Mobile IT and the Need for Better Theorizing

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The topic of mobile IT use brings together, ideally, theories about the organization

of social behavior, and the enabling role that technology plays in such

processes. Mobile IT use, thus, should be seen as an emergent property,

resulting from technological advances and social organization.

Dahlbom & Ljungberg (1999) discuss the need for better theorizing on the


“Once IT support for mobile work is brought into focus as an

important subject matter of informatics, our discipline receives a

whole new agenda. Mobile IT use, mobile computing becomes the

subject matter of what we may call mobile informatics, and in view

of the importance of its subject matter, mobile informatics becomes

one of the more important sub-disciplines of our discipline.

We need to develop a theory of mobile IT use. And in order to do

so we have to answer such questions as: Why has mobility increased?

What are the major varieties of mobile IT use? How do

we define mobile computing (mobile IT use)? What are the condiMobile

tions of mobile work and other activities that now become mobile?

What kind of technology is there to support mobile activities, and

what kind of technology could we develop?” (Dahlbom &

Ljungberg, 1999, pp. 228-229)

As an attempt to explore the issue theoretically, Kristoffersen & Ljungberg

(1998) attempt to name and frame mobility in three aspects or modes:

• Traveling – refers to the movement towards a specific goal. This is an

activity that takes place when traveling in a vehicle. From the perspective

of mobile IT support, we find technologies such as street finders and

restaurant guides, etc. However, this modality can allow for stationary IT

use as well.

• Visiting – refers to the ways in which a person stays in a specific place

before moving on to other places. It is an activity that happens in one place

and for a restricted period of time.

• Wandering – refers to movement within a limited area or domain. For

instance, the IT support staff described by Kristoffersen & Ljungberg

(1998) spend much of their time “wandering” around the building to meet

users that want their help. This extensive local mobility is referred to as


Unfortunately, these aspects of mobility does very little to uncover the very

character of mobility. First, it says little or nothing of the ways in which mobile

IT enabled these modalities. Second, implicit in these modalities is that they are

Figure 1. Three modalities of mobile IT use

temporary and can only be understood from the point of view of that which is

to be considered as “normal” is not mobile. In other words, they all relate to a

“home base” (Wiberg, 2001: 72) that is not mobile in its character.

It is important that we explore mobile IT use in more detail. Mobile ITs are

everywhere and their implications cannot be grasped by looking at mobile IT

use as merely a temporary deviation for that which is stable, stationary, and

static. Recognizing the pervasiveness of today’s mobile IT application, Lyytinen

& Yoo (2001) describes “nomadic computing” as something of paradigmatic

importance in that it changes not only our society in a profound way but also

requires us to reconsider some of the fundamental and underlying assumptions

in IS research. Being nomadic, in their view, is not a temporary mode we pass

through between stationary modes, but rather something we constantly face

and thus something in need of critical scrutiny.

A nomadic information environment, in Lyytinen & Yoo’s (2001) view, is

described as:

“…a heterogeneous assemblage of interconnected technical and

organizational elements, which enables physical and social mobility

of computing and communication services between organizational

actors both within and across organizational borders. The

novel features of such an environment are its high level mobility,

the consequent large scale of services and infrastructure, and the

multiplicity of services in terms of data processes and transmitted

– often called digital convergence. These three technological

drivers – mobility, digital convergence, and mass scale – underlie

most developments in future computing technology” (Lyytinen &

Yoo, 2001, p. 3).

Recognizing the fundamental shift for IT use that the mobile IT applications

represent is an important endeavor, and downplaying this by explicitly or

implicitly understanding mobility as a temporary state and to understand the

stationary and static as the default, would be to miss a central and paradigmatic

societal shift. Thus, we recognize that the model presented by Kristoffersen &

Ljungberg (1998) provides us with a somewhat limited understanding of

mobility. For the purposes of this paper, we will seek to explore the character

of mobility from a theory-informed perspective, so as to better understand not

only the social interplay of multiple actors who attempt to make sense of their

is for one actor to get another actor (or network of actors) to act in a desired

manner. The changes that occur are referred to as translation.

Another important concept is that of immutable mobiles. We are faced with

immutable mobiles when objects “have the properties of being mobile but also

immutable, presentable, readable and combinable with one another” (Latour,

1990, p. 26). Immutable mobiles thus provide us with a way of “structuring

vision” where we probably find the map as the best example. It is “immutable”

in as much as it remains the same as it passes through time and space, and

“mobile” to the degree that it can be circulated from hand to hand. Constructing

an immutable mobile demands that all the inscriptions to be placed within it be

first produced and then collected in one particular place — a “centre of

calculation.” However, it should be noted that immutable mobiles require some

work function. In short, they still need to be immersed in a network (Mol &

Law, 1994).

The theoretical framework for studying mobile IT applications must be sufficiently

rich to comprehend the complexities of these the interactions involved,

and ANT offers a promising set of analytical resources for this purpose [see

Cooper (2002) for an example of ANT used to explore the nature of mobile


The Case of MBT – An Offline Service

for Mobile Banking

To illustrate the interplay between technology and social practices in the

context of mobile IT use and to provide a concrete example of how this new

technology enables support for new activities across time and space we will

below outline a case study of MBT — a Mobile Bank Terminal.

Background and Research Methodology

The Swedish bank Föreningssparbanken has developed a mobile bank

terminal (MBT) as an additional customer channel to their infrastructure

(besides ATMs, the telephone bank, the WAP bank, and the Internet bank).

For the purposes of the first version of MBT the bank made use of a Compaq

handled computer, an iPAQ 3630 together with a GSM-phone with possibili202

ties for communication via Bluetooth or IR. It allows the user to do all various

kinds of activities that can be done today on the Internet bank or the telephone

bank (e.g., checking account balance, move certain amount of money between

different accounts, pay bills, etc.).

The target group for this service is well-educated business people looking for

time-efficient technologies to enable them to do things like banking while

waiting for something else (e.g., while sitting on a train waiting to reach the

destination). This target group was chosen based on an assumption that these

persons are probably interested in new technology, are typically used to

technology in their work life, and probably have a relatively high income.

Another assumption made was that it is important to have comfortable solutions

and different channels for managing bank business for today’s bank customers.

The MBT banking service is implemented on handheld devices and has been

co-developed by Föreningssparbanken and a company in the US. The MBT

is still a research prototype but has been put into use in a pilot study. The study

involved 100 test persons. This relatively large test group consisted of people

working in the bank as well external persons. During a period of three months

the MBT prototype was tested by people working at the bank and external

persons. During the test period the test persons borrowed the handheld devices

from the bank with the MBT application preinstalled. As a precondition for

becoming a test person the person needed to be: 1) a customer at the bank, and

2) an Internet bank customer at the bank, to be able to pay their bills via the

Internet bank. The only instruction given to the test persons was to feel free to

use the MBT as much as they liked, but at least three times every week. They

also committed themselves to fill out a questionnaire handed out by the bank in

the end of the test period.

The empirical material was collected through 11 semi-structured interviews

with MBT users, and two interviews with the project manager. These interviews

were conducted at the bank’s head office in Stockholm on two

occasions. During the first occasion the project manager and three users were

interviewed. During the second occasion the project manager was interviewed

again, and an additional eight users were interviewed. These interviews were

all audio taped and transcribed. In addition, four different meetings were held

with people involved with the project where we got information and documentation

about the project, gained access to the users, and were presented with

the MBT application. In the presentation of the results the users are given

numbers from 1 to 11 to enable the reader to keep track of the different voices

in the empirical material.