Cevdet Bulut Receives Best Conference Paper Award

PhD student Cevdet Bulut, along his co-author and supervisor Dr. Philip Wu of Royal Holloway, University of London were recently awarded the Best Complete Paper Award at the annual conference of the Association for Information Systems, AMCIS 2022, held in Minneapolis, MN, United States on August 10-14, 2022.

They were honoured for their paper titled “IoT Adoption in Agriculture: A Systematic Review”, which provides an extensive review of 1355 publications over the last decade, with an aim to highlight the state-of-the-art of research on IoT in agriculture and investigate its slow adoption. The paper as well as the video presentation are both available in the AIS eLibrary. 

In addition to his paper presentation, Cevdet Bulut also chaired a session titled “GIS for Decision Support” at the second day of the Conference.

The Americas Conference on Information Systems (AMCIS), now in its 28th year, is one of the most prestigious international events for information systems scholars. The 2022 edition welcomed more than 600 attendees to Minneapolis, USA and close to 100 virtual attendees across 38 countries. The conference program included 531 papers submitted within 33 conference tracks.

three person looking at x ray result

Fostering Social Value in Digital Transformation Initiatives

By Niki Panteli

DOS Co-Director & Professor of Digital Business, Royal Holloway University of London School of Business and Management (niki.panteli@rhul.ac.uk)

My contribution centres around the argument that digital transformation can create a better world by taking a broader perspective on the value that could be created though digital initiatives. The study I present here focuses specifically on the use of digital health platforms but the argument can be generalised to other digital transformation initiatives.

Value in new initiatives is not just when something new and novel is created, but rather when these new initiatives are considered worthwhile by others. Despite this conceptualization that is recognized in the literature, value is often thought in terms of economic and financial terms, while other types of values such as social value that refers to generating worthwhile impact on specific social groups and the wider society had only attracted limited attention. For this we carried out a study of a digital health platform and sought to examine what kind of social value if at all can be linked to these initiatives.

The study involved MedicineAfrica, a digital platform that was founded in 2008 by a small group of health professionals in the UK with the aim to provide healthcare education to junior and trainee doctors and medical students in fragile, post war countries and regions such as Somaliland, Iraq, Palestine and Afghanistan. MedicineAfrica is based on the voluntary contributions of professional medics primarily in the UK but also Germany with the only paid staff being an administrator and an IT person. The tutorials are online in real time often taking place on Sunday afternoon and until very recently the interactions between tutors and tutees have been text based only. At the time of the study, MedicineAfrica had expanded the number of programmes, courses and countries that it covered, had around 100 volunteers and more than 1000 users/tutees who were benefiting from the educational support of the platform. Therefore, we can confidently say that this represented a successful digital initiative.

In our study, we interviewed a number of people involved with the platform including the founder, managers, volunteers and tutees. We also carried out observation of online tutorials and interactions and had access to a series of documents that gave us further insight on the platform.

An intriguing early finding from the study was about the reasons that made the volunteer doctors not just to join but also to stay with the platform and contribute to its success and growth. The infographic presented here shows a trajectory of the volunteers’ commitment growing over time. Initial reasons and motives for joining included an opportunity to practise new skills and adding these on their CV, making good use of their free time, and giving something back to their home countries especially among immigrant and refugees doctors based in the UK. Over time, the motives changed and the commitment has grown. The tutors talked about the opportunity given to them to learn from their tutees as well as a sense of fulfilment when they spend time on the platform. As a result, they showed commitment to the platform and what the platform stood for; they developed a sense of community and a willingness to undertake additional roles and lead new initiatives on the platform.

Further analysis pointed to evidence of value created for the wider good and different social groups. Different types of social value emerged from the findings.

Cognitive value concerns the transfer of medical knowledge in order to improve clinical practice, to improve patients treatment and healthcare overall.

Professional value is linked to the opportunity provided by the digital platform for the continuous education and development of the professional medics themselves as well as opportunity for networking among the medics themselves.

Epistemic value develops by gaining new knowledge that contribute to publications, and advancing the medical field in general and beyond the specific countries involved.

What the study has shown is that she success of a platform such as MedicineAfrica depends on the connectivity potentials of technology to bring people together regardless of their location, to enable them to work as a collective and develop that important sense of community, and also on the growing commitment of their users especially the volunteers. Together these contribute towards the social value creation and the different types of social value that we have seen in the study.

The blog draws from my contribution to the PDW  ‘Is Digital Transformation Creating a Better World – An International collaboration between academics and managers’, at the 82nd Annual Meeting of the Academy of Management 2022 (August 4-10, 2022, Seattle)’. The full study upon which this presentation is based was published in Information Systems Journal with Petros Chamakiotis and Dimitra Petrakaki in 2021.

Full Reference:

Chamakiotis, P., Petrakaki, D., & Panteli, N. (2021). Social value creation through digital activism in an online health community. Information Systems Journal31(1), 94-119.

woman applying facial mask clay with a brush in front of mirror

It’s all part of the customer journey: The impact of augmented reality, chatbots, and social media on the body image and self-esteem of Generation Z female consumers

By Nisreen Ameen

In a recently published study (Ameen, Cheah and Kumar, 2022) in Psychology and Marketing, we investigate how experiences of using augmented reality, artificial intelligence-enabled chatbots, and social media when interacting with beauty brands affect body image, self-esteem, and purchase behaviour among female consumers in Generation Z. Through three studies, we propose and test a model drawing on social comparison theory. In Study 1, a survey was completed by Generation Z women (n = 1,118). In Study 2 and Study 3, two laboratory experiments were conducted with Generation Z women in Malaysia (n = 250 and n = 200). We show that (1) Generation Z women’s perceived augmentation positively affects their body image, self-esteem, and actual purchase behaviour; (2) although trust in social media celebrities positively affects Generation Z women’s body image and self-esteem, the addictive use of social media does not have significant effects; (3) the chatbot support type (assistant vs friend) has a significant impact on these women’s experience; and (4) brand attachment, reputation, and awareness do not have significant effects. This article provides important implications for theory and practice on the behaviour of Generation Z females when interacting with various technologies.

