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Arvind Karunakaran

Arvind Karunakaran's picture
MIT Sloan School of Management
Research Category: 
Analytics and Applications
Short Bio: 

I'm Arvind Karunakaran, a PhD candidate at the MIT Sloan School of Management.  My interests are at the nexus between social science and computer science. I have prior experience conducting field-based research in a number of different settings, including healthcare, petrochemical refineries, and software services. Apart from research, I like literature, movies, and travel.

I'm from Chennai, India. Before coming to MIT, I did my Master's in Information Sciences and Technology from Penn State University, and a Bachelor's in Computer Science and Engineering from Anna University, India.

Link to personal website:

Link to CV: Arvind Karunakaran

Description of Research: 

My research focuses on mechanisms and processes to facilitate effective cross-boundary coordination within firms, markets, and ecosystems. These include coordination between varied professional groups (e.g., data scientists, IT analysts, and marketing executives; police officers, fire fighters, and emergency dispatchers) within an organization as well as coordination among different actors in an ecosystem (e.g., platform providers, customers, third-party app developers). More specifically, I examine how and in what ways novel digital innovations (e.g., social media, predictive analytics, multi-sided platforms) create uncertainties in the workplace and shape cross-boundary coordination, and with what consequences for organizational change and accountability. My research interests fall into three streams.

I. Facilitating Cross-Boundary Coordination in the Wake of Technological Changes: Emergence and Performance of Truce Professions

My dissertation research is motivated by the challenges of facilitating cross-boundary coordination among professional groups during periods of technological change. I examine this phenomenon through a 24-month ethnography (supplemented with historical and quantitative analysis) of a 911 emergency management organization. The dissertation comprises three separate essays.

In the first essay, I focus on the history of jurisdictional disputes between police officers and fire fighters in the United States and describe how such disputes turned into protracted jurisdictional conflicts following a mandate to establish 911 as the “nationwide emergency number.” My findings articulate the importance of what I am calling “truce structures” — specific role-structures and organizational forms — that are intended to minimize the protracted jurisdictional conflicts among symmetrical professions. Truce role-structures serve to absorb the contested tasks and insulate the competing professions from those tasks, while truce organizational forms provide the resources for workers in new roles to enact formal authority. The coevolution of truce role-structure and organizational form resulted in the emergence of a specific truce profession – the 911 Public Safety Telecommunicators (PST) that we are familiar with today. I further provide counterfactual evidence from 3 comparative sites to specify the conditions that are needed for the emergence and institutionalization of PSTs (namely (a) hiring new civilian employees who were neither part of the police or the fire department, and; (b) establishing a new organizational unit that is physically separate from the police of the fire department headquarters.) My findings here and the articulation of the concept of truce structures can be analytically valuable in other contexts, such as pre-sales engineers in software services firms, and account executives in the entertainment industry.

In the second essay, I highlight how and why truce professions are characterized by relatively lower professional status over the focal professions (in this case, police officers and fire fighters) even though they have higher formal authority. Existing theory on cross-professional coordination would predict that coordination will most likely fail in such contexts when: (a) there are limited avenues available for the lower-status profession to perform scut work and generate relational authority (Huising, 2015); (b) there is no scope for face-to-face social interactions between the coordinating professions (Crampton and Hinds, 2005), and; (c) there are limited cross-cutting demographics between the coordinating professions (DiBenigno and Kellogg, 2014). However, I found that in my empirical setting, some PSTs were able to effectively coordinate with police officers, despite asymmetries in status and authority, the disadvantages of demographic distance, and lack of face-to-face social interactions. Conducting within-shift comparisons of 4,867 coordination encounters between PSTs and police officers, I identify the practices that PSTs enact during their remote coordination encounters with the higher-status police officers that result in effective outcomes. Through these practices, PSTs shape the material conditions for generating “common knowledge” (Chwe 2001) by using the “open-broadcast” police radio channel that steers self-disciplining and voluntary compliance among police officers, and in the process facilitates effective cross-professional coordination.

