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IT turns ingrained notions on their head when it comes to innovation

Professor Jan Ljungberg at the Department of Applied Information Technology is investigating the significance of the digital revolution for our society, and in particular how companies and authorities should navigate their way through changing conditions. There are a great many aspects to consider, including changes to norms, shifts in power and legal issues.

“My research is about the role of IT in the innovation process,” says Jan Ljungberg. “The various ways in which the use of IT turns prevailing notions of how innovation is achieved on their head. IT opens up new possibilities, creates new challenges and functions as a disruptive force in the traditional innovation process.”

Changing division of roles and shifts in values

The traditional approach to innovation involves a chain of research and development, where a concept becomes a product and ends up on a market. The process is a linear one and those involved have relatively clear roles. The traditional innovation process is about companies being able to create something that is of value to someone and that will sell. The company reaps the value of the product when it is sold.

Online trends have contributed towards the development of innovation processes that are more dispersed and that involve more people and organisations. The creation and reaping of the value become more distinct and harder to control. Users contribute to a greater extent than in the past and the boundaries between consumer and producer are more blurred. The content on Flickr and YouTube, for example, is entirely generated by the users, while companies instead make their money from advertising.

“We’re interested in how companies are to navigate their way through this environment,” says Jan Ljungberg. “There are a great many aspects at play and they can be both positive and negative for the development of society.”

Open source

A user can also be an innovator, and this is particularly evident in the example of software and open source code. Open source code refers to computer applications for which the source code is made available to everyone to read, use, modify and distribute to others. This means that the user can customise the computer application according to their needs, while at the same time contributing to the development of the software by sharing the adjustments he/she has made.
Open source software can be of great interest for a company. Making the source code available to everyone means that the company can get help from open source code communities in fixing bugs and improving functionality. For some products, open source software encourages more people to get involved in developing applications, which in turn increases the value of the product.

Today, many companies market themselves in general as advocates of open source software as it indicates an enterprising spirit and generates goodwill.

“One related phenomenon is this idea of application development for mobile phones,” says Jan Ljungberg. “The value of a mobile phone increases as the quality of the mobile applications that are available in the company’s app store improves. These applications can be developed by anyone who has an idea and is capable of programming. The developers of an application receive a share of the profit made for each application that is downloaded. This means that there are a lot of people trying to develop applications out there, despite the fact that only a few achieve a major impact and start making money. But the increased range of apps clearly benefits the company concerned.”

Sharing research results is often in the best interests of society

Research and development that does not concern software is also naturally affected by the growth of the digital society. In this context, it is a matter of sharing research results in a more general way. Companies and educational institutions that cannot afford to lead all the research themselves can opt to contract people who are part of researcher networks, where knowledge is shared via the internet. One example is the development of pharmaceutical products for widespread diseases in developing countries such as malaria, where there is a common interest and knowledge among many companies and organisations in resolving the problems, but where investments from individual pharmaceutical companies cannot be profitable.

What does the transition to IT-based processes mean for the individual and for society?

“What my colleagues and I are trying to understand is the long-term significance of the disruptive force that IT constitutes in the processes,” says Jan Ljungberg. “It involves major changes in society, partly for the individual citizen, but also for our norms, laws and regulations, changes in relation to copyright and labour legislation. Much of this development takes place regardless of whether or not companies and authorities want it to. Our research is largely about examining the way in which the IT infrastructure and digital innovation affects business models and growth, knowledge formation in society, and how this influences forms of organisation and work. For example, are we going to start sacking lots of people and passing their work on to a community instead, where it can be done on a voluntary basis?

“The legal perspective is ever-present in our work and this also relates to issues of democracy,” says Jan Ljungberg. “Just because everything is ‘open’ and accessible doesn’t automatically mean that it is democratic. The more informal the processes become, the harder it is to understand the power structure. For example, we’re also looking at gender issues, since these structures are still chiefly male-dominated.”

Commons-based Peer Production

Commons-based Peer Production is a more general term for the production method within the open source code world. It involves a large number of individuals each looking for forums where they can contribute something and gain an outlet for their creativity, e.g. in open source code projects. Contributors can be working at home, but they are often based at a company, contributing alongside their ‘real’ work, with or without the knowledge of their company. Some companies even encourage this type of activity, regarding it as a way of improving skills and getting contributions for their own projects. The trend towards Commons-based Peer Production is particularly evident within cultural/media production, research and development, as well as software.

Working with different disciplines using a shared research platform

Jan Ljungberg’s research team within digital innovation likes to work with different disciplines. They have a shared research platform, OPIN, together with lawyers and economists from the Stockholm School of Economics and the Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Through the OPIN platform the team produces joint research articles and aims to work in the same office at Lindholmen twice a week.

“It was somewhat by accident that I entered into this particular field of research,” explains Jan Ljungberg. “It began back in 1999-2000, when I was leading a research team at the Viktoria Institute in a Vinnova-funded project within Knowledge Management. The project was called ‘Competitive knowledge organisations’, and one of the sub-projects was future-oriented and was about knowledge-sharing in new network-based forms. Our project identified open source as an area for the future and it was the social and organisational aspects that interested us in particular.

“Today, together with teams from the universities of Skövde and Uppsala, our research team is at the national forefront in this field, and we’re also well-positioned in international terms – it’s exciting!” says Jan Ljungberg. “In our latest project, which is being funded by the Swedish Council for Working Life and Social Research, we plan to work with researchers in Skövde and Uppsala to examine the demands this trend places on organisations and leadership.”

November 2010


Interview: Catharina Jerkbrant

Jan Ljungberg

Jan LjungbergProfessor Jan Ljungberg and his colleagues are carrying out research into the major social changes brought about by IT, and in particular their impact on innovation processes.

Page Manager: Catharina Jerkbrant|Last update: 12/30/2010

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