Reference: Ameen, N., Cheah, J., and Kumar, S. (2022). It’s all part of the customer journey: The impact of augmented reality, chatbots, and social media on the body image and self-esteem of Generation Z female consumers. Psychology and Marketing, https://doi.org/10.1002/mar.21715

The growth of rental proptech: hybridisation and data risk

By Thomas Wainwright

What’s the issue?

UK homeownership rates peaked in 2003 at 70.9%, before falling to 63.9% in 20181. A combination of precarious work, stagnant pay and increasing property prices have seen more households find themselves within the private rental sector (PRS). In contrast to other countries, the UK’s rental market is fragmented, consisting of many small scale landlords and a smaller, but increasing proportion of institutional landlords. For example, MHCLG’s last private landlord survey in 2018 revealed that 45% of private landlords in England own just one property, with 38% owning between 2-4 properties2. While the PRS remains an important part of UK accommodation provision, it has faced criticism, focussing on ‘rogue’ landlords, unprofessional management and high costs, partly resulting in the Tenant Fees Act (2019), which banned tenant fees3 and inadvertently boosted demand for rental proptech – to which we will return later. Further calls have been made for mandatory landlord registration to combat issues concerning low quality accommodation4 and while demand for PRS accommodation continues, so will calls for change. One set of actors responding to these calls are the entrepreneurs behind rental proptech platforms who are seeking to disrupt and re-shape the PRS for renters, landlords and letting agents.

What’s going on?

Property technology, or proptech, refers broadly to a diverse range of new entrepreneurial start-ups that focus on the increased use of data, interconnectivity, automation, and technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), algorithms and blockchain, to solve a variety of issues related to property management. As a sub-sector, rental proptech focusses exclusively on – unsurprisingly – the rental sector.

Rental proptech has grown rapidly since the 2008 GFC. The start-ups are diverse, but generally seek to digitally mediate the relationship between landlords, tenants, letting agents and other suppliers, capturing fees and access to new sources of data for marketing, analysis, and to calculate risk. Rental proptech seeks to make the market easier to navigate for tenants. For example, making it easier to remotely book and undertake viewings, or to manage the check-in and out of property through apps, rather than a series of paper forms. Some platforms provide added transparency too, seeking to bar ‘rogue’ landlords and to reward outstanding landlords with greater market visibility and ratings. Landlords are able to access a broader market of renters through online-only letting agents, for example, cutting costs and enabling them to self-service administrative work through automated technology. For letting agents, the technology has also removed much of the administrative back office work. For some, this has been a lifesaver, following the Tenant Fees Act and the loss of application fees, as it enabled high-street agents to adopt rental proptech and to automate their processes, cutting costs.

The UK’s proptech market is arguably world-leading, given the scale of its creativity and innovation, with access to venture capital funds providing considerable potential for growth. In mediating relationships between letting agents and tenants, for example, rental proptech platforms have the opportunity to charge fees and profit from both types of client in this multi-sided market, while cross-selling other products and earning commissions. While tenancy durations vary across different markets within the UK, estimates suggest households stay at a property on average between 18 months5 and 4.1 years6. Towards the shorter end of tenancies, this mobility or churn creates more regular revenue earning opportunities, when compared to property sales, for example.

Given the size of the PRS and its fragmentation, there are opportunities to structure and organise the market through these platforms. In recognising the potential of rental proptech, considerable flows of investment are moving into the sector fuelling its growth, with specialist investment from Pi Labs, Round Hill Ventures and A/O Proptech, for example, with many deals detailed on Unissu.

Digital disruption in the PRS

Rental proptech start-ups are diverse. For example, they include apps that seek to compete with and directly challenge high-street letting agents (Howsy), digital management for letting agents (AskPorter), provide regulatory and compliance support for landlords (Kamma), tenant bill splitting (The Bunch), digital referencing and passporting (Goodlord) and managing the departure of tenants and return of their deposits (The Depositary).

In curating multi-sided markets, rental proptech promises solutions to all parties. Lower costs for landlords, which can mitigate pressures from tax changes regarding SDLT and mortgage interest tax relief. Rental proptech has enabled letting agents to reduce their administrative workload, enabling them to focus their efforts and time on negotiating tenancies and finding new business. For small and medium-sized agencies who simply do not have the capacity to develop their own in-house tech solutions, refocussing their business and outsourcing routine time-consuming tasks provides a considerable benefit.

Renters are able to benefit from a series of improvements, focussed mainly on convenience, For example, through automated check-in and out processes on their phone including deposit reclaim, setting-up and splitting utility bills, and reassurance on some platforms that landlords have been more thoroughly vetted. While rental proptech has not made renting directly cheaper for tenants, following the Tenant Fee Act, in using proptech to reduce costs, this has, in some cases, mitigated the need for agents to increase management fees for landlords, which in turn would be passed into tenants in the form of higher rents.

Sector maturity, hybridisation and consolidation

Rental proptech businesses initially could be seen as pure disruptors to the PRS, seeking to act as direct competitors to high-street estate agents. However, as highlighted above, they are increasingly partnering with established high-street agents, seeing the latter become hybridised – not proptech agencies, but increasingly heavier uses of data-driven tech. Routine and unprofitable functions are being unbundled from agency business models, replaced with rental proptech as it enters the mainstream.

The market is also beginning to consolidate. While rental proptech began with businesses focussing on one problem or difficulty in the PRS, as identified or experienced by the venture teams, they have begun to diversify their product offering. First, to develop additional revenues, for example, through AI driven tenant management or digital referencing, but also as the rental proptech sector focusses on convenience and ease of use. Using several different products from several different firms each with a particular focus is not convenient to clients. As such, rental proptech start-up product portfolios have begun to increasingly overlap, leading to greater competition.

