Introduction to the Special Issue: Mobile Business: Technological Pluralism, Social Assimilation, and Growth

Nikolaos A. Mylonopoulos and Georgios I. Doukidis, Guest Editors
International Journal of Electronic Commerce,
Volume 8, Number 1, Fall 2003, pp. 5.

As mobile business becomes established as a novel field of activity in the economic and social sphere, it gives rise to a broad range of exciting questions for research: What business models are suitable for mobile business, and why? What factors determine the success or failure of new mobile services? How should new mobile systems and applications be designed and developed? How will business practices and work processes be affected? How will mobile business affect individual and collective social behavior? Academics have risen to the challenge with a growing stream of research tackling these and related questions. As with every young subject area, it is natural to ponder on its epistemological grounds for research and on the conditions likely to foster the development of a cumulative research tradition. In the course of introducing this special issue, this paper elaborates the nature of mobile business as a subject area for research by proposing a broad definition of mobile business and outlining suitable research approaches.

There are two main challenges in delineating the field of mobile business. First, the most important part of the object of inquiry lies in the future. As it is a new realm of sociotechnical activity, what is currently observed in practice is a narrow sampling of a long and varied future trajectory. The most intriguing aspect of mobile business, namely, how it will or should grow in the future, is not only unknown but indeterminate. Researchers of mobile business need to adopt approaches enabling the development of foresight and normative theory.

The second challenge is related to the fast pace of change, the uncertainty, and the complexity of developments in mobile business. Within less than two years, for instance, the enthusiasm for third-generation mobile networks in Europe was followed by disillusionment. Early visions of the wireless Web turned out to be rather simplistic as it was gradually realized that the successes of the fixed Web may not be suitable or even relevant to the mobile user. At the same time, many of the services (and consequent user behaviors) that thrive in mobile business are not equally strong on the fixed Web. More generally, users and society assimilate mobile innovations in unique, unprecedented ways. This complex picture is compounded if one takes into account the multiplicity of different technologies comprising the puzzle of mobile infrastructure and devices.

Redefining Mobile Business

There is widespread consensus today that mobile business represents a paradigmatic shift in the information and telecommunication technologies landscape [25]. Various attempts have been made to define mobile commerce and mobile business [12, 22, 33]. The resulting definitions fundamentally extend the definition of Internet-based electronic commerce, giving emphasis to the sale of goods and services over mobile and wireless networks. Thus, mobile commerce is defined in terms of commercial transactions, and the ability to make payments over mobile networks is a key element of the definition. This paper argues that a much more expansive definition is needed, for two main reasons.

The first reason is pragmatic. Despite the staggering proliferation of wireless mobile networks and devices all over the world, the growth of commercial transactions or enterprise applications over those networks is stumbling. Although several mobile payment systems have become available in the market, none of them has been able to attract a significant number of users. In contrast, the unexpected revenues of short message service (SMS) and “toy” services (e.g., ring tones, chatting) have exceeded all expectations. However, the latter are not classed as “proper” mobile commerce or mobile business, even though they represent the single most significant revenue source for mobile operators, besides voice, in cellular networks. The wireless application protocol (WAP) was developed to support commercial transactions replicating the fixed Internet experience, thus epitomizing the vision that mobile commerce was a fusion of the Web with mobile telecommunications [5]. Yet WAP was totally rejected by the market [19], and at the same time SMS, which was launched almost by accident, gave rise to a whole new “texting” subculture [21]. This suggests that the current definitions represent a vision or target and do not adequately capture contemporary developments in the marketplace.

The second reason why the extant definitions are not sufficient focuses on the nature of what it is that has to be defined. Mobile business is a relatively young realm of sociotechnical activity, involving novel technologies and emerging practices. Casual observation shows that technologies, business models, and user reactions evolve at an astonishing speed, with new device and service launches opening up new possibilities every few months. Of course, not all of them succeed. However, as the industry and end-users learn what might be of value and what not, new business models, new work practices, and new technology requirements emerge. This suggests that mobile business is not simply a collection of technologies and services given by an independent authority. On the contrary, it is a number of different industries (hardware, software, telecommunications, content provision, public organizations, etc.) in a process of convergence and competition toward a vague vision of a wireless future. In that process, the end-users, and society are the final arbiters of what is useful, usable, acceptable, ethical, and desirable. Thus, in effect, end-users and industry co-create the services and business models that are deemed acceptable within a given social and economic context. From the multitude of available devices (e.g., phones, personal digital assistants, videophones), networks (e.g., Bluetooth, WLAN, GPRS, WCDMA), and services (e.g., banking, messaging, Web access, location-based services), providers develop and offer various packages that users appropriate in ways that best fit their practices and lifestyles (or perhaps do not use them at all).

