Organizational Agility with Mobile ICT

Posted: January 18th, 2008 | 2 Comments »

In the context of my BCN taxi driver study, I have been reading some of the word done by Silvia Elaluf-Calderwood on the organizational ability of London Black Cabs with mobile and wireless technologies. The study was conducted as part of the research network for Mobile Interaction & Pervasive Social Devices that support research on socially situated technologies, the socio-technical aspects of mobile working and on the mutual adaptation of work practices and mobile and wireless technologies.

Silvia performed a longitudinal ethnographic study with empirical data provided by qualitative interviews with 35 Black Cab drivers and 14 hours of videotaped observation of driver behavior to highlight some issues of the relationships between the drivers practices and the supporting mobile technology. She focused on the observations of the different socio-technical arrangements the taxi drivers work with:

  • Traditional: The Knowledge + mobile phone to keep in touch with family and friends
  • Dispatched Radio Taxi: radio call system + electronic booking system + mobile phone
  • Automatic Customer-Driver Connection: Real-time GPS location system + satnav + mobile phone

Elaluf Taxi Mobility

From the interviews she was able to define the main factors that influence to encounter work: physical location, awareness, time, strategic planning, situational acts, planned acts, human factors, role of the technology, emerging practices and chance to succeed. Then she compared each arrangement in the light of these factors. In concordance with my study, she points out that the most interesting technological opportunities may be thwarted by practical barriers such as problems with support of individual taxi work (not coordination) through GPS systems when these assume the driver relinquish control entirely and simply follow directions when these are far from perfect or:

With Arrangement C, in which the driver relies on his mobile phone to obtain work – besides street hails – the ubiquity is wider. Drivers get accustomed to longer runs on specific routes to maximize the number of passengers transported. However passengers sometimes take the first cab that is closer to them and the driver loses his ride. During the interviews drivers in Arrangement B were reported to say that this uncertainty is the main reason they felt discouraged from trying Arrangement C.

Related to my analysis, she also mentions the feeling of relaxation that the technology brings (when the destination is known and pressure of constatly searching for new passengers is reduced by greater trust place in the computer system) but also the distraction it brings to their driving (multiple-tasking, they liked the fact that the system turns off to black screen after two minutes idle) and the accuracy of the GPS system used (billing and payment, outages, when it needs repair it means unplanned time of the road).

In my study, I first analyze under socio-technical lenses how everyday cab driver adapt their working practices depending upon the integration of location-aware technology (co-evolution). However unlike Silivia’s work that focuses on the organization to capture customers, I reveal the implication of acquiring at satnav system on the wayfinding strategies and knowledge acquisition. At a second step, I study the role of context in influence the access of location information (granularity). In that part of the work, I can inspire form Silvia’s list of factors that influence the cab drivers work. Moreover, I should explore the impact of the relation with Suchman’s situated action theory (locations and opportunity determine the action): “Idiosyncrasy, improvisation and knowledge are all useful tools when choices between planned and situation acts are complex” (Suchman, 1987)” and maybe establish a link with the accuracy/uncertainty/granularity of the location information.

Finally, Silvia makes reference to the conflict between using location-aware technology and gaining skills and knowledge of the environment:

Drivers express the introduction of GPS systems as a way of making their “skilled” job an unskilled one; anyone with a GPS could do their job
The more the driver relies on the system to locate jobs, the less he or she relies on their in-depth knowledge of where they need to position themselves to maximise income.

In fact, my contextual inquiries somehow revealed quite the opposite. First, a navigation system was a mean to gain knowledge on the city (novice drivers have the tendency to leave it on passive mode to learn the street names). As a proof, after installation, the system tends to be used less and less by cab drivers. Second, the few mistakes a satnav system can make challenges the trust novice cab drivers put in the location technology. In fact, they have a tendency to use the street directory and paper maps for the dense urban area (or areas where they have points of reference). Experience drivers mention their feelings that now even freshly arrived cheap labor could do their job (as mentioned by Silvia). The reality proved to be more complicated than that. A satnav system does only do a part of the taxi driver’s job.

Elaluf-Calderwoodand, S. and Sørensen, C. (2006). Organizational Agility with Mobile ICT? The Case of London Black Cab Work. Butterworth-Heinemann.

Elaluf-Calderwood, S. and Sørensen, C. (2008). 420 Years of Mobility: ICT Enabled Mobile Interdependencies in London Hackney Cab Work, Mobile Work/Technology.

2 Comments on “Organizational Agility with Mobile ICT”

  1. 1 Silvia Elaluf-Calderwood said at 4:56 pm on April 23rd, 2008:

    Dear Fabien,
    Perhaps it will help the readers to understand how I arrived to such conclusions about the events mICTs in their work, to know about the context of this work. London Black Cab work is heavily regulated and differs significantly in terms of knowledge requirements from taxi drivers all around the world. The Knowledge is a qualification that takes 3 to 4 years to be achieved. The requirements for this type of work are hence highly demanding in terms of brain power.
    This is not the case in many other world big cities, where this type of work is seen as pretty straighforward – only requires a valid driving license and vehicle requirements to comply – hence it is the first source of income for people on low income, transient (migrats) etc.
    Thanks for this detailed review.

  2. 2 Silvia said at 2:56 pm on September 10th, 2010:

    Dear Fabien, I completed the thesis and now it is a book in Amazon: Let me know if you would like a copy. Regards, Silvia