This has seen the development of mergers and acquisitions in the sector. For example, Goodlord acquired Vouch in 2020 to gain tenant referencing capabilities and Acasa in 2021 to gain its tenant bill splitting applications7. Partnerships will no doubt become more important, but the result in the foreseeable future may well be a smaller number of larger and more comprehensive rental proptech firms seeking to cover all parts of the rental value chain. As they provide more comprehensive solutions to high-street agents, the latter may be hollowed out further to focus exclusively on relationship management as hybridisation becomes the norm. While Rightmove and Zoopla may be the property search engines of the sector, new competitors may well come to dominate the market, but in servicing a digital PRS and facilitating the moves of renters.

Emerging digital risks

Rental proptech is underpinned by the novel use of new technologies. However, this raises a series of new risks and issues that could impact on businesses, tenants and the wider market. These risks should be considered, and where necessary, mitigated. As start-ups expand for survival, they focus on client acquisition and revenue growth and it is unsurprising that data risks are not fully considered. From the research, some key risks are apparent – their mitigations are examined in more detail in the accompanying ‘think piece’ [here].

Rental proptech is drawing on ever more detailed personal data through APIs, particularly through open banking. Some of the ways in which this data could be used poses ethical questions, particularly if it could lead to discrimination against particular groups of renters, even if this is unintentional. Not only does this pose ethical risks against tenants, but also reputational and revenue risks that can affect specific businesses, and the broader sector. Just because data is available for use, does not necessarily mean it should be used without thorough justification and an assessment of its potential impacts.

This can also extend to data that renters may self-input. Using apps, tenants can be encouraged to provide more data than perhaps they would provide on paper forms, as the processes is much easier. However, tenants may not fully understand how the data will be used, and may not be comfortable with its function if they knew. More transparency is needed over why data is required, as while consent may be given, it may not necessarily be fully informed.

There are also emerging issues of data equity. For example, some types of data sources may be used in algorithms, which is not available for all renters. For instance, some local authorities provide data on noise complaints in tenant referencing, but not all. This creates a data asymmetry in that some tenants, using a nation-wide rental proptech platform, may be penalised, while others are not, based on the availability/absence of data, rather than actual activity.

Moving from data and turning to the analytical technologies, AI is known for replicating racism, sexism and ableism, based on biases within the data from which they learn8. While this reflects discrimination and bias within society, decisions made using flawed AI can reinforce, replicate and expand discrimination. Similarly, the design of algorithms can encode and replicate unintended results that reinforce discrimination. This creates substantial ethical issues that translate into business risk. While the discrimination may be unintentional, flawed technology can be problematic if left unchecked.

Finally, rental proptech platforms often appear to focus on a particular target market, often of young, urban, professional and mobile renters. While this issue is not technological in itself, products are designed around the needs of these particular renters, which may exclude other types of renter, or may accommodate their needs less effectively. As rental proptech continues to expand and be adopted by more high-street agents, it may be at the detriment of different renter demographics. As such, further work needs to be undertaken to understand how rental proptech affects, is used and adopted by different renter types.

What next – new opportunities?

So far, rental proptech start-ups are focussing on working with smaller landlords and letting agents within the UK’s PRS ecosystem. It’s likely that this trend will continue, with the technology becoming more mainstream amongst high-street agents. Potential opportunities may emerge through coordinated M&A activity to create more full-service rental proptech groups. This could be driven by venture capital funding, or by larger national agencies seeking to develop their own tech platforms and move further into the digital space.

Rental proptech activity is currently limited in the institutional build-to-rent (BTR) sector. However, the BTR arms of pension funds and vertically integrated developers are growing. In addition to housing associations, these landlords could prove to be a new market. The operations of institutional investors are driven by interest around yield. To date, there appears to have been limited interest in rental proptech by institutional BTR sector as is not seen as being able to add sufficient value to the rental experience, or in cutting operational costs, to increase yields. It may be that rental proptech is introduced to these landlords through managing agents and facilities managers, rather than by the landlords themselves.

In the US, proptech has been used to streamline the valuation, surveying, acquisition and management of single family home rentals, to be bundled directly into private equity-backed investment portfolios. Proptech is used to manage asset maintenance, but to also outsource management work from agents and landlords onto tenants using technology, to reduce costs further. While these models and practices have not yet emerged in the UK, existing rental proptech technologies may be deployed for new uses.

As highlighted earlier, while the propositions of rental proptech have the potential to disrupt and enhance the PRS, driving convenience, efficiency and profitability, risks surrounding the use of data at the centre of these technologies remain. These risks need to be considered carefully by the sector and some suggestions and mitigations are outlined in the associated think piece.

Further information

Methodology: The data collected to underpin this research project consisted of expert interviews with 30 prominent actors within the UK’s rental proptech and real estate sector. This was supported through secondary resources and publically available materials.

Resources: RED think piece – What could a Tenant Data Charter look like in the rental proptech sector?

Funding: British Academy – Tackling the UK’s International Challenges

Acknowledgements: Comments from reviewers are much appreciated in clarifying and augmenting the key points raised in earlier drafts

Dr Thomas Wainwright is Reader in Strategy and Entrepreneurship. Tom completed his first degree at the University of Leicester and holds an MSc from the University of Nottingham. He completed his ESRC funded PhD in 2009 (University of Nottingham) where he investigated the development of new strategies and innovations in the financial services sector. Tom then worked at the University of Nottingham on projects that examined wholesale-retail bank linkages and wealth management. In 2010, he began a Postdoctoral Fellowship in the Small Business Research Centre at Kingston University, where he worked on consultancy projects for Barclays Bank and other stakeholders, such as Eurofound. Tom joined the University of Southampton in 2012 and became Senior Lecturer in 2014, before becoming Associate Professor and Director of the Centre for Innovation and Enterprise.