Most new services are not unitary replacements of an older technology but create entirely new needs and experiences. To be more exact, new mobile services address complex work practices and lifestyles, asking end-users to change their pattern of daily routines [8, 24]. For example, many professionals make their social and business calls while in cars crawling along congested roads. As another example, the mobile multimedia service (MMS) would have been inconceivable and incomprehensible only a few years ago. Today advertising campaigns for MMS (and other mobile services) project patterns of living with this new service in a doubly reflexive way, running ads that ask consumers to reflect upon (and adopt) the service provider’s reflection of what the consumer’s life might be like after the adoption of MMS. In the absence of a shared and well-defined blueprint, actors in mobile business jointly devise and revise definitions of mobile business in an evolutionary, perpetual process [10]. Although market growth is driven by technological innovation, end-user feedback on the ways new technologies are used is critical in defining the technologies and services. In other words, there is a perpetual cycle of new technology introductions, patterns of adoption (appropriation and assimilation), and adaptation (changes in services and applications). This is demonstrated by the way SMS-based services have evolved from person-to-person messaging to sophisticated marketing campaigns and third-party services, the way WLANs have grown from small-office and home LANs to wide-area peer-to-peer networks, and the way the perception of the personal digital assistant (PDA) has changed from small computer to personal organizer and then to personal communications center. Thus, if one’s definition of mobile business is too narrow or too concrete and at the operational level, there is a danger of definitional obsolescence. The danger arises because the object of the definition-the conduct of transactions or some other mobile service-is constantly changing through a complex evolutionary process involving many stakeholders. The discussion that follows proposes a definition at a higher level of abstraction.

Of course, this is not to suggest that there is no need for definitions. On the contrary, definitions, albeit transient, are necessary preconditions for the evolution of technologies and services. The evolutionary process described above entails, at its heart, the implicit construction and continuous revision of temporary definitions of what mobile business is and where it should be heading. Such definitions (e.g., mobile business as “messaging,” as “wireless Web access,” or as “commercial transactions”) are temporary templates for designing services and structuring experiences. Definitions of this kind are known as technological frames [6] , and several may coexist, although there is usually a dominant frame over a given time window. Without such definitions, partial as they may be, it would be impossible for the various constituents to coordinate their plans (e.g., launch a new device or service, or, as a consumer, make a purchase decision). It is incremental successes, failures, unanticipated uses, and consequences that generate consecutive reconceptualizations of mobile business [34].

Technological frames are typically forward-looking, tied to some vision of a socioeconomic future that society at large aspires to attain with the use of a certain set of technologies. Frames inspire future development without imprisoning our collective thinking and action into obsolete categories. This is easier said than done, because visions are themselves subject to evolutionary transformation over time and are necessarily nebulous and tentative. Nonetheless, even if the future were deterministic and known, organizations and individuals would still have to learn their way toward the future incrementally, over time-there is ample evidence of technologies that failed because they came to market too early (e.g., the Apple Newton). The dominant vision today seems to be what is known as ubiquitous computing [27]. In general terms, this vision entails the omnipresence of intelligent and inter-networked microprocessors, embedded in all devices and artifacts, enhancing and extending every possible interaction between people and the world around them.

However, technological frames are components of the evolutionary process that shapes mobile business at large. Therefore, to develop theoretical generalizations on mobile business, it is necessary to elevate one’s viewpoint to a higher level of abstraction and cast a broader definitional net. It is proposed in this article that mobile business be defined as an ecosystem of individuals and business actors, in given historical socioeconomic contexts, engaging in multiple successive technological frames through a learning process of co-creating new experiences of social interaction with the use of wireless and mobile technologies. This definition emphasizes the evolutionary character of mobile business, acknowledges the multiplicity of involved stakeholders, and gives precedence to the social interactions among them as the constitutive force of mobile business. Further, this is a systemic definition, as opposed to the process-oriented definition in terms of commercial conduct. Let us now consider the various elements of this definition.