In the third essay of the dissertation, I focus on the accountability challenges that truce professions are confronted with due to the public’s increasing use of smartphones and social media. While existing research suggests that the public’s use of smartphones and social media should increase organizational accountability, in my empirical setting I find that the public’s usage of such technologies can lead the truce professionals to become more risk-averse, creating new forms of intra- and inter-professional coordination challenges, and ultimately worsening organizational accountability. I examine how external technological changes have shifted the truce professionals’ volume of work, temporal flow of work, and modalities of monitoring. In particular, I elaborate how the use of mobile devices by the public have contributed to a substantial increase in both the volume of 911 calls as well as the type and pattern of calls received. A second notable change arises with the advent of social media platforms, where the public now has a new venue to voice their concerns in multiple and particularly graphic ways (e.g., tweets, photos, audio and video recordings), and where the likelihood of such concerns becoming rapidly visible (and even going “viral”) has dramatically increased. These dynamics contribute to new forms of external monitoring and public auditing of the emergency management organization and its PSTs, resulting in the more frequent eruption of complaints and outrage that develop at a different pace and tenor than the controversies that unfold through formal channels. Viewed together, the constant connectivity of mobile devices and widespread visibility of social media are changing public expectations regarding emergency response, which in turn have created challenges to the work of PSTs.

I elaborate upon how these challenges produce significant changes to the coordination practices, role-relations, and professional identities of PSTs, and how such changes spill-over to the work of police officers. Specifically, such spill-overs temporally hinder the beat cops from participating in initiatives such as “community policing” and “walk-and-talk” programs that are aimed at relationally re-embedding law enforcement professionals into their local communities. I theorize how these chain of changes, triggered in part by the publics’ use of mobile devices and social media platforms, has worsened organizational accountability and led to the development of a “customer service rhetoric” within emergency management, where the “public” is reframed as “customers” by the PSTs and police officers, and where the meaning of emergency is both contested and reconfigured. My research also contributes to the broader conversation on organizational reforms in the criminal justice system by highlighting the value in examining how the nature and structure of work of emergency management have significantly changed over the past decade due to external technological changes, and suggesting specific recommendations for practice and policy.

II. Cross-boundary Coordination in Ecosystems

My pre-dissertation research examined cross-boundary coordination in platform-based ecosystems. Drawing on a 36-month field study of a cloud computing platform, its customers, and ecosystem of app developers, I examined the coordination challenges confronted by firms during their transition from a product-based to a platform-based business. This research contributes to the theory on cross-boundary coordination in platforms ecosystems when the locus of innovation is shifting outside the boundaries of the firm.

The first paper from the project examines the socio-cognitive processes that act as coordination barriers when firms attempt to move from a product-based to a platform-based business. I found that the very “organizational image” that enabled a firm to coordinate across boundaries and attract customers during its early stages of growth also provoked a commitment crisis during the later stages when the firm attempted to open up its technology to third-party developers. The second paper from this project examines the uncertainties that emerge during the organizational adoption of cloud computing platforms, how cloud platform provider firms “normalize” these uncertainties in practice, and its implications for distributed coordination. The third paper from this project (co-authored with Joey van Angeren) is a mixed-methods study that examines the impact of platform strategic actions (such as API-access policy changes, envelopment of third-party apps, investments in third-party app developers) on the rate and direction of complementor innovation in ecosystems.

III. Cross-boundary Coordination within Firms

In addition to the above two projects, I am conducting an ongoing three-wave field study within a consumer products firm to examine reconfigurations to cross-boundary coordination when predictive analytics platforms are introduced into the workplace, and when data scientists are hired and expected to coordinate with marketing managers, sales executives, and IT analysts. Specifically, I ask the following questions: (1) How does the organizational adoption of predictive analytics shape knowledge production and with what consequences for cross-professional coordination? (2) How does the resulting knowledge produced shape (or not) organizational accountability? Findings shed light on the different “regimes of quantification” that these organizations have historically traversed, how each of these quantification regimes produced varied kinds of knowledge (e.g., descriptive, inferential, algorithmic) – distinct in their type, structure, and granularity – and together how these shaped professional jurisdictions and reconfigured organizational accountability.


1. Garud, R., and Karunakaran, A (Forthcoming). Process-based Ideology of Participative Experimentation to Foster Identity-challenging Innovations: Google’s Gmail and AdSense. Strategic Organization. *Equal Contribution; Authorship in Alphabetical Order*

2. Garud, R., Gehman, J., and Karunakaran, A. (2014). Boundaries, Breaches, and Bridges: The Case of Climategate. Research Policy, 43(1). *Equal Contribution; Authorship in Alphabetical Order*

3. Karunakaran, A., Reddy, M, and Spence, P.R. (2013). Toward a Model of Collaborative Information Behavior in Organizations, Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 64(12), 2437–2451.