Footnotes

[1] https://www.brookings.edu/essay/uk-rental-housing-markets/

[2] https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/775002/EPLS_main_report.pdf

[3] https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/tenant-fees-act

[4] https://www.landlordtoday.co.uk/breaking-news/2020/10/mandatory-landlord-register-is-latest-goal-for-generation-rent-activists

[5] https://www.estateagenttoday.co.uk/estate-and-letting-agent-discussions/2016/5/how-long-does-the-average-tenancy-last

[6] https://www.lettingagenttoday.co.uk/breaking-news/2019/1/tenants-stay-an-average-4-1-years-says-governments-own-figures

[7] https://www.altfi.com/article/8407_rising-proptech-star-goodlord-makes-second-acquisition-with-acasa

[8] https://www.brookings.edu/research/detecting-and-mitigating-bias-in-natural-language-processing/#:~:text=Unsupervised%20artificial%20intelligence%20(AI)%20models,racism%2C%20sexism%2C%20and%20ableism.&text=Billions%20of%20people%20using%20the,exposed%20to%20biased%20word%20embeddings

Crafting IT jobs through the Flexibility of Contracting: Opportunities for Female IT Professionals

By Niki Panteli

In a recently published study (Panteli and Urquhart, 2022),  we explore the job crafting experiences of women who left permanent employment for contracting positions in Information Technology (IT),  a sector widely considered male-dominated with limited career opportunities for women.  This qualitative study is based on interviews with 24 female IT contractors. Findings show that through the flexibility and autonomy that comes with contracting, numerous crafting practices are adopted by female IT contractors enabling them to gain empowerment in a male-dominated environment.  The study contributes in depth understanding of job crafting theory by showing a reflexive relationship between role and resource crafting for women in alternative forms of employment,  especially those with a high degree of autonomy.  By engaging directly with the experiences of these women IT contractors, we provide unique insights into what might drive women into IT contracting, and why they often stay with this option owing to the freedom and autonomy offered.  

The Infographic below captures the key findings of the study. Further Information can be found in:
Panteli N. and Urquhart C. (2022), Job Crafting among Female Contractors in a Male dominated Environment, New Technology, Work and Employment, 37, 1, 102-123, http://doi.org/10.1111/ntwe.12210

Niki Panteli (PhD) is a Professor of Digital Business at the School of Business and Management, Department of Digital Innovation and Management & co-Director of DOS (Digital Organisations and Society) Research Centre at Royal Holloway, University of London. She can be contacted by email: niki.panteli@rhul.ac.uk

Consumer interactions with artificial intelligence – enabled chatbots in retail shopping experiences

By Xiaoxia Cao

Supervisors:   Dr Nisreen Ameen and Professor Chris Hackley
Royal Holloway, University of London

Companies are increasingly relying on artificial intelligence to automate marketing tasks. For example, chatbots are frequently mentioned to be beneficial for the retail industry regarding customer service (about 95%), sales/marketing (about 55%), and order processing (about 48%) (Rese, Ganster and Baier, 2020). “A chatbot is software that simulates human-like conversations with users via text messages on chat” (ChatBot.com, 2021). There are more than 300,000 active chatbots integrated on Facebook Messenger offering customer services (Nealon, 2018). The chatbots market is predicted to reach USD 7.5 billion by 2024 (Peart, 2020). Besides, more than 70% of chatbot conversations are expected to be with retail chatbots by 2023 (Dilmegani, 2020). It is undeniable that the interactions between consumers and AI-enabled chatbots in the retail industry were accessible and convenient, and these interactions will continue to grow in the future. Thus, we need to figure out what consumers gained from previous experiences with AI-enabled chatbots in the retail industry, and what is required further for the long-term relationship between them. Chatbots, once considered as “virtual idiot”, have gained popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic because of their immediacy (Miller, 2020; Ward, 2021). Consumers also became more tolerant of chatbots usage during 2020 (Ward, 2021). Thus, are there other issues we also need to consider when building such a long-term relationship? For example, emotions, privacy, and security issues.

Consumers’ perceptions of retail environments and their shopping behaviour outcomes have been significantly influenced by emotions (Herter, dos Santos and Pinto, 2014). As artificial intelligence technologies improve, digital agents transformed from merely providing information to being emotionally intelligent (Gelbrich, Hagel and Orsingher, 2021). However, the current research on the effects of consumers’ emotions in the interaction with AI-enabled chatbots in retail industry has not been done in depth. It is also unclear that whether the effects of emotions from other digital agents are similar to these AI-enabled chatbots because of their specific functions in the retail industry. Meanwhile, as Mogilner, Kamvar and Asker (2011) examined that participants’ perceptions of positive emotions, such as happiness, change with age. Thus, users of different ages and cultures may interact differently with AI-enabled chatbots.

The combination of artificial intelligence and big data gives retailers the capability to collect and store customer data from multichannel, which can be used to gain insights, and improve their products and customer experiences. While customers are willing to share their personal information in exchange for personalised services, they also express concerns about privacy (Davenport et al., 2020; Okazaki et al., 2020). Another factor that affects consumers’ perception of the online retailing environment is security, which mainly refers to online transactions (Mukherjee and Nath, 2007). Even though the retailers adhere technological solutions and legal guidelines to guarantee security and privacy. Consumers’ perceptions of privacy violations also rely on their knowledge and control (Wang, et al., 2020). In the face of so many ambiguous warnings and complicated advice, security awareness may be ineffective (Bada, Sasse and Nurse, 2019).

In conclusion, this research aims to fill the gap in knowledge on the long-term relationship between AI-enabled chatbots and consumers in the retail industry, and to provide a better understanding of concepts such as emotions, privacy and security in human-chatbots interactions. At present, this research is still at the early stage of the literature review, aims to get a solid understanding of all these concepts related to human-chatbots interactions. I am currently looking for opportunities to work with companies in this area or discuss with academics in the field.

Bio

Xiaoxia Cao
PhD student in Management
MSc International Management (Marketing)
Bachelor of Economics
E-Mail: xiaoxia.cao.2018@live.rhul.ac.uk
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/小霞-曹-bb241a113/

References

Bada, M., Sasse, A. M. and Nurse, J. R. (2019) ‘Cyber security awareness campaigns: Why do they fail to change behaviour?’. Available at: https://arxiv.org/pdf/1901.02672.pdf (Accessed: 14 October 2021).

ChatBot (2021) 2021Chatbot Guide. Available at: https://www.chatbot.com/chatbot-guide/  (Accessed: 6 October 2021).

