. China’s Next Strategic Advantage: From Imitation to Innovation. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA.

[1] http://www.huawei.com/en/about-huawei

[2] Our research is funded by Huawei’s HIRP Open funding programme: http://innovationresearch.huawei.com/IPD/hirp/portal/hirp/hirp-open.html

[3] http://www.goabroadchina.com/Why-Chinese-People-Always-Take-a-Noon-Time-Nap_b70#.WcjoC0yZPOY

[4] http://money.cnn.com/2016/05/20/technology/china-tech-huawei-campus-life/index.html

 

Image (c) Huawei – used with permission and thanks

Building Mobility-as-a-Service in Berlin: The rhythms of information infrastructure coordination for smart cities

[The following article was jointly written with my PhD Student Ayesha Khanna. The article was published today on LSE Business Review http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/businessreview/ and is syndicated here with their agreement]

The 21st century has seen a growing recognition of the important of cities in the world: not only does over half of humanity live in cities, but cities contribute 60 per cent of global GDP, consume 75 per cent of the world’s resources and generate 75 per cent of its carbon emissions. There is little doubt that the enlarging footprint of cities, with the rapid rate of urbanization in the developing world, will be where “the battle for sustainability will be won or lost” and, for those engaged in “smart-cities” initiatives, the focus of winning this battle is through the use of digital technology to efficiently manage resources. One of the key sectors for such smart cities initiatives is transportation.

Transportation infrastructures today rely heavily on private car ownership, which is powered by fossil fuels, and public transportation, both of which operate independently of each other. Policy makers believe radical innovation in this sector is needed to move it to a more sustainable system of mobility.

To achieve the goal of sustainable, seamless, and efficient mobility, an infrastructure would be required that would allow residents to move away from private ownership to a combination of car-sharing and public transport. For example, such an intermodal chain of mobility might include taking a rented bicycle to the bus station, a bus to a stop near the office, and then a car-sharing service to the office, covering every step from origin to the last mile. Powered by renewable energy, electric vehicles could make this journey entirely green.

In order to create such a mobility infrastructure, all the services offered (buses, trains, car-sharing systems, charging stations, and payments) would have to be integrated using digital technology in order to provide an urban resident with an easy way to map and take an intermodal journey using her smartphone. This change would transform transportation as we know it today to Mobility-as-a-Service but requires considerable innovation in the various heterogeneous digital computer-based systems (what we might term the information infrastructures), underpinning the physical transportation infrastructure. (For a more detailed account of the ideas of information infrastructure see Hanseth, O. and E. Monteiro, 1998)

Framing an Academic Project

Academic research on how such mobility information infrastructures would grow from the constituent disparate systems that currently exist in silos has been nascent, especially on the topic of the coordination efforts required. Part of the reason is that many required elements of such infrastructures do not currently exist, and that cities are only just beginning to prototype them.

In our research, we use a theory of digital infrastructure coordination as a framework to unravel the forces that influence the development of a mobility focused information infrastructure, extending it to focus particularly on the influence of temporal rhythms within the coordination. Understanding this has important implications for policy makers seeking to better support smart-cities initiatives. Our research took us to Berlin and a project which was prototyping an integrated sustainable mobility system there.

The BeMobility Case Study

The BeMobility project, which lasted from September 2009 to March 2014, was started as part of a concerted effort by the German government to become a market leader and innovator in electric mobility. A public-private partnership between the government and over 30 private and academic sector stakeholders, the goal of BeMobility was to prototype an integrated mobility services infrastructure that would be efficient, sustainable and seamless for Berlin residents. The largest railways operator Deutsche Bahn was chosen as the lead partner of the project, with the think-do tank InnoZ (an institute focused on future mobility research) as the project coordinator and intermediary. Organizations participating in the project ranged from energy providers like Vattenfall to car manufacturers such as Daimler to technical scientists provided by Technical University of Berlin.

The project, despite facing many challenges, was able to prototype a transportation infrastructure which integrated electric car sharing with Berlin’s existing public transport system. In the second phase of the project, it further integrated this infrastructure with a micro-smart power-grid, providing insights into how such mobility services could be powered by renewable energies. While the integration effort was both at the hardware and software levels, our research studied the coordination efforts related to information infrastructure in particular.

