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With the changes of society and technologies, collaboration is becoming an increasingly integral part of the workplace environment. Three primary influencing factors have revolutionized the common workplace, of which perhaps the most prevalent being technology which has become imperative for being at the forefront of any market. As advancements have occurred in information and communication technologies the business environment has become more flexible, changing the way in which organizations operate. With the enhancements of technology it has become increasingly feasible for organizations to easily span across a global market, resulting in dispersion of organizational assets across a large geographical area. Social transformations such as an increase in the academic achievements of individuals have changed the depth of knowledge between peers allowing them to collaborate to achieve common goals within a working environment.
The term Organization is broad and incorporates a collection of institutions ranging from government sectors through to universities. The way in which people operate within organizations has changed throughout recent decades due to the work that is required of them. With the advancements in technology, many tasks are easily achievable using computers and software packages, much of the trivial and time consuming tasks have been removed from the user workload and instead carried out via a machine.
Workers within organizations have continued to change with the change in work with many people becoming "knowledge workers", who supply their specialist know-how to contribute towards organizational goals. People within organizations are now often required to complete large activities with very specific goals. A growing trend of positions within these environments requires people to operate as a member within a team, to distribute complicated organizational goals. Working in these situations provides an increase in efficiency and productivity in carrying out organizational activities. There are many advantages to working within a team, one of these being teams have a collective knowledge much greater than that of an individual, allowing them to understand a problem by sharing knowledge. Team members will often have their own ideas they want to be included into a solution and so forth will be more so committed to the work. Whilst one individual may find it hard to see flaws within their own work, teams can often identify errors much faster, with a more objective standpoint. Creative solutions can be derived from a group with multiple viewpoints, often providing an abstract view of a problem.
Within the business world, companies have been targeting growing markets, this has caused a dispersion in company assets. Activities require interactions from a range of assets including personal situated in different locations this is why technology has become fundamental to team collaborations within a business environment.
Collaboration between workers has become more vital in completing organizational goals, technology and software developments have advanced supporting collaboration between individuals whom are not co-located. A type of software which has grown due to the requirement of organizations is groupware. Groupware, collaborative software or group support systems are all a type of software "with the main objective to make the interaction between people that work together easier and helping them to become more effective and efficient."( Sarmento, Lousa, Machado,1999) The software is used to "support groups of people engaged in a common task that provides an interface to a shared environment." (Borko Furht,2008) Groupware can take place between people whom are co-located or remotely segregated. It can either be synchronous where people are collaborating in real-time or asynchronous with communication at different times (not real-time). Many early groupware systems were brought to live to eliminate the need to be co-located. Groupware has now grown to a state where it is an industry of its own, with so many organizations using various types of collaborative software. Groupware has been around for many years, incorporating technologies such as email. More recently groupware is becoming associated with technologies that support collaboration and communication, with many software solutions providing support for communication, collaboration and cooperative work, for example LMS systems employed by many universities, to support student collaboration.
Many factors have lead to the need of software solutions that promote collaboration between individuals. Group work is a regular experience for many people within an organization, in most organizations most complex decisions are made by a team. As this become more frequent the necessity to share documents and work together is central to success. As media becomes more available through IP (internet protocol) through factors such as faster networking connections, the range and quantity of data we can send has improved allowing for better groupware systems (such as video conferencing). Additional the rise of groupware has been influenced by the global spread of employees with "87 percent of employees around the world work[ing] in remote offices."(Turban, Leindner, Mclean, Wetherbe,2008) Individuals daily routines have become more dependent on electronic devices, keeping them in constant connection to e-mail collaborative calendars and other groupware system. Exposing individual to this technology makes it easier to introduce such software into their work life. The benefits of groupware have lead to huge numbers of organizations up taking e-collaboration, "the telecommunication Industry (TIA)(Tiaonline.org) indicates that global revenues from collaboration will show a 66.5 percent compound annual growth reaching $11.4 billion in 2007" (Turban, Leindner, Mclean, Wetherbe,2008).
One of the issues slowing the uptake of groupware is the range of requirements from the different users of collaborative software. Because cooperative work is carried out through such a huge number of industries the number of different activities is massive, often general solutions cannot provide the functionality needed so bespoke software is required. This factor has slowed the uptake of groupware in smaller organizations. Another issue with groupware is the integrity of data being operated upon. When cooperative working it is often the case that the users will be working on an artifact, with multiple users accessing and modifying the artifact it can often cause multiple different copies. Groupware systems tend to employ a centralized data store to attempt to reduce this occurring, including other techniques (e.g. locking the data until the modifications have been finalized). Authentication has also been an issue related with groupware systems as often organizational documents are sensitive.