Davenport, T., Guha, A., Grewal, D. and Bressgott, T. (2020) ‘How artificial intelligence will change the future of marketing’, Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, 48, pp. 24-42. Available at: https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1007/s11747-019-00696-0.pdf (Accessed: 14 October 2021).

Dilmegani, C. (2020) 85 + Chabot / Conversational AI Statistics: Market Size, Adoption. Available at: https://research.aimultiple.com/chatbot-stats/ (Accessed: 6 October 2021).

Gelbrich, K., Hagel, J. and Orsingher, C. (2021) ‘Emotional support from a digital assistant in technology-mediated services: Effects on customer satisfaction and behavioral persistence’, International Journal of Research in Marketing, 38, pp. 176-193. Available at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0167811620300550 (Accessed: 14 October 2021).

Herter, M. M., dos Santos, C. P. and Pinto, D. C. (2014) ‘“Man, I shop like a woman!” The effects of gender and emotions on consumer shopping behaviour outcomes’, International Journal of Retail & Distribution Management, 42 (9), pp. 780-804. Available at: https://www.emerald.com/insight/content/doi/10.1108/IJRDM-03-2013-0066/full/pdf?title=man-i-shop-like-a-woman-the-effects-of-gender-and-emotions-on-consumer-shopping-behaviour-outcomes (Accessed: 14 October 2021).

Miller, E. (2020) How has COVID-19 Accelerated Trends in Customer Service? Available at: https://innovationmanagement.se/2020/10/26/how-has-covid-19-accelerated-trends-in-customer-service/ (Accessed: 14 October 2021).

Mogilner, C., Kamvar, S. D. and Asker, J. (2011) ‘The Shifting Meaning of Happiness’, Social Psychological and Personality Science, 2 (4), pp. 395-402. Available at: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/1948550610393987 (Accessed: 14 October 2021).

Mukherjee, A. and Nath, P. (2007) ‘Role of electronic trust in online retailing: A re-examination of the commitment-trust theory’, European Journal of Marketing, 41 (9-10), pp. 1173-1202. Available at: https://www.emerald.com/insight/content/doi/10.1108/03090560710773390/full/pdf?title=role-of-electronic-trust-in-online-retailing-a-reexamination-of-the-commitmenttrust-theory (Accessed: 14 October 2021).

Nealon, G. (2018) Using Facebook Messenger And Chatbots To Grow Your Audience. Available at: https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbesagencycouncil/2018/06/04/using-facebook-messenger-and-chatbots-to-grow-your-audience/?sh=46c6e485733b (Accessed: 14 October 2021).

Okazaki, S., Eisend, M., Plangger, K., de Ruyter, K. and Grewal, D. (2020) ‘Understanding the Strategic Consequences of Customer Privacy Concerns: A Meta-Analytic Review’, Journal of Retailing, 96 (4), pp. 458-473. Available at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022435920300361 (Accessed: 14 October 2021).

Peart, A. (2020) Chabot Statistics: 2020 & Beyond. Available at: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/chatbot-statistics-2020-beyond-andy-peart (Accessed: 6 October 2021).

Rese, A., Ganster, L. and Baier, D. (2020) ‘Chatbots in retailers’ customer communication: How to measure their acceptance?’, Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services, 56, p. 102176. Available at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0969698920308286 (Accessed: 14 October 2021).

Wang, X., Tajvidi, M., Lin, X. and Hajli, N. (2020) ‘Towards an ethical and trustworthy social commerce community for brand value co-creation: A trust-commitment perspective’, Journal of Business Ethics, pp. 137-152. Available at: https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1007/s10551-019-04182-z.pdf (Accessed: 14 October 2021).

Ward, C. (2021) Chatbots after COVID-19: What does the future hold for the ‘virtual idiot’? Available at: https://www.mycustomer.com/service/channels/chatbots-after-covid-19-what-does-the-future-hold-for-the-virtual-idiot (Accessed: 14 October 2021).

Developing a Multi-focal Perspective for the study of Digital Transformation

As researchers within the field of Information Systems, we may bring the individual, organisations and/or societal perspectives to examine specific ICT-related phenomena. In this article, I focus on the emerging phenomenon of Digital Transformation  and argue that this can and should be studied from different perspectives.

I come into this debate with my research interest to understand who is leading Digital Transformation.  With my colleague Dr Jostein Engesmo at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology,  we developed  a newfound interest to understand new leadership roles that have been created as a result of the increased organisational interest in  Digital Transformation programmes.

For this we interviewed Chief Digital Officers (CDOs) across different organisations and industries and  related roles such as Heads of digital, Director of Digital Transformation, Heads of Digital Strategy etc. The study was motivated by a need to understand who has the responsibility for digital transformation, but not only in terms of skills and experience, but more importantly their relation to and influence on the executive board and senior management as well as IT and other functions of their respective organisation. We view CDOs as protagonists for digital transformation in their organisations. As leading figures, CDOs are expected to be on central stage, take decisions and follow these through to their implementation. 

So as you would expect, we brought the view of organisational managers into our study. However,  other choices we made influenced the study and helped in broadening up the theoretical perspective adopted. Though the voice of these digital leaders was important in informing our understanding of Digital Transformation we also took the decision to focus on specific types of organisations. 

Early on in our study we made the conscious decision to distinguish between pre-digital and post-digital organisations recognizing that the latter are born with and often because of digital technologies, but traditional pre-digital organisations (i.e. those that existed prior to the internet revolution) must seek ways of incorporating Digital Transformation into their operations and strategies while overcoming structural and cultural constraints. 

This aspect therefore of our research necessitated a ‘within the organisation’ approach where we sought to explore not just the role and characteristics of the CDO but also the wider transition that pre-digital organisations are going through in order to accommodate this newfound role and how this transition is managed. In our process of exploration, participants talked about their  relationships with CIOs and the IT department and about how the structures of the IT departments had to be modified to accommodate Digital Transformation. We identified four different organisational structures for the IT function in organisations that are undergoing Digital Transformation: one structure depicts the case where Digital Transformation is treated as a project, and this is managed by the IT manager notably the CIO; A second one, where a new digital function is introduced and this is led by the CDO’ this  remains separate to the IT department  which is managed by the CIO. In the third structure,  the IT and digital remain separate but are both integrated within the same wider umbrella what may be called digital function, and finally, a fourth structure where IT and digital are merged and the leader has an integrated title such as the Chief Digital Information Officer.

