Digital transformation in an incumbent organisation: The co-enactment of digital transformation through macro- and micro-level activities

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Digital transformation forms an important organisational response to digital technologies and their potential digital disruptions. Especially incumbent organisations face the risk of a diminished market position if they fail to digitally transform as competitors use of digital technologies disrupts business models and affects consumer behaviour. Digital disruptions pressure incumbent organisations’ brick and mortar businesses and have already shaken established companies to the ground (e.g. Nokia or Kodak), while pushing others to the brink (e.g. the music industry). These downfalls and trends signal the importance of incumbent organisations engaging in their digital transformation in order to retain their market position.

By engaging in their digital transformation, incumbent organisations seek to implement significant changes to their methods of organising by combining multiple digital technologies. The literature on organisational digital transformation sketches three areas of concern: digital transformation strategy, organisational changes (to both value proposition and internal structures) and digital technology. Across these areas of concern, it has delved into organisational activities at either the macro or the micro level of organising. Macro-level studies seem to overshadow the importance of micro-level activities that underlie them. That is, focusing on a phenomenon’s grand scheme, such studies pay little attention to the micro-level activities that enact the phenomenon. On the other hand, micro-level studies tend to miss the relation and influence that a macro-level phenomenon has on the micro level and its constitution of the macro level. They focus on the micro-level activities, neglecting the broader rules and resources that macro-level activities provide. Conceiving digital transformation as a mixed- level phenomenon occurring at both and across the organisational macro and micro levels, we thus cannot fully understand its enactment focusing on either macro- or micro-level activities but only through studying their co-enactment.

This dissertation investigates how organisational activities co-enact digital transformation. Drawing on three theoretical angles – improvisation theory, institutional theory and digital infrastructures, it studies organisational activities within the literature’s three areas of concern. Acknowledging the mixed-level nature of digital transformation, it focuses on activities at both the macro and the microlevels of organising. Methodologically, it builds on an ethnography of a large European car manufacturer, an incumbent in its field, which engages in its digital transformation. This ethnographic study took place over a period of three years (from July 2017 to June 2020) and comprised participant observations and both formal and informal interviews as well as the collection of archival records.

The findings from the empirical material revealed an interplay between macro- and micro-level activities which co-enacts the car manufacturer’s digital transformation. Conceptualising this interplay, this dissertation contributes to digital transformation research offering the concepts of framing and concretising to understand and explain the becoming of digital transformation as co-enactment. Framing creates space and projects direction for digital transformation. Concretising renders propositions and realisations which manifest organisational digital transformation. Accordingly, digital transformation becomes co-enacted in an interplay of macro-level activities framing micro-level activities, and micro-level activities concretising macro-level activities. The co-enactment conceptualisation emphasises digital transformation’s mixed-level nature, thus proposing the need to observe approaches suitable to further unpack and better understand the phenomenon’s becoming through the interplaying activities of framing and concretising.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationTurku
PublisherUniversity of Turku
Number of pages248
ISBN (Print)978-951-29-8445-9
ISBN (Electronic)978-951-29-8446-6
Publication statusPublished - 20.08.2021
Externally publishedYes

Publication series

ISSN (Print)2343-3159
ISSN (Electronic)2343-3167