Project final report

RJ Flexit 2015 project nr: RMP15-0954:1 | RMP15-0954:2

Project Title

Using a combined model of language based, SLF, and UTAUT, in identifying factors affecting acceptance of new technology in the industry: A study of ABB User Experience

Project Abstract

Technology trends indicate that the future of artificial intelligence (AI1) and robotics is decidedly more human oriented. Synthetic biological automation and AI modelled on human simulation defines a new type of user experience and technology acceptance for tomorrow.

As AI takes over many human tasks, this study proposed to take on a new perspective of a fuller appreciation of the place of natural human language in the use of new technologies. Language remains one of the most fundamental, universal and flexible of existing codifications.

As language is an inherent faculty of humans and it is an entity used in the design and programming of AI, the purpose of this study is deepen the theoretical foundations of current models of technology acceptance. This is done through several stages of study that begins with an investigation of applied conceptual compatibilities and thereafter conceptualizing a combined systemic functional linguistics (SFL) and Unified Theory of Acceptance and Use of Technology (UTAUT) model to be applied in academic theory and industry practice towards an integrated perspective of user experience project management for example.

This study proposed to utilize ABB’s multinational and global leader in power and automation technologies as well as its business environment for their study of user experiences. The goal is to present a methodology, a theoretical model building as well as innovative and actionable results applicable to organizations.

Although technology acceptance models do consider humanistic behaviour, attitudes and beliefs, no model to date has effectively placed the innate human factor of language in use as object of study and method of analysis into technology acceptance and user experience. Most studies have also been quantitative in nature, with technology acceptance models defined by known variables. These variables have the result of limiting the understanding of the dynamicity of user experience with regards to the increasing synthetic biological technologies of tomorrow.

The findings have been published in a series of peer reviewed conference papers, peer reviewed journal articles and edited series book chapters pertaining to variations of SFL and UTAUT applications to different industry sectors. A common thread in the resulting publications are:

– An investigation into innovative approaches and methodologies that combine meta-linguistics and user acceptance of technology models
– An uncovering of new aspects of user experience and/or a new elements of user socio-cognitive aspects of using new technologies
– A contribution to theory-building across disciplines in particular, linguistics, technology management and human computer interaction
– A creation of an applicable method of an integrated perspective of user experience, use and acceptance of technology in industry context as well as academic theory building for future research in the field.

Project implementation

Administration, corporate enterprise and academic institution

The RJ Flexit program is an example of a core research program towards driving Swedish industry-university collaborations in research, dissemination of research findings of each project, and international outreach of knowledge dissemination and networking.

The project was conducted in the stipulated time frame of two years on location with ABB and one year at the Centre for International Business Studies (CIBS) at the School of Business, Economics and Law, at the University of Gothenburg in the time frame of 2015 to 2018. ABB AB is a 130 year old European founded multinational business enterprise (MBE) with operations in over 100 countries, employing more than 135,000 individuals. The working language of the group is the English language, with a mixture of Swedish during fika sessions.

As Principal Investigator of this RJ Flexit project, I was attached for two years as Research Scientist to the User Experience (UX) and Industrial Design group at ABB Corporate Research (SECRC) in Västerås, Sweden. The UX group comprised at the time, 13 individuals. SECRC in itself on location in Västerås had approximately 400 engineers and scientists of which more than 50% had doctoral degrees in various science disciplines. The role of SECRC is cross-functional, serving all business divisions of ABB AB. The UX group had as main function to study user experience to current and emerging ABB products and services across various corporate business units. My own role as an applied linguist was to bring new methodological perspectives to data analysis as complementary knowledge to the predominantly computer science related methodologies used. SFL as a language theory and framework that could uncover how meanings are created and interpreted in context was a method that appealed to the UX team.

On average, SECRC research projects run between 6-12 months, with possibility of extension of project research time after technology readiness reviews. Some projects could have a shorter timeline ca. 3 months if it is deemed as current product improvement. The time frame of corporate research projects are in that sense, different to academic research projects that have longer time frames, spanning 12-36 months, arguably towards different goals and purposes.

Publications and knowledge dissemination of research findings were done throughout all years of the project. The last year of the project, coming back into the university environment, was however, best for consolidating data collected in the corporate environment, and having deeper reflections about theoretical constructs, future research design towards improved research methods as well exploring new avenues of industry-university collaborations.

Data collection

The UX group used several methods of collecting data for different studies, including, conducting field studies/shadowing, focus group discussions, interviews, surveys and questionnaires. Focus group observations, and long interviews were designed in conversational style, with questions pegged on widening levels of interest that range from those regarding the individual at the core regarding new technologies, to what they think about the use of these new technologies in their broader environment and contexts. The main questions of relevance to the purpose of this study revolve around the individual, their social circles and larger corporate organizational circles with regards to user experience and technology acceptance. The interviews were transcribed according to the Göteborg Transcription Standard (GTS) version 6.4.