Despite their differences, these organisational structures collectively confirm the organisational need to adapt the IT function in order to accommodate the need for digital capability when they embrace Digital Transformation and more broadly, the findings contribute to the discourse on the impact of Digital Transformation and how it shapes organisations.

The findings also suggest that ‘digital’ is a nebulous word, associated with vagueness and confusion, and show that organisations go through a learning process in their attempt to unpack the  opportunities of digital transformation for themselves. In doing so, they are rethinking their strategies, structures, digital leadership, skills, digital capabilities and the role of the IT function. These findings contribute to a wider perspective on DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION, one that posits that even though digital has become pervasive, organisations are still going through a process of figuring out how to embrace digitalisation in their business activities and this  falls within the remits of the societal approach.

If I draw on the specific study I presented, I have to acknowledge that the study did not start with a multi-focal perspective. Instead, it was at its initial stage rather single-focused, in terms of what we wanted to examine and the kind of participants we sought to interview, and ultimately what we wanted to get out of the study. This on the outset looks like a limited perspective of a phenomenon that is both multi-dimensional and multifaceted.

Having this narrow focus, gave us the opportunity to be in control which was hugely important based on the resources we had available.  It gave us clarity as to what we were seeking to achieve and helped us to set up a reasonable timeframe for carrying out the study. It also gave us possibilities to access a range of very interesting organisations – some of which we got in touch via LinkedIn without having done any previous work with as we were asking to interview CDOS whilst not knowing much about the organisations they worked with.  In this process however of exploration, we discovered additional themes, in fact more fascinating than the initial question we had. So, we moved from the managerial view to the organisational view, and thereafter towards the societal perspective.  

So my position on how to move towards a multi-focal thinking for the study of Digital Transformation  is that as researchers we have to exhibit and demonstrate adaptability in what we study and allow the numerous possibilities that may come our way to influence our thinking and subsequently our research. It is fine to start small and single-focused. It is where you go from there that matters, and that perhaps is the way to a multifocal thinking.

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Niki Panteli (PhD) is a Professor of Digital Business at the School of Business and Management, Department of Digital Innovation and Management & co-Director of DOS (Digital Organisations and Society) Research Centre at Royal Holloway, University of London. She can be contacted by email: niki.panteli@rhul.ac.uk

Narratives of IT project failure in Government

Christopher Hall | PhD Student | School of Business Management, Royal Holloway, University of London.

One thing most readers will know about large Government IT projects is that many end up being labelled ‘failures’, leading to delays in the implementation of policy and write-offs of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money. Much previous academic work has suggested that such failures are the result of weak management or poor application of technology (e.g.Nawi et al, 2011). Yet significant efforts have been made to rectify problems like these, especially within the UK Government. I was intrigued by this apparent paradox and wanted to understand the detail of how such projects played out and how we could account for this paradoxical situation. I interviewed project managers, project reviewers and auditors with responsibility for delivering and evaluating these projects and for compiling recommendations when projects were seen to fail. I also analysed audit reports (published by the National Audit Office) and project review reports (normally confidential but a few have been put in the public domain following Freedom-of-Information requests). By analyzing this material from a narrative perspective (Czarniawska, 2007), I was able to identify how and why project narratives were dynamically and interactively constructed in context to produce the label ‘success’ or ‘failure’ (Fincham, 2002) and how this label then became accepted ‘fact’. In this blog I provide an example of how this kind of analysis can account for the continuing failure of some Governmental IT projects.

“Digital by Default” and “Digital by Design”

The UK Government had the ambition to take the majority of interactions between the general public and Government on-line. In a world where you could bank, shop and even get therapy over the internet, why would you want to telephone a Government Department, or even worse, fill in a paper form? The proponents of ‘Digital by Default’ in the Government Digital Service (GDS) wanted to radically change the way that Government ran IT projects. Mostly recruited from outside Government, these ‘digital evangelists’ (Kanter, 2011) dressed differently, spoke differently and importantly behaved differently to ‘conventional’ civil servants. Their network of power relations included a senior Government Minister who acted as gatekeeper for project go-ahead.
Some new IT projects were designated ‘Digital exemplars’ and received special support. These included a project called Common Agricultural Payments-Delivery (CAP-D), which implemented a new regime of farm payments. Concerns were raised by users and policy owners that the new system would not work in practice. Farmers were not the most digitally literate constituency, and the poor connectivity offered by rural broadband was not conducive to the transmission and manipulation of digital maps. More prosaically, the new system would crash with a high workload. As the hard deadline (set by the EU) for deployment approached, the development was abandoned and a backup system was implemented by the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) using paper maps, which were posted to farmers, hand annotated and posted back. These were then interpreted by eye before subsidies were paid out.

Narratives of IT project failure in Government

The perceived failure of the digital project was the subject of a Public Accounts Committee inquiry. The senior GDS official involved was criticized for having “digital dreams” (PAC, 2015 Q 62). Analysis of competing narratives around this project reveal a long battle for its control. While GDS was developing the software, the RPA had complete control of communications with the users; farmers and rural landowners. In these communications the RPA made it clear that the new software was ‘owned’ by GDS and soon the farming press labelled “Digital by Default” as ‘Dogma. By promoting a counter-narrative “Digital by Design”, the RPA relabelled the CAP-D project as a success, as the backup system had saved the policy and farmers had been paid.