The ecological metaphor draws from evolutionary theories in industrial organization [32] and signifies the emergence of mobile business as the constantly negotiated outcome of a complex web of interactions whereby some services and applications endure while others decline. This ecosystem is manifest at four levels: the individual, the organization, the industry, and society. At the level of individual users, mobile business demands the constant adaptation of daily practice to appropriate (or simply accommodate) new technologies and services. For example, Kasesniemi and Rautiainen show how adolescents perceive and enact their relationships through the exchange of text messages [23]. Similarly, passengers in a crowded bus may have to put up with someone who speaks loudly and makes gestures while conversing with an invisible friend via a hands-free earpiece. In the process of appropriating, accommodating, or rejecting new devices and services, end-users contribute to the creation of new experiences.

It is also important to emphasize that individuals do not act in isolation but in constant interaction with other users and with various service providers. Thus, the learning process (appropriation, accommodation, and rejection) takes place both at the individual and the collective level. In social interactions, individuals assume different operating identities depending on the context of interaction. For example, the same person enacts one set of behavioral norms and preferences at work, another while shopping, and a third while watching football with friends. While this kind of behavioral adaptation is natural in face-to-face interactions, it may dissipate in impersonal mobile-mediated interactions. Part of the appropriation/accommodation process is the reconstruction of the missing social context in a mobile-mediated interaction. As Roussos et al. (in this issue) argue, reinstituting the full operational identities (beyond mere authentication) of counterparts (individuals and businesses) in such interactions is a major challenge for the design of new services.

At the level of an organization, the challenge is to assimilate effectively the opportunities afforded by mobile business. This entails devising the right business models, establishing suitable complementarities with alternative channels (e.g., wireline Internet, branch network), redesigning the relevant business processes, and managing the change process. Typical examples today include banks extending their e-banking services, retailers enhancing the shopping experience of their customers, marketers engaging in new loyalty programs, and public sector organizations improving their service to citizens. Organizations adopting mobile business learn and change in much the same way as with other innovations in information systems [36].

At the industry level, the literature identifies a wide range of actors involved in mobile business, from network operators and service providers to standardization bodies and NGOs [10, 39]. The whole industry is characteristically networked. Every layer of infrastructure or service, from security to roaming and to payments, requires industry-wide consensus on common standards. The deployment of services relies on the coordinated effort of a constellation of business partners, including content owners, application service providers, network operators, and others. Further, delivering a seamless roaming experience relies on complex multilateral agreements, on the technical standards for hand-offs and on commercial interconnection agreements, at both the network and the service level. Within this web of relationships, business actors are simultaneously competing and collaborating in their efforts to innovate and to deliver services of value to the end-user [7]. The industry takes a leadership role in terms of innovating with the creation of new experiences, but at the same time it tries to be attentive to the responses and diverse preferences of individual end-users in varying contexts.

At the level of society as a whole, the challenge is to rebuild a system of values and norms deemed appropriate for mobile-mediated interactions. This entails defining and enforcing rights and obligations with respect to privacy, intellectual property rights, security, and consumer protection, among other things [41]. On the one hand, the proliferation of mobile business has far-reaching implications that are not fully understood. On the other hand, there are serious technical (technological and institutional) obstacles in legislating and enforcing any given set of such requirements. This is no different from the challenges faced in Internet-based electronic business. There also is a wider area of values and norms, outside the scope of legal institutions, where society revises and adjusts what is considered appropriate conduct with the use of mobile devices and services [31].

As an ecosystem, mobile business does not exist in vitro-it is embedded in complex socioeconomic contexts. The contexts are historically constituted and differ from one country or region to another. The differences between the United States, Europe, and the Far East (mainly Japan) suffice to demonstrate the importance of context. The United States has a history of investment in wired broadband access and a fragmented cellular infrastructure. The opposite is true for Europe. Thus, it is no surprise that the adoption of mobile telephony and SMS is much higher in Europe, whereas WLANs have taken off in the United States. The success of iMode in Japan has not been replicated anywhere else so far, and this apparently testifies to some unique characteristics of the Japanese consumer market [4]. Similar contextual differences can be found between smaller geographical regions, between social classes, and between market segments. Thus, one should not expect to find unitary technological frames for mobile business that are independent of specific contexts.

