RFID on the boundary between the public and private sectors: An ANT/Institutional Theory investigation
Radio frequency identification (RFID) enabled devices are becoming increasingly common in today’s world, facilitating many things from supply chain efficiencies to medical equipment tracking. The majority of studies into such systems centre on technical and engineering issues associated with their implementation and operation. Research outside of this scope generally focuses on RFID systems in isolated private sector supply chains. Less common is research on RFID systems within the public sector, and this research generally occurs within the health, defence, or agriculture areas. Using a combination of Actor-Network Theory (ANT) and Institutional Theory, this qualitative study examines how RFID is used within the public sector/private sector RFID network. Interactions across public and private sector RFID networks are examined in order to identify common themes within the network, and to determine where the needs of the two sectors diverge. Twelve themes were identified that acted as ANT mediators within the network, across three dimensions. These mediators differed in activity depending on where within the ANT translation they were strongest. A number of the mediators were also found to exert institutional pressures on organisations within the network, contributing to their strength during translation. The relationship between the two sectors was also examined. Findings indicated that some mediators were stronger within the public sector, particularly with respect to privacy and legislation. It was further found that the relationship between the two sectors was confused by the multiple different roles taken by the public sector within the translation. This multiplicity at times confused both public and private sector partners, leading to uncertainty within the network. This study contributes to research by addressing a gap in understanding of RFID systems in the public-private sector context. It also provides practitioners with a guideline as to which mediators should be addressed when contemplating an RFID system within this context, as well as indicating possible reasons the relationship between organisations in the two sectors may be challenging. In addition, the unusual combination of ANT and Institutional Theory contributes to theory by pointing towards a possible new way to investigate complex technology systems at the organisational level.