Conclusions

I interpret these narratives and counternarratives as tools in a system of power relations (Dawson and Buchanan, 2005) and indicative of a struggle for control of the project. Different parties used ‘success’ and ‘failure’ as rhetorical terms (Fincham, 2002) in order to justify different courses of action. The term ’project failure’ is frequently deployed when a struggle reaches a conclusion, and is used to justify a change in approach, a reduction in scope or a decrease in funding. In 2012 GDS used the ‘failure’ of previous Government IT projects as part of the rationale to introduce “Digital by Default”. In 2015 other actors used the ‘failure’ of CAP-D to discredit “Digital by Default” and regain control of the project, and later label their intervention as a ‘success’. The labelling of a project as ‘failed’ is an indicator of the intensity of the conflicts surrounding them. Yet formal reviews and audits of Government IT projects omit all mention of political activity. Projects are discussed as rational, objective engineering activities and the struggles for control over scope, funding and approach are glossed over. Until such a perspective can be overtly acknowledged, it is not possible to fully understand ‘failing’ Government IT projects or learn from them.

References

Dawson, P. and Buchanan, D., 2005. The way it really happened: Competing narratives in the political process of technological change. Human Relations, 58(7), pp.845-865.

Fincham, R. (2002) Narratives of Success and Failure in Systems Development. British Journal of Management, 13, 1–14. Available online at: http://doi.wiley.com/10.1111/1467-8551.00219.

Kanter, R. M. (2011) Kanter Evolve ( Again ). Harvard Business Review, 89(7–8), 36. Available online at: hbr.org.

Inequality of What?: Digital Inequality under Covid-19

Dr Yingqin Zheng | Senior Lecturer | School of Business Management, Royal Holloway, University of London.
Prof Geoff Walsham | Emeritus Professor | Judge Business School, University of Cambridge

*This blog is based on our short paper to be published in the journal Information and Organization.

The covid-19 pandemic has thrown a spotlight on deep seated inequalities across different societies. Under the pandemic, existing socio-technical discrepancies are magnified, and diverse forms of exclusion, marginalisation and vulnerabilities emerge. The prevalent notions of ‘digital divide’ or ‘digital inclusion’ tend to focus on the division between the ‘haves and have-nots’, and less attention is paid to the structural positioning of actors within the intersectionality of multiple “systems of power”. Extending on our previous discussion on social exclusion – “inequality of what”, we ask again: what do we talk about when we talk about digital inequality? In this blog we review the emerging evidence from Covid-19 observations and explore how digital technology is entangled in multiple fracture lines of social division, including but not limited to gender, race, education level, and geographical boundaries.

Digital inequality is rooted in deep-seated, existing structural inequalities. For example, while digital education has leapfrogged in response to school closures in most countries, vulnerable students on the wrong side of the digital divide are further disadvantaged, especially those living in poverty and with disabilities. Furthermore, schools often serve as a source of health, nutrition and social support for those from under privileged socio-economic classes. Even when some countries have provided free laptops for disadvantaged students, these students are still negatively impacted in terms of well-being and mental health. Similarly, cashless payment and the health-tracking apps implemented under Covid-19 could have excluding effects on the elderly and some low-income groups who may not own or have the knowhow to use a smart phone, and may be rejected to board public transport or enter a venue. In other words, digital inequality has roots in social disparities, digital connectivity is not automatically a remedy and could even exacerbate social exclusion.

The International Labour Organisation estimates that almost 1.6 billion informal economy workers have been significantly impacted by lockdown measures and/or working in the hardest-hit sectors. Among digital workers, platform gig workers were among the worst hit by the pandemic, with almost 70% losing their income, over half losing their jobs and more than a quarter seeing their hours cut. While gig work offers flexibility, the lack of unemployment benefits and sick pay entails significant vulnerabilities for workers. However, only 5 out of 120 platform companies have introduced some form of coronavirus financial assistance. In the Global South, gig workers have received hardly any financial support from either governments or platform companies.

Digital inequality is often gendered. For example 300 million fewer women than men use mobile internet across the globe. This digital gap has further undermined women’s capability to adapt to adversity under the pandemic, both in terms of work and household labour. Based on data from 104 countries, 67% of health workers are women. In addition, women bear greater responsibility than men in taking care of the family and household during the pandemic (e.g. extra housework, home schooling, caring for the elderly and the ill) thus further undermining women’s earnings.

However, the experiences of women under covid-19 are divergent depending on their different socio-economic status and their surrounding social and cultural norms. Women in disadvantaged groups carry the double burden of wage-earning and caring for family members, yet they are also more likely to have lower digital capacity to find relevant information about the pandemic, to support home schooling for their
children, or even to fill in online application forms for economic relief.

Further ‘invisible’ gender inequality is reflected in the ‘male gaze’ from digital surveillance, as Yu (2020) discusses in the context of China’s track and trace system. During a cluster outbreak in northern China, the identity of a young woman was revealed in media reports and her private information further exposed by netizens, because a speculative affair between her and a neighbour was suspected to have triggered the cluster outbreak. In this imaginary ‘love story’, she was described as ‘pretty’, ‘unemployed’, but ‘rich’, and accused of cheating on her boyfriend with the neighbour; later the neighbour was revealed to be a woman as well – at which point the plot turned into a lesbian relationship. In fact, the two did not even know each other and the transmission of the virus was likely to have occurred in an elevator. Thus, even with an assumption that the technology was not designed to discriminate, gendered discourses, social norms and power systems that value monitoring and control over individual integrity and wellbeing are inevitably entangled in the enactment of surveillance systems, and in this case, interact with intersectional identities to produce oppressive social consequences.

So what do we talk about when we talk about digital inequality? The pandemic may bring out new instantiations and shed light on what was less visible before, but the roots of inequalities are deeply entrenched in systems of power and social orders. The examples above reveal the complexity and intersectionality of digital inequality which occurs not along one singular axis of power but along multiple fracture lines and differences. As digital researchers, we need to examine digital technology not only as ‘solutions’ and ‘innovations’, but also how it is intertwined and implicated in producing and reproducing social orders and stratifications.

Dr. Yingqin Zheng is a Senior Lecturer at the School of Business and Management, RHUL

Prof. Geoff Walsham is Emeritus Professor at Judge Business School, University of Cambridge

Virtual Spiritual Agency in Times of Covid

Dr Chloe Preece | Senior Lecturer | School of Business Management, Royal Holloway, University of London.
Dr Victoria Rodner | Lecturer | University of Edinburgh Business School, University of Edinburgh

Zoom made my life much easier,” explains Mãe (mother) Fernanda, an Afro-Brazilian priestess from the coastal city of Santos (Brazil). 