Due to the diverse disciplinary backgrounds of the UX group individuals that spanned human-computer interaction, engineering and humanities, the method of study was eclectic, using a quantitative, qualitative and mixed-methods of analysis of data.

The project’s three main achievements and contributions to the international research front, and some reflections about this.

This industry-university collaboration project could be said to be unique because the two cooperating institutions are inherently international in both research and institutional workings. Using a funnel-approach (abstract concept to applied work practices in specific contexts; international to national networking relations) to condensing the three most important results and contribution to the international research front:

i. An applied methodological plurality in research and work practices in an international corporate working context
ii. In dialogic relation to (i), a simultaneous advancement of practical knowledge and applied work practices across several academic disciplines, as well as business industry sectors
iii. An establishment of a collaborative research platform between the Business School at the University of Gothenburg and ABB AB, where the more traditional corporate contacts for the Business School at the University of Gothenburg would be SKF and Volvo as global enterprises.

In address to point (i), in working towards methodological plurality and integral perspectives of scientific knowledge (Davis and Callihan 2013, Floyd 2008), a main goal of this Flexit 2015 project was to investigate the possibility of combining SFL as a theory of language (Halliday & Matthiessen 2014) with findings of models of technology use and acceptance such as UTAUT (unified theory of acceptance and use of technology) in the field of technology management (Venketesh et al. 2003). The conceptualisation of a combined model of analysis was used for different work contexts, from mining to fleet vessel management, to human interaction with collaborative robot studies.

Early data collection and initial data analyses from this project in its early stages indicated promisingly that SFL as theory and framework of analysis can complement the contextual field of knowledge of UTAUT. One of the more interesting finds is that the method of SFL has in its academic history, been computerised into a lexicogrammar programme where researchers can upload large quantities of corpus data and conduct specific analyses on the data.

In address of point (ii) in today’s increasing data analytics, the SFL framework and the use of some computational linguistics tools showed potential applications for studies of user experiences and customer feedback analysis for corporate product-services 2. Various business units in ABB already have in place, remote data analysis that can predict failure of a component, which increases their customer service efficiency. An SFL corpus database could prove to have similar predictive uses to the extent that, over time, the collected data can and will reflect customer segmentation in terms of evolution of needs, and customer profile of preferences that the company can leverage upon to improve / innovate upon their product-services.

In address to point (iii), the city of Gothenburg is founding home to multinational enterprises SKF and Volvo AB. To that extent, the traditional research and network partners for the Business School at the University of Gothenburg, has been to have master student exchanges and corporate study visits, both local and international, to the global corporate sites of SKF and Volvo AB. This Flexit 2015 project has given opportunity and reason to create a platform of knowledge exchange between the Business School at the University of Gothenburg and ABB AB.

In Feb. 2016, two SECRC UX team members held a seminar at the CIBS. In Aug. 2016, the CIBS community of researchers made a study visit to the Västerås robot factory where they were introduced to both the latest factory robots and collaborative robot, YuMi.

New research issues generated through the project.

The initial project was written at a conceptual level with intention to be applied in the study of robotics and automation processes beyond factory floors. In particular, it targeted collaborative robots as a concept of study. As with the anatomy of research projects, new lines of inquiry have been generated with this project along two distinct domains: (i) research methods studies and (ii) cross industrial context applications of the method.

With regards to (i) research methods studies, this project is mainly a study on the use, application and integration of methodological frameworks across disciplines. New lines of inquiry come both from a researcher application perspective, and from a pedagogical perspective of how pluralistic methodology can be incorporated into higher education syllabuses. And to what extent (purpose and usefulness) can this method be applied in other research contexts.

With regards to (ii) cross industrial context applications of the method, the function of ABB corporate research spans across all ABB business units. The expertise of the UX team is employed as a means to gain insight into how individuals respond to new products of the business units. They assess ease of use and susceptibility to greater future use of new products and services. This cross-functional approach opens up new opportunities of research platforms not only within ABB but for outside cooperation with university research and entrepreneurial organizations that are technology oriented. The cross-functional perspective opens domains of research for cross comparison cases to be done, beyond the initial proposal for collaborative robots and the robotics business unit.

To the extent of cross case comparison possibilities for a combined SFL and UTAUT model application, data has been collected from other fields of study that are also at the forefront of technological development and innovation including, improvement of workspace environment through developing new software architecture to support supply chain management in the enterprise. Data has also been collected in relation to remote diagnostic services in the marine as well as mining business sectors.

The main research question would be broadly similar to the ones proposed in this study, however, applied to the context of different industries, and different working environments, i.e. what practical insights can a combined model of SLF and UTAUT give in understanding technology acceptance and use in the sector of remote services in shipping, mining and the oil and gas industries? Would there be a general correlation of findings across the industries?