Technological frames define sets of interim targets that the mobile business ecosystem pursues. For example, the technological frame of commercial transactions over mobile and wireless networks underscores the importance of mobile payments and security as a cornerstone of future growth. A good deal of effort (in terms of technological standards, regulation, and business models) is directed toward the development of workable solutions. Meanwhile the messaging frame is being extended to include multimedia messages combining pictures, video, and sound. Similarly, a good deal of effort is committed to designing new devices, implementing new standards, and marketing new services. Other technological frames may be observed in parallel with the above or will be developed in the future. Such technological frames fuel the evolutionary process by which actors (the mobile business ecosystem) learn what is desirable and feasible, adjust service offerings, change their behaviors, and create new technological frames.

The ultimate aim in mobile business is to create new experiences of social interaction between individuals, and between individuals and businesses. This requires a significant degree of change at the individual, organizational, and societal levels. What differentiates mobile business from other technological paradigms is that new experiences are enabled, and social interactions are mediated, by wireless and mobile technologies. For example, the shopping experience is different in a store, on a Web page, and via a managed shopping list over a mobile phone. The experience differs in terms of the physical presence (in-store, sitting at a desk, stuck in traffic), the information space available (all senses, text and pictures, a simple regular shopping list), and the nature of the social interactions (face-to-face, virtual) [14]. The conduct of virtual social interactions relies on the trusted exchange of identities. The service provider needs to identify a particular customer with specific shopping preferences, while the user needs to identify a reliable retailer meeting certain expectations. Mobile business will become a reality only when such social interactions can be enacted through wireless and mobile networks. As another example, consider how the experience of adolescent flirting follows a completely new pattern with the use of SMS [23]. Mobile services are co-created when experienced in regular social interaction.

The proposed definition of mobile business is broad enough to embrace the shifting trajectory of technological and market innovation in the field, yet delineates a precise area within which theoretical generalizations and normative recommendations can be developed. The ecological metaphor underscores the importance of adaptation for survival or death. The metaphor suggests that many services and business models will have to fail before a few “healthy species” survive and dominate. From this point of view, survival (adaptation) entails identifying and incorporating the best components of other business models. Following this line of argumentation, one may conclude that enabling the growth of multiple “species” of services is critical for the long-term prosperity of the industry. In this respect, it is interesting to compare the (approximately) 9 percent fee that DoCoMo charges third parties for distribution through iMode with the 60 percent commonly retained by many mobile operators in Europe. iMode has 3,500 menu partners and nearly 65,000 independent providers, whereas European operators offer only a few dozen third-party services each. This is a brief illustration of how the definition proposed in this paper can lead to concrete explanations and informed normative conclusions. The discussion will now turn to a research program that embraces this definition in full.

Scenarios for Mobile Business

The proposed definition is concerned with what mobile business should be like if one is to make informed theoretical generalizations that transcend the rapidly changing patterns observed in practice. The next logical question, addressed in this section, asks what kind of research is appropriate if mobile business is defined as an ecosystem of individuals and business actors, in given historical socioeconomic contexts, engaging in multiple successive technological frames through a learning process of co-creating new experiences of social interaction with the use of wireless and mobile technologies.

The objective of scientific research is to study empirical phenomena in order to develop generalizable causal explanations of their occurrence and behavior [11]. Although an extensive discussion of epistemologies is not the goal here, the approach adopted in this paper rests on principles of critical theory [35]. Appropriate research in this setting avoids technological determinism and strives to interpret the potential of a technological innovation in the context of its use. The use of structuration theory in information systems research is exemplary in this respect [13, 37]. Therefore, research on mobile business ought to embrace the socioeconomic milieu in which it is situated. Promising ethnographic work in this direction looks closely into the lives and behaviors of mobile users [8, 24]. However, ethnography need not be the only methodological approach. On the contrary, the multidisciplinarity of this subject area calls for multi-methodological approaches [29].

Having said all this, it remains true that a significant amount of research effort in mobile business is concerned, not with explaining observed phenomena, but with analyzing emergent or future systems and services. After all, much of the action is located at the technological frontier, whereas what has already been implemented and established is likely to become obsolete. Argyris calls for research that will help practicing managers take action for change beyond the status quo [2]. Whereas Argyris makes this point in relation to organizational research, it is equally desirable and feasible to pursue rigorous research that leads to actionable knowledge at the cross-organizational level, as is the case with mobile business at large. This type of research takes explanatory accounts of extant phenomena one step further in order to explore potential future directions. This process necessarily entails interaction between researcher and protagonists along the lines of action research. Therefore, theory development has a dual objective. It must satisfy the validity criteria of scientific research while supplying practicing managers with the cognitive tools (concepts as well as ways of thinking) that will empower them to take action [3].