Like many of us, facing an indefinite lockdown, Mãe Fernanda was forced to move her work online. Zoom, along with other video-conferencing platforms that mushroomed in the wake of Covid-19, may have made Mãe Fernanda’s life ‘easier,’ but the service she is providing is no typical consultation.

As an Afro-Brazilian priestess – or mãe de santo – Mãe Fernanda works as a medium, meaning that her faith centres on the practice of spirit possession and the channelling of spirit forces for the good of humanity. As a form of mediumship, we understand spirit possession to be the displacement of our conscious self by a ‘powerful, immaterial being’ be it a spirit, ancestor, or god, that temporarily takes control of our bodies and our minds (Seligman, 2014: 5). During these incorporations, the medium – who acts as a physical vessel for the spiritual entity – channels energies and offers counselling from the spiritual plane to our material world, sharing important oracular messages with official members of the temple (i.e. the ‘spiritual children’ who are initiated into the faith) and regular congregants alike.

Being momentarily stripped of her sacred space and in person contact with the congregation due to new, unforgiving social distancing measures, how does Mãe Fernanda – and other religious leaders – carry out her work as a medium and spiritual consultant? What does this new digitised faith look like and how does spiritual healing work in our ‘new normal’? Thanks to a small seedcorn grant from DOS, we set out to examine how spiritual leaders in Brazil – through their use of digital platforms – recreate the sacred space of their temple over the internet; how followers of the faith materialise healing rituals in their home environments; and how the embodied ritual of spirit possession is distributed across multiple planes, from the spiritual, to the physical to the digital. To do so we undertook 14 interviews with spiritual leaders and followers of Afro-Brazilian temples.

Although Afro-Brazilian services (or giras) may differ in format to other, more ‘traditional’ church services, this move toward a digitisation of faith is shared among many places of worship, including Christian denominations in the UK, as ongoing pandemic measures push religious leaders across the globe to go virtual. In her use of digital platforms, we see how Mãe Fernanda – like other Afro-Brazilian spiritual leaders – aims to recreate the rich, auspicious atmosphere and healing qualities of her terreiro (temple) sharing through our screens the highly adorned altars, the colour-coordinated candles, the smoky ambience of burning incense and sage, the luscious offerings to the entities, and – when there is live-streaming available – the rhythmic drumming, singing, and dancing that make up the spirit possession ritual.

Figure 1. Afro-Brazilian priests and priestesses use social media to connect with the faithful: Instagram posts of elaborate altars (left) and Facebook live-streaming (right) of a gira (weekly service)

As well as inviting followers virtually into their now-empty temples, spiritual leaders also show the faithful how they can recreate shrines and spiritual offerings (or firmezas) in the safety of their own homes.

Not unlike influencers, priests and priestesses of Brazil’s Afro-denominations use different digital platforms for different spiritual purposes: live-streaming through invitation-only Zoom sessions, private YouTube channels, or closed FB groups are geared specifically to the ‘spiritual children’ and mediums-in-training. During these private services, live spirit possession is common as spiritual leaders and their ‘children’ incorporate synchronously the various entities that are called upon during the ritual. Pai Fausto – of a downtown São Paulo temple – explains how simultaneous possession is possible – even via the web – because of the ‘spiritual (umbilical) chord that ties us together.’

It is during spirit possession that messages from the spiritual world are shared with the faithful. These spiritual messages can be of hope, patience, healing, love or even sense-making, especially significant in such uncertain times. A recent message from Mãe Fernanda’s guiding spirit – the Gypsy temptress Pomba Gira – explains how energy has “limitless” and “atemporal qualities” meaning that it can be accumulated and transferred when needed. Very much on trend with post-human theorising, Pomba Gira’s message encourages Mãe Fernanda to record her services so as to allow her ‘spiritual children’ to ‘play them back’ at their convenience and seamlessly tap into the spiritual agency captured online.

Figure 2. Live-streaming tarot reading on FB with a Pai de Santo (Afro-Brazilian priest).

Beyond these private sessions, other live-streaming sessions via FB, Instagram, or Telegram, in which spiritual leaders recreate the temple’s ambience but refrain from spirit possession, are more public and accessible, encouraging anyone to ‘like’, share and take part in the lively commentary online. Oracular consultations, including the popular tarot card-reading, can either be very public via FB live-streaming, or closed through individual Skype or Zoom calls. Online mediumship courses are run via Zoom or other video conferencing platforms and people are asked to sign up in advance. But it is WhatsApp that becomes instrumental for direct contact between the faithful and their spiritual leader. Like a real-time Agony Aunt, WhatsApp enables the faithful to share their troubles with the priest or priestess and receive instantaneous feedback via the ever-popular feature of voice messages. Noting how her WhatsApp became ‘very heavy’ since lockdown, Mãe Fernanda explains how it is ‘through this platform that people were able to overcome the lack of physical touch, the lack of hugs, the lack of face to face contact’.

Although mediatised religious services are nothing new, our interests lie not only in a new wave of mediatised faith (through the digital) but how consumers engage with their faith not merely through ‘likes’, shares or live commentary, but in an active co-construction of the healing on offer, from the recreation of shrines to the possession of spirits, all from the safety of their homes. It is through the digital, that spiritual leaders (temporarily) overcome the physical obstacles of life with Covid, distributing through the web the spiritual agency made available to them through the phenomenon of spirit possession, forming a hybrid constellation of a heterogenous network of activities, subjects and objects shaped by different forms of interagency. In a global pandemic where consumers find their agency constrained, they can use these digitised services to re-embed themselves in their faith through this distributed agency. 

Dr Chloe Preece is Senior Lecturer in Marketing at Royal Holloway, University of London. Her research focuses on marketing within the arts and creative industries and how this translates into social, cultural and economic value.

Dr Victoria Rodner is Lecturer in Marketing at the University of Edinburgh Business School (UEBS) and her research main interests are in value creation in the arts, religious and spiritual consumption, brand narratives and institutional theory.