Due to the international outlook of the workings of the enterprise, a useful model of understanding the development and use/sales of emerging technology products are firm internationalisation theory models such as the Uppsala model. Firm internationalisation theories were not written into the original project proposal, however the empirical context of the study indicated a parallel conceptual development with this Flexit 2015 research project could be to combine the elements of the Uppsala model and SFL, applied to the various business contexts of study. Some results of this avenue of exploration have resulted in publications around the Uppsala model and SFL.

The following paragraphs describe from each stakeholder perspective, complementary avenues of research that could arise from the explorations and/or foundations of this project:

ABB Group

As ABB moves advanced product-services in an era of digitalisation, the question of the role of corporate R&D in multinational enterprises studied from the perspective of international business could be of potential interest for the ABB Group. The corporation is focused on delivering corporate goals to stakeholders upon which emerging technologies might need new business models in order to capture market share or break into new markets. To that end, there exists a continuous debate on the role and function of corporate research at ABB AB itself on the question of having a separate corporate research function or to integrate research scientists into the business units where research findings can bridge real world applicability of enterprise developed product-services. The topic of R&D and manufacturing colocation factors is a topic of research interest for the CIBS community (Ivarsson, Alvstam and Vahlne 2017) 3 and as such, could contribute to a spin-off research project.

CIBS, University of Gothenburg

The observed corporate restructuring of ABB can be taken as a complementary study case in the general workings of the globalization processes of the firm. The observed processes of organization change (affecting human resource planning, talent management, leadership etc.), servitization of products, product and service innovation etc. have opened up new avenues for new topics of research that complement the current CIBS research portfolio. Research at CIBS focuses on emerging markets, the globalization of multinational enterprises, development of R&D capacity in multinational enterprises, and processes of firm disintegration, amongst other strands of research at the intersection of economic geography and international business.

Principal Investigator

Vertical farming

Whilst studying collaborative robots in the robotics business unit at ABB AB, I combined those observations of a future of collaborative robots with its possible application in vertical farming for urban spaces. I had the opportunity to visit a vertical farm called Sky Greens ( in Singapore in November 2016 where I met Mr. Jack Ng, who is inventor and founder of Sky Greens. The company began as a research collaborative agreement with the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) in 2010. The company has made a proposal to the Singapore government for SG100 Agripolis, aiming to build an eco-food security system for the country with just 20 hectres of land. Vertical farming is a fairly new in academic literature, with literature beginning around 2007 in the gastronomy literature (Platt 2007) to 2016 where the concept is now being looked at as an integrated urban city lifestyle on sustainable living (Touliatos et al. 2016). In Sweden, the Linköping Model, World Food Building by Plantagon is perhaps the forerunner to vertical farming in Sweden. All this is very new and an investigation into technology acceptance (social science), the deployment of robots in vertical farms (robotics) the reconfiguration of urban spaces and living (economic geography) and clean energy systems (engineering) could be areas of interest for future research at the intersection of humanities and science.

Automated and intelligent buildings

Participating in the Responsible Business Forum (RBF) on Sustainable Development 2016 in Singapore in Nov. 2016, I also had the opportunity to make study visit to Marina Bay Sands (Sands) Singapore. Sands is an integrated resort fronting Marina Bay in Singapore that opened in 2010. As part of corporate strategy, the hotel has Sands ECO360 (Marina Bay Sands 2012) in working towards their zero waste sustainability goals. Green technology and intelligent building technologies feature as key design components to their properties. A spin-off research could be how this affects tourism and conscious consumer decisions, still to do with new technology use and acceptance of new technology.

Health Care

Towards the end of the affiliate immersion at ABB Corporate Research, I was based at the Collaborative Robot Test Centre (CRTC) at Robotdalen in Västerås. CRTC at Robotdalen is situated in a shared office space with other Swedish innovation start-ups. Part of the portfolio of Robotdalen is healthcare robotics. The cross-industry work environment opened up new insights into current and potential robotic applications in the health care industry. Health care robotics is a fairly new field where similar studies on the acceptance and use of new technology within elder care and health care have been conducted internally by Robotdalen for their customers. Internal discussions have led to a strong understanding that a lot of psychology and human-centered focus is needed within the health care industry. Based on customer feedback, we’ve found that users of healthcare robots are either fearful of new technology, or do not completely trust robots in elder care, believing that robots might do more harm than good. There is also the issue of invasion of privacy and fear of robot mistreatment of humans. In terms of synchronicity of study and methodology, it could be worth exploring new research avenues for a combined theory and method of analysis for technology management, language and psychology within this field, especially in certain geographic regions / nations that are experiencing an aging population.

The project’s international dimensions, such as contacts, materials and so on.