Scenario planning is a methodological approach that addresses the future in a systemic way [30]. It has gained renewed interest in mobile business [26]. Although scenario planning has its roots in the practice of strategic management, it has been employed extensively as the main approach in action research studies [20, 28]. Scenario planning is based on the assumption that, given the world’s uncertainty and complexity, there cannot be one single image of the future state of the world but a broad space of future possibilities [40]. Simply defined, a scenario is a description of a possible or probable future [38]. The scenario is broad in scope and focuses on the fundamental goals and plans guiding the general direction of organizations in their environment. Future reality is likely to incorporate elements from more than one scenario. The process of scenario planning opens up new perspectives, so that the whole exercise can also be seen as one of stimulating creative foresight even if no single scenario applies perfectly [30]. Although there are several scenario planning methodologies, all of them seek to maximize the involvement of practitioners, thus safeguarding the actionability of the outcome. Further, scenario planning methods strive to assess the dynamic interaction of a broad range of parameters, thus developing a systemic account of the domain of interest.

Based on the definition of mobile business presented earlier, and with this research orientation in mind, we engaged in a project to develop scenarios for mobile business. The key elements of this project will now be presented with a view to demonstrating how the definition of mobile business can be a good basis for research. The process of developing a scenario has been documented in detail by Aarnio, Heikkilä, and Hirvola [1]. Following Godet’s methodological approach [15, 16, 17], the authors worked in cooperation with experts from nine core organizations (universities, mobile operators, and content providers) throughout Europe and hundreds of other, noncore experts who were involved in various parts of the process. The aim of the research was to develop long-term scenarios of the evolution of mobile commerce (defined in systemic terms) and to explore their implications for regulation, social policy, and business strategy. The project developed in three main phases.

The first phase was a cross-impact analysis on a large pool of variables drawn from prior research (primary and secondary). The final list had 53 variables addressing both the demand and supply sides (e.g., convergence of devices, network coverage, standardization process, resistance to change, fashion, state of regulation). Through an on-line questionnaire, 19 experts rated the perceived impact of each variable on every other. Subsequent statistical analysis revealed the total degree of influence or dependence of each variable on the system, taking into account both direct and indirect effects. The initial pool of variables was drawn from prior research and was endorsed by a number of domain experts as a rich description of the field of mobile business. The statistical analysis reduced the complexity of handling so many variables by bringing to light the strongest causal links between them. In terms of the proposed definition of mobile business, this phase addressed head-on the systemic complexity of mobile business and revealed the underlying mechanisms governing the dynamic interactions observed in practice.

The second phase of the scenario-planning process identified a wide range of actors, characterized their profiles, and assessed their strategies. Seventeen types of actors were identified and organized in six categories: service providers, technical infrastructure, trading infrastructure, interorganizational arenas, terminal and subscriber mass market, and customers. The analysis of actor objectives and strategies led to a map of nine areas where two or more actors competed or collaborated. The nine so-called battlefields were control of customer base, value-chain dominance, role of the public sector, intellectual property rights, standards, privacy, alternative technologies, fulfillment of social needs, and seamless roaming. In terms of the mobile business definition, this second phase explicitly addressed the multiple constituencies of mobile business and delineated the dynamic interactions between them. This is how the ecosystem metaphor in the definition was embraced by the project.

In the third and final phase, the outcomes of the first two phases were combined in order to prepare a list of seven hypotheses that later led to the formation of scenarios (see Table 1). The term “hypothesis” here has a different meaning than what is typically understood in statistical hypothesis testing. In scenario planning, hypotheses represent a broad condition or situation that may materialize or one in which the opposite may happen. Using another on-line questionnaire, 35 practitioners rated the independent and conditional probability of these hypotheses materializing in the future in all possible combinations. Further analysis revealed the highest probability scenarios (as combinations of affirmative and negative hypotheses). Following Godet’s methodology [18], the most probable scenarios were the four that covered the broadest possible range of future states, including mainstream, contrasting, and controversial scenarios. Table 2 provides a summary of the main tenets of each scenario. Thus the third phase resynthesized the analytical work of the first two phases into four coherent visions of the future (scenarios).