“Integration of all this information is what we now call Mobility-as-a-Service. BeMobility was  one of the first projects in the world to attempt to do it.” – Member of BeMobility Project

Findings and Discussion

Our analysis showed that individuals and organizations respond to coordination efforts based on a combination of historical cycles of funding, product development and market structures, and anticipated patterns of technology disruption, innovation plans and consumer behaviour. Peoples’ actions in contributing to an integrated infrastructure are tempered not only by these past and future rhythms, but also by the limits of the technologies they encounter. Some of these limitations are physical in nature, such as the inability to integrate data due to lack of specific computing interfaces, and some are political, such as blocked access to databases due to concerns about competitive espionage and customer privacy.

Our findings also surfaced the power of the intermediary as coordinator. Contrary to the limited perception of a coordinator as a project manager and accountant for a government funded project, we saw InnoZ emerge as a key driver of the information infrastructure integration. One of the most powerful tools for the intermediary was its role in mapping future rhythms of technology development. It achieved this by showcasing prototypes of different types of electric vehicles, charging stations, solar panels, and software systems, at InnoZ’s campus.

This campus itself acted as a mini-prototype where both hardware and software integration could be first implemented and tested. The ability to physically demonstrate how the micro-smart grid could connect with the car-sharing system to enable sustainable energy for electric cars, for example, both surprised and motivated other stakeholders to take the imminent possibility of a sustainable mobility infrastructure more seriously.

Ultimately, business stakeholders were especially concerned about the commercial viability of such radical innovation. Here too the intermediary proactively shaped their thinking by conducting its own extensive social science research on the behavioural patterns of current and future users. For example, by showing that young urban residents were more interested in car-sharing than private ownership of cars, InnoZ made a strong case for why an integrated infrastructure could also be a good business investment.

Implications

As more cities experiment with Mobility-as-a-Service, understanding the influence of rhythms on coordinating information infrastructure is helpful for policymakers. Insights that would be useful to policymakers include:

  • Keeping a budget for building an innovation lab where cutting edge technologies can be tested and integration efforts can be showcased will lead to more engagement with stakeholders.
  • Working more closely with the intermediary to conduct social research on the mobility habits of millennial urban dwellers will incentivise stakeholders as it will prove a market for the smart infrastructure.
  • Anticipating the disciplinary inertia imposed by legacy systems and organizational practices, and countering it by including stakeholders in the working group whose temporal rhythms include innovative product cycles more in line with the goals of the integrated infrastructure.

This study also contributes to the academic literature on information infrastructure development by providing insights on the role of time in coordinating integration efforts. It responds to a gap in the understanding of the evolution of large-scale multi-organizational infrastructures, specifically as they relate to mobility.

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Notes:

Will Venters is an Assistant Professor within the Department of Management at the London School of Economics and Political Sciences. His research focuses on the distributed development of widely distributed computing systems. His recent research has focused on digital infrastructure, cloud computing and knowledge management systems. He has researched various organisations including government-related organisations, the construction industry, telecoms, financial services, health, and the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. He has undertaken consultancy for a wide range of organisations, and has published articles in top journals including the Journal of Management Studies, MIS Quarterly, Information Systems Journal, Journal of Information Technology and Information Technology and People (where he is also an associated editor).  http://www.willventers.com

Ayesha Khanna is a digital technology and product strategy expert advising governments and companies on smart cities, future skills, and fintech. She spent more than a decade on Wall Street advising product innovation teams developing large scale trading, risk management and data analytics systems. Ayesha is CEO of LionLabs, a software engineering and design firm based in Singapore. She has a BA (honors) in Economics from Harvard University, an MS in Operations Research from Columbia University and is completing her PhD on smart city infrastructures at the London School of Economics.

Photo by Mueller felix (CC- thanks)

Videos on Innovating Information and Digital Infrastructures…

The following link provides access to the panels and videos of the 4th Innovating Information Infrastructure workshop from earlier this year.

I attended the workshop which was excellent – can I particularly recommend my friends Ole Hanseth and Carsten Sorensen’s presentations which were great.

http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/wbs/subjects/ism/workshop

Enjoy!