Institutional international orientations

Both ABB AB Corporate Research Sweden, headquartered in Västerås, and the academic host institution, the Centre for International Business Studies (CIBS), School of Business, Economics and Law at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, and are inherently international in research orientation/perspective, reflected in their network of working relations.

In terms of project work at SECRC UX, data collection had been both within and outside of Sweden for various projects. The collaborative robots project has brought me to an industry trade fair and conference in Tokyo, Japan (iREX in Dec. 2015). You can read about the iREX 2015 conference here:

1. The 21st International Robot Exhibition (iREX 2015) NEDO Robot Forum, Tokyo.

2. The 21st International Robot Exhibition (iREX 2015) Robot Summit, Tokyo.

The remote services project has brought me to Baden, Switzerland (Sept. 2015) to collect interviews from engineers who work in the mining industry on data analytics and remote services. With regards to sustainable energy consumption, this project has brought me to a sustainable development conference in Singapore pertaining to ideas on vertical farming and smart buildings. The 5th Responsible Business Forum (RBF) on Sustainable Development took place at the Marina Bay Sands Convention Centre in Singapore from 22– 24 November 2016. You can read about the RBF Singapore 2016 conference here:

3. Responsible Business Forum (RBF) on Sustainable Development 2016, Singapore: The global complexity challenge and the role of economic institutions.

The project’s research publications reflect empirical cases that are often international in perspective with regards to subject of applied research, business unit locations and the nationalities of participants who were interviewed for the studies.

How the project group has spread the results to other researchers and groups outside the scientific community, as well as about and how the interaction has taken place.

Publishing / knowledge dissemination

The dissemination of findings from this project had been through various channels, from peer reviewed academic journals (open access and institutional access), edited book chapter series, and peer reviewed international academic conferences that span across the disciplines of linguistics, engineering (technology and innovation management) and international business.

Internal reports written for ABB on project basis are accessible via the corporate intranet on platforms. ABB also has an internal library that is accessible to all 135,000 employees across 100 countries in which the company operates.

How the project has contributed to increased collaboration between university and non-academic organization.

The operational strategy of the Flexit program is to have an academic faculty member immerse themself into a non-academic corporate environment. As such, the Flexit program and the networking activities and daily knowledge exchange that result from the immersion of academic faculty into corporate environments will have a socio-cultural dimension that could be said to have important on-going influences on the university-industry working environment, not all influences of which will be measurable in quantitative terms.

Apart from corporate internal seminars held at SECRC with a constant exchange of ideas towards publishable results, this project had shared a shared seminar and field study trip arranged between SECRC and the University. The activity/event is reflected in the table below.

On 3 Feb. 2016, UX Researchers, Dr. Maria Ralph and Petra Björndal visit CIBS at University of Gothenburg, Sweden for a joint seminar held at the University. This seminar had general positive feedback from both sides, with regards to a deeper understanding of the role of corporate R&D in multinational enterprises.

July 2016, planning sessions were held for a CIBS field study trip to ABB robotics factory in Västerås. This initiative was realized on 17 Aug. 2018 when a delegation of about fifteen CIBS faculty members were met with ABB Corporate Research representatives in Västerås. We toured both the robotics factory as well as visited Robotdalen at Expectrum, Västerås.

The table below gives a summary of dates and activities:

2016 ABB SECRC – University of Gothenburg joint activities/events

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  1. The concept of artificial intelligence (AI) and synthetic biological automation used in the original project proposal made the assumption that the corporate enterprise had business units that developed such technologies. This was inaccurate. While the corporate enterprise did have robotics and collaborative robotics as business units, AI and synthetic biological automation were fields closer to bio-medical engineering. The corporate enterprise were traditional manufacturers, that developed emerging mechanical/electrical engineering product-services. The lack of business units in AI and synthetic biological automation did not in any way distract or disenabled the continuance of the study, as SFL and UTAUT could still be investigated in application to the enterprise’s emerging product-services.
  2. The term product-service is used here because there is a distinct servitisation of manufacturing products, from products to services defined increasingly on a continuum due to accelerating digitisation and new information communication technologies (Dachs et al. 2014, Dimache & Roche 2013).


    Dachs, B., Biege, S., Borowiecki, M., Lay, G., Jäger, A., & Schartinger, D. (2014). Servitisation of European manufacturing: Evidence from a large scale database. The Service Industries Journal, 34(1): 5-23.

    Dimache, A. & Roche, T. (2013). A decision methodology to support servitisation of manufacturing. International Journal of Operations & Production Management, 33(11/12): 1435-1457.

  3. Ivarsson, I., Alvstam, C., & Vahlne, J. (2017). Global technology development by colocating R&D and manufacturing: The case of Swedish manufacturing MNEs. Industrial and Corporate Change, 26(1):149-168.