The scenarios are feasible states, but they are not expected to materialize in their pure forms-they are extreme futures for the purpose of widening and refining our understanding, not predictions. Any future reality is more likely to incorporate elements of most scenarios. The practical value of the scenarios is that they provide a wealth of material with which practitioners can debate desirable and feasible technological frames and courses of action. In terms of theory, the scenarios describe tentative states of the world and show causal paths expected to give rise to them. Scenario methodologies do not make a strong claim for the validity of such causal links. Nonetheless, subsequent research designs can develop further testable theory from the scenarios.

The research described above has certain limitations. Notably, the scenarios are generic and do not describe specific technological frames or user experiences. Different research approaches address the systemic and evolutionary character of mobile business in different ways. Scenario research such as this embraces the definition of mobile business presented above and leads to generalizable theory. It preserves the multifaceted nature of mobile business and produces justified normative insight to practitioners. It builds on the cumulative stock of knowledge in this field and tries to look forward, deep into the future, with a view to rising above the present horizon. As ambitious as these objectives are, the subject area of mobile business stands to benefit the most from research designs with a similar orientation.

Overview of the Special Issue

The papers in this special issue present a wealth of empirical evidence and theoretical investigations, illuminating important aspects of the proposed definition of mobile business. Rao and Parikh, and Allen look at the evolving views on two technologies, PDAs and WLANs. Kavassalis et al. elucidate the appropriation of SMS at the organizational level for marketing purposes. Roussos et al. and Pitkänen address different elements of the social stage: identity and legislation.

Jonathan P. Allen employs the notion of technological frames in the evolution of personal digital assistants (PDA). In his paper, “The Evolution of New Mobile Applications: A Sociotechnical Perspective.” Allen draws on the sociology of technology to show that this relatively commonplace category of devices did not always have a well-defined definition and different market players pulled it in different directions, according to their core competences and worldviews. For example, the PDA has been positioned as a very small personal computer, as a pen-based device for technophobes, as a communications tool, and as a combination of the above. A technological frame defines the main problem to be solved by the technology, the respective performance criteria, and an exemplary artifact. Although technological frames mutate over time, they provide the cognitive means to make sense of the social shaping of technological applications.

Allen offers empirical evidence to demonstrate the role of the computer industry, the telecommunications industry, and new start-ups in attempting to define the PDA in different ways. He explains the dynamic interactions between various developers and between developers and the market (end-users) that constituted the historical trajectory of this application. From his analysis, it is evident that the technology industries and the market at large grow through incremental learning processes. For example, the Apple Newton and other innovative early PDAs were disruptive innovations at the application level but failed as products because the market needed time to assimilate (learn) the relevant technological frame by finding and adopting appropriate uses.

Bharat Rao and Mihir A. Parikh tell a similar story in relation to wireless LANs. In “Wireless Broadband Networks: The U.S. Experience,” they examine novel business models for wireless LAN services in the United States. WLANs have proliferated in the United States more than in any other region of the world. Initially, this technology was used to set up home and small-office networks. Increasingly, however, WLANs have been employed to create public broadband wireless networks. Rao and Parikh present four mini-case studies of different business models for such networks. The most important differentiating factors among these business models are the mode of network growth and the revenue scheme. The companies studied developed their hot-spot grids either through direct investment in hot spots or by integrating a network of partners. Direct investment maximizes the availability, reliability, and security of the service but requires substantial up-front investment and high maintenance costs. Alternatively, some companies sign up individual subscribers of fixed broadband who are willing to share their excess bandwidth with others through their own local hot spot. This is feasible because of the low cost of acquiring and setting up the WLAN access point. In terms of revenue schemes, there is a range of offerings, depending on the level of service and the target segment. For example, individual WLAN providers receive a portion of the net subscription revenue of the network that corresponds to their hot spot, while top-end corporate customers pay a substantial amount for quality of service, enhanced security, and added network services. Most of the providers reviewed in the paper had experimented with a combination of approaches.

