Perceived Limitations with MBT

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According to one of the users the effect was “a few sessions fewer with the

Internet bank and the bank-on-the-phone” (user 7). For those who used MBT,

the benefits of using it were seen as moderate. There were also many users who

never got around to actually using it. The key reason for this lay in the feeling

that it was simply not well designed to be used while on the run:

“This handheld thing they gave us, I actually never brought it with

me. It was still a bit big to carry around… “ (user 4)

Among those who actually used it, a main concern was that it contained too few

features and thus enabled a limited set of activities. Moreover, the MBT does

not work as a channel in and of itself; in fact it is a presupposition that the user

is also a user of the Internet bank. A general concern among the users was that

MBT was perceived as a complement to the Internet bank. In fact, one of the

users referred to the MBT as a “light version” of the Internet bank.

A general concern among the users was that the functions were seen as

somewhat limited. To become really useful future versions had to contain more


“Seeing as there are so few features in MBT I just can’t see the

need to bring it with me. I can use the bank-on-the-phone to

transfer money. Had it only contained more features I probably

would have used it.” (user 5)

The users were also a bit uncomfortable with the offline concept. In fact, the

idea of being able to work offline is a fundamental idea behind the whole project

and this idea did not go down well among all users. People raised concerns

about the offline status and the real status. The users felt that a potential problem

for them could be the difference between the real status on their accounts and

the status that they are given by the PDA. Of course, this only happens if the

user does not log on and update the status on the account, but it was still a

concern among the users.

The overall distrust towards the service was also reflected in the ways in which

the users felt it necessary to double-check the figures on the Internet bank:

“I like to have a total control over my transactions (…) I can have

that on the Internet bank. I use that to go through all the figures

to make sure everything is alright.” (user 11)

There were several practical concerns raised in the interviews with the users

dealing with the problems in using the MBT while moving around. It was

perceived as somewhat problematic to log on, and many users had experienced

problems to log on at all at times. One of the users also pointed out that the log

on process, where two different passwords were needed, also hampered any

ad-hoc use of MBT.

Supporting Action Across Time and Space

The primacy of place as is apparent in studies of formal organization. While

there are many problems in mobile work, such as getting the support one might

need while on the move, the potential of reducing the ties to a certain place is

certainly interesting. In this process we can witness the transformation of

locations, such as public and private transport sites, into locations where we

perform our business transactions. The same can be said about time: since the

mobile IT user brings with her the artifact, aspects such as the plans of the user

can potentially be changed over time more easily.

The users involved in the MBT pilot study were not overly enthusiastic over the

new possibilities for transcending time and space:

“In my mind this is not a very good item. I mean, if I am to bother

about using it I also need to see the benefits. I guess I am a bit

critical about the whole idea here, but the whole thing needs some

serious thought before this item can be presented to the customers

on a large scale. I can see a scenario where the technology is more

easy to use and where the services are a bit more interesting. Then

I would use it. Now I just don’t bother.” (user 8)

A key idea behind the project was that of enabling the users to perform

improvised and ad-hoc activities. None of the persons interviewed could give

a good example of this. Even though several users did use the MBT and found

it useful to some extent, their use was planned beforehand:

“I take it [the MBT] with me when I travel. I make a lot of

transactions on the plane and on the bus. I find it really convenient

and it is really a practical thing for me. I always try to prepare my

flights so that they won’t be just time wasted. I take care of the

transactions on the MBT and then quickly log on when at home to

ship it all out. I know I can use the mobile phone for this but there’s

no rush really. But I wouldn’t say that this is an example of me

improvising. I do what I plan to do and that’s it.” (user 2)

The whole idea of banking business being something that you plan well in

advance and not a domain that is open for improvisation was expressed by all

the users we interviewed. It was apparent that the users felt that banking

business was a serious undertaking and that they were careful in planning

transactions. To this end, it seemed as if the ad-hoc possibilities were not

interesting for the users:

 “While this is all very interesting, I guess that at the end of the day

I don’t feel that people will be interested in improvising with one’s

money. I guess most of us have a different stance towards money,

I know I do anyway. You never know, this may turn out great in the

end. But for now I just can’t see myself making transactions the

way they [the project management] seem to picture me doing”

(user 7)

The project manager felt that there were more possibilities related to MBT than

meets the eye and expressed a view that had to do with improvements not only

in the MBT but also in finding the right target group.

“I know that the users are not wild and crazy over it, but I must say

that this says a lot about them too. I must say that some of them are

difficult to please and you need to be interested in technology if you

are to overcome the barriers here. We will consider their feedback

naturally, but I am still certain that we must be better at finding the

correct target group for MBT if we are to make a hit out of this.”

(project manager)

In sum, the potential of transcending time and space was not realized in this pilot

test. There was some potential of doing this, but the barriers were seemingly too

difficult to overcome.


The results provide empirical indication that while there is a huge potential in

mobile IT in banking, the poor design of MBT hampered the effects of the

prototype. Moreover, the results also demonstrate how use of mobile IT

provides only partial support for banking activities because of the distrust

people have against ad-hoc activities in relation to what they perceive as very

serious business.

