Revisiting the Digital Plumber: Modifying the Installation Process of an Established Commercial IoT Alarm System
The ‘digital plumber’ is a conceptualisation in ubicomp research that describes the work of installing and maintaining IoT devices. But an important and often understated element of commercial IoT solutions is their long-term socio-technical infrastructural nature, and therefore long-term installation and maintenance needs. This adds complexity to both the practice of digital plumbing and to the work of design that supports it. In this paper we study a commercial company producing and installing IoT alarm systems. We examine video recordings that capture how a digital plumbing representative and software development team members make changes to both the installation process and supporting technology. Our data enables us to critically reflect on concepts of infrastructuring, and uncover the ways in which the team methodically foreground hidden elements of the infrastructure to address a point of failure experienced during field trials of a new version of their product. The contributions from this paper are twofold. Firstly, our findings build on previous examples of infrastructuring in practice by demonstrating the use of notions of elemental states to support design reasoning through the continual foregrounding and assessment of tensions identified as key factors at the point of failure. Secondly, we build on current notions of digital plumbing work. We argue that additional responsibilities of ‘reporting failure’ and ‘facilitation of change’ are part of the professional digital plumbing role and that commercial teams should support these additional responsibilities through collaborative troubleshooting and design sessions alongside solid communication channels with related stakeholders within the product team.