As private and public hot spots proliferate exponentially, it will be interesting to observe the way this sector will grow and how competitive dynamics will play out. For example, will the presence of network externalities lead to rapid consolidation, or will voluntary individual participation prevail? In addition, the evolution of complementary or competing technologies (e.g., Bluetooth, high-speed cellular) and devices (e.g., laptops, handhelds, mobile phones) is bound to affect how end-users combine and use these services. This paper is a case of co-creation of mobile applications and services by the industry and end-users.

In “Mobile Permission Marketing: Framing the Market Inquiry,” Petros Kavassalis, Ntina Spyropoulou, Dimitris Drossos, Evangelos Mitrokostas, Gregory Gikas, and Antonis Hatzistamatiou focus on the latest developments in targeted marketing campaigns using SMS (short message service). Their detailed case vignettes from the United Kingdom show how these companies have exploited the behavioral characteristics of SMS in order to deploy highly effective marketing campaigns. SMS attracts consumer attention and produces consumer responses to a much greater degree, in comparison to other direct marketing channels. The greatest weakness of SMS messages (short length, up to 160 characters) may be their main advantage in that they do not saturate the user’s absorptive capacity, as e-mail sometimes does. Further, such services do not interfere with the productive time of end-users, because they are often used in idle time (e.g., in public transport, in a queue).

Marketers use SMS to engage in one-to-one dialogue with customers. Typically, customers are asked to opt in by sending the first SMS to a designated number. Other channels, such as the Internet, television, print media, and personal contact, complement mobile marketing campaigns. Each channel achieves a different degree of impact, awareness, targeting, and engagement, thus allowing marketers to maximize campaign effectiveness. As far as the mobile channel is concerned, customers are typically asked to engage in a series of message exchanges, often tied to a prize. Companies use SMS campaigns to enhance brand awareness, build or test customer loyalty, and develop or enhance demographic databases. Drawing on the resource-based view, Kavassalis et al. conclude that mobile marketing, as a business activity, requires the orchestration of multiple capabilities from a number of companies (advertising agencies, mobile operators, wireless application service providers, etc.). The core capability of the mobile marketing company lies in designing appropriate interaction dialogues that serve the objectives of the client while accommodating the peculiarities of the medium and of the behavior of mobile users.

George Roussos, Don Peterson, and Uma Patel elucidate the significance of digital identity in the emerging environment of ubiquitous computing where mobile networks and devices are a dominant component. Their paper, “Mobile Identity Management: An Enacted View,” presents an elaborate description of fourth-generation mobile networks and ambient intelligence environments in which individuals make use of network information services through a variety of fixed or mobile devices and embedded systems. They argue that mobile identity management is a key determinant of efficacious human interaction with network services. Drawing on empirical evidence from an experimental ambient retailing system, they show that end-users resist the intimate, personalized interaction advanced by new services if these take place in a context without clear identity recognition. Because of the embeddedness and small form factor of mobile devices, services need to be adaptive and responsive to user preferences and the context of use. This entails capturing the multiple identities that individuals assume in different contexts (e.g., professional, parent, hobbyist) and responding to them in a customized manner. In such cases users are asked to give a third-party network operator or service provider access to and control of their identity characteristics. Although this is something we customarily do in the traditional social milieu, there are no equivalent technical and social protocols for achieving similar context awareness, reciprocity, and mutual understanding in ubiquitous mobile network environments.

Roussos et al. make a sharp definitional distinction between identity and identification. Whereas identification is the contextless authentication of a unique person, identity incorporates the roles, behaviors, and attitudes that individuals enact in a given context. Thus, identification may be sufficient to complete a unitary payment transaction, but awareness of identity is necessary in order to exchange intimate social cues in a context where the past and the future matter, such as retail recommendations, personalized entertainment services, or financial advice. These are contexts where relationship continuity is significant and therefore trust is of the utmost importance. While trust is formed naturally on a personal level between oneself and, say, a local shopkeeper, it is far from straightforward between thousands of anonymous users and multiple network and service providers in a mobile network with perpetual hand-offs as users roam across networks and base stations. This paper shows how the foundational issues of human relationships are being redefined in the situations created by a fabric of pervasive information and communications technologies.