The study makes a contribution into the barriers involved in mobile IT support

for improvisation and situated action. This contribution is well in line with the

insights provided to us by Suchman, who argues that plans can only be

understood as vague resources for situated actions (Suchman, 1987). Drawing

from the initial findings from the MBT case, we share this view and our attention

should be drawn towards the situated actions where humans and non-humans

interact. The fact that MBT did not support the user with possibilities to act on

an ad-hoc basis was related to two aspects of the MBT use. First, the poor

design hampered the possibilities for ad-hoc activities. Second, the users felt

that ad-hoc activities could be seem as somewhat irresponsible in the context

of banking business. To this end, the problems related to the MBT use were

both social and technical. Thus the study satisfies a need for a balanced debate

where both social and technical elements related to mobile IT use are

considered. In particular, we do not reduce socio-technical matters to merely

a social matter. Clearly, it is becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish

between the social and the technical in mobile IT use – both dimensions mobilize

each other and they are interrelated in a fundamental way. From an analytical

point of view this may prove to be a dilemma that is hard to resolve. Looking

at the intertwined socio-technical elements from an ANT point of view,

however, does not embrace the ambition to treat social and technical elements

as separated elements, but rather to see them as profoundly inter-related. The

complex, network-dependent nature of artifacts is captured by ANT’s conception

of them as actants or hybrids. The development of MBT reminds us

how the enrollment or inclusion of elements into actor networks involves an

ongoing negotiation, as these elements may prove to be difficult to hold in place.

As noted by Law, “…there is almost always some degree of divergence

between what the elements of a network would do if left to their own devices

and what they are obliged, encouraged, or forced to do when they are enrolled

within the network” (Law, 1990, p. 114). Even though it is far from obvious at

this point to say anything about who enrolls whom (will the mobile IT user enroll

the technology to better reach her agenda, or will she comply to the inscribed

behavior?), it is safe to say that technology does matter for social issues, and

vice versa.

To better grasp the character of today’s mobile IT use, we can explore this

notion in some detail by looking at the ways in which mobility relates to the

notions of temporality and spatiality.

MBT makes it possible to take action (e.g., transfer money between different

accounts) while being mobile independently of any infrastructure other than

your iPAQ. Such relative freedom from the “home base” makes it possible to

plan for some actions (i.e., transactions) at home and then make changes to

these plans according to new and unforeseen circumstances. Hence the

distinction in the relation between user and home base in terms of co-located

and separated. Home base, in this context, refers to the infrastructure needed

to perform banking activities, such as the PC and Internet connection for using

the Internet bank. The bank aimed at a separation between user and home base

by means of the MBT. They also aimed at enabling the user to act on an ad-hoc

basis, meaning that her plans could be easily changed when the MBT is carried

around everywhere. It is always handy and any idea for a transaction can soon

be realized. The possibilities for improvised action, then, lie in the ability to

change plans over time and to act in a context separated from the home base.

This stands in sharp contrast with planned action, where the user and home base

is co-located and the plans are generally continuous over time. It should be

noted that in practice, of course, these ad-hoc actions are only about preparing

some transactions while being mobile and then finishing them when back at the

home base (i.e., in front of any computer with Internet access).

One key aspect of mobility is how it represents a transcending of space in the

way that plans and actions no longer are separated in space. As we move from

space to space, we no longer need to plan ahead to make sure that when we

Figure 2. Temporal and spatial aspects of mobile IT use



user and

home base

Plans extension in time

Continuous Discontinuous

Co-located Separated

Improvised action

Planned action

reach a new space we will have planned beforehand about possible alternatives.

Instead, enabled by mobile IT, plans can continuously be reconsidered

and re-adapted in the light of new circumstances. Moreover, for the mobile IT

user, plans about activities in a given context are not presupposed before the

user enters that particular context. That is, the actor contemplating his alternatives

in a given context has, by means of mobile IT use, become enabled to

access information of importance to the context at hand, and also enabled to

continuously re-evaluate the situation based on new information.

Having said this, we must consider how technologies have the potential both to

enable us to transcend our current modus operandi as well as to reproduce it.

In the MBT case, the modus operandi from the Internet bank use was

reproduced in the MBT use. There were little or no differences between the

uses of these two technologies. The two problems identified – the poor design

that hampered the possibilities for ad-hoc activities, and the users feeling that

ad-hoc activities could be seem as somewhat irresponsible in the context of

banking business – presents us with a major challenge for future versions of

MBT. Some problems can be dealt with by better design. To this end, this study

also makes a contribution into issues related to customization and personalization.

The challenge related to enable the mobile IT user to act in an improvised

manner could, to some degree, be dealt with by customization. But the fact that

the users felt a discomfort in using MBT in an improvisational mode suggests

that the mobile IT application maybe cannot be put to use in such a manner that

the project manager had pictured. From an ANT perspective it can be said that

the translation process came to a halt. It did not end up with a morphed version

of MBT due to the translation process, nor did it pass through time and space

unchanged (or recombined with other elements) like an immutable mobile.

Rather, it just failed to make an impact on the mobile scene for the user. To this

end, it is important to reflect over the project in terms of its underlying visions

and see if these visions can be changed for future versions of MBT. As it stands

today, it needs to be revised and redesigned in a fashion that considers both the

problems the users had with the design of the first version of MBT, and the

context in which it will be situated. In the ANT vocabulary, the scripts need to

be revised.

We believe our research is a demonstration that the theoretical lens offered by

the ANT literature provides a rich conceptual framework for understanding

how mobile IT can enable some activities while other activities are not enabled

(or enable in a poor fashion). Using the ANT vocabulary, we can see how

interpretations and re-interpretations are often revised collectively in a process

of conversation and retrospection among actors in the network. The result is

often a level of convergence between understanding, knowledge and values

among the actors involved. However, as new actors are enrolled to the growing

actor-network their interpretation does not always converge with the inscribed

behavior. Inscriptions can always be disputed and to a certain extent converted.

Technologies generate actions and chains of consequences that in turn

can provoke new actions, but while technologies are only meaningful inside a

network of associations, the inscribed behavior can at times resist reinterpretation.