In “Assessing Legal Challenges on the Mobile Web,” Olli Pitkänen, Martii Mäntylä, Mikko Välimäki, and Jukka Kemppinen develop a research agenda regarding the legal challenges presented by the prospect of mobile business. Their approach entails three hypothetical scenarios of mobile service usage. The services examined are a weather service, a person-to-person system for sharing pictures, and an individual health-monitoring and support system. These service scenarios were selected according to the extent to which they address a broad range of defining factors of the mobile Web, as set out by the authors. Subsequently, the authors discuss various actual or potential legal challenges, that emerge from each service scenario. This process entails an unconventional but enlightening methodological approach for bringing to light unprecedented or unanticipated legal consequences from the proliferation of mobile technologies and services.

In effect, Pitkänen et al. project a future use case into the present in order to analyze it. This enables them to illustrate in practical terms how issues pertaining to intellectual property, privacy, contracting, and international law may impede the widespread adoption of such services. As they demonstrate, simplistic “blanket” permissions and prohibitions will not do, because different people are likely to have different preferences (e.g., how much privacy they are willing to forgo in return for a higher degree of service customization). The analysis is permeated by the observation that the mobile Web’s geographical and temporal transparency and anonymity create significant obstacles to the application and enforcement of legal rules and processes. The paper calls for further research to identify technical and institutional solutions that can enforce legal requirements but still maintain the features that make the mobile Web attractive.

Augmenting the Research Agenda

All the papers in this special issue were presented at the First International Conference on Mobile Business, hosted by the Athens University of Economics and Business in July 2002 in Athens, Greece. The conference topic reflected the increasing emphasis being given to the systemic complexity of m-business growth and to the social processes of technology assimilation. The conference program included 60 papers, a number of panels, tutorials, and workshops, and the presentation of more than 20 innovative projects from 25 countries from all over the world. Faced with problems in the technology sector worldwide and the “Catch-22” situation in which European mobile operators found themselves after third-generation networks failed to meet expectations, the conference set out to redress the social value added of mobile business as a key element in future growth. The social integration of technology and the need to invest in “educating” markets (i.e., helping end-users to learn, assimilate and thus co-create new services) emerged as dominant themes at the conference. As Brown and Duguid point out, the prevalence of technological determinism gives rise to “tunnel vision,” the inability to perceive and understand why new technologies succeed and fail, in terms of the complex interactions between technological artifacts and social life [9]. All of the papers included in this special issue manifest this perspective. Taken together they represent a call for an augmented definition of mobile business and a research agenda that embraces the technological and social constituents of its growth.


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NIKOLAOS A. MYLONOPOULOS ( is assistant professor of information systems at the Athens Laboratory of Business Administration (ALBA) and affiliate professor of electronic business at the Bordeaux School of Management in France. He holds a Ph.D. from Warwick Business School and has taught at Loughborough University Business School, Warwick Business School, Birkbeck College (University of London), and the Athens University of Economics and Business. His work has been published in international refereed journals and conferences, including the International Transactions in Operational Research and the Communications of the ACM. He has served as guest editor for the British Journal of Management, the Journal of the Operational Research Society, and the Journal of Knowledge and Process Management and is co-editor of the International Journal of Information Technology Education. Recently he co-organized the Third European Conference on Organizational Knowledge, Learning and Capabilities and was program chair of the First International Conference on Mobile Business. Dr. Mylonopoulos has been actively involved in more than ten national and European funded research projects in the areas of telematics, electronic business, mobile commerce, and recently e-business in Eastern Europe. He has served on various national advisory boards and committees and has consulted for large organizations.

GEORGIOS I. DOUKIDIS ( is professor and chair of the Department of Management Science and Technology at the Athens University of Economics and Business (AUEB). He holds a Ph.D. from the London School of Economics, where he was a lecturer for six years in the Information Systems Department, and currently is a visiting professor at Brunel University. He has published 12 books and more than 100 papers and has acted as guest editor for the Journal of the Operational Research Society, the European Journal of Information Systems, the Journal of Information Technology, and the International Journal of Electronic Commerce. He is founder and director of the eBusiness Research Center of AUEB (ELTRUN), the largest European business school that specializes in m-commerce, digital TV, knowledge management, e-business models, and digital marketing. The center collaborates closely with international companies such as Nokia, Oracle, Unisys, Microsoft, Vodafone, Sonera, and Siemens. He is founder/member of the executive board of the GeM (Global eManagement M.B.A.), offered by leading business schools in Europe and America, and is chair of TANEO (the Greek New Economy Fund). Key Words and Phrases: Epistemology, mobile business, scenario planning, social assimilation of technology, technological frame.