Classification and types of groupware
Groupware is a term which incorporates a large quantity of different technologies involved with communication, collaboration and cooperative work. Because the term is so hard to define it has lead to many people being unsure of what constitutes as groupware. The best way to view them is to group them in a logical way, numerous different classification frameworks have been produced to describe characteristics of groupware. In this section I will try and describe some classification techniques to outline the various types of groupware which are available.
The time/space matrix classification framework used to group types of groupware. This technique uses the location and the times in groupware to describe it. On the x-axis is the location, which describes if users are co-located or geographically divided. The y-axis on the other hand describes if the users interactions are synchronous (real-time) or asynchronous (not in real-time). Tools used which are synchronous and co-located tend not to be computerized, for instance a classroom. Although this framework does group collaborative tools it does have examples which can cause confusion, such as e-mail. "Though it is classified as an asynchronous technology it can be used to send messages back and forth between users.Â Network delays might not make it real-time interaction, but it is used for synchronous communication."(BrusicÂ ,2004) Other examples are present. The ambiguity present in this framework has caused others to be formed.
The second framework this essay will introduce is the people/artefact framework. It is heavily based upon cooperative work. "Cooperative work involves two or more participants using a shared artefact." (BrusicÂ ,2004) This framework identifies 3 main operations groupware can offer; Computer meditated communication, meeting and decision support systems and shared applications and artefacts. The first category computer-meditated communication describes technologies which support direct communication between users, allowing cooperate about their work. An example of this are e-mail, bulletin boards and video conferencing. To collaborate workers need to be able to gain an understanding of the task and generate ideas, this is the concept encapsulated by the second category meeting and decision support systems. Examples of meeting and decision support systems are; argumentation tools, services that offer shared drawing tools and brainstorming activities. The final category is shared applications and artefacts, this classification includes systems for sharing; computers, applications and documents. This classification often requires special collaborative aware software to be used, an example of these systems are shared editors, allowing multiple users to edit a document.
The two classification frameworks discussed are not the only two available, another example is Esther Dyson's model that focuses on the benefiting party of the groupware. Describing these frameworks makes it apparent that there are many various collaborative tools, the ideal solution would be one which includes all tools although "we are still quite far from developing the grand groupware system that encompasses every type of communication, and we will probably never get there since the possibilities are constantly evolving with changes in both our patterns of social interaction and the technology we have available."(Anonymous,2010)
Examples of organization activities groupware support
Organisations are more than often using electronic systems to carry out a large magnitude of their internal and external processes. The adoption of e-enterprise has brought forward the need for collaboration between organisations to meet their goals and flourish in the current market. The increasing need for collaboration between non co-located organisations and individuals has caused the groupware market to expand and become a fundamental tool. Groupware has influenced the expansion of enterprises by improving the effectiveness of a range of tools such as the ability to communicate over long distances. I will now discuss the use of groupware and how it can be used to support organisations and their processes.
Since the introduction of computers the ability to collect, analyse and share data has greatly increased in efficiency. Today many business and other organisations thrive upon the data they utilize. A key aspect of any organisation is the way in which data is managed and shared between different organisational resources, for example different tiers of staff. Groupware is enabling organisations to work effectively with the quantity of data they currently possess. The sharing of information internally and to external stakeholders has been benefitted by a variety of tools. Many industries rely on sharing information to external organisations and example where this can be seen is with supply and demand. Companies with a required demand need to communicate their requirements to the suppliers in order to meet the demands. An example industry where this is present is within supermarket chains. Asda a leading supermarket uses "electronic data interchange" systems to communicate to its suppliers with great effect, "send[ing] real time data in multiple formats securely over the internet" (Turban, Leindner, Mclean, Wetherbe,2008). Using its current stock levels to request necessary products. This software supports the collaboration between organisations improving efficiency. This groupware system offers many benefits over its manual equivalent (such as telephone ordering). Most of the system is automated removing the need for human resources, but it also often much more effective with a decrease in the time required, error rates (human error removed) and often cost. Information sharing has become a large section of groupware due to the increasing use of e-enterprise and need for multiple stakeholders to share information. It can often be seen internally in organisations with one example being the sharing of documents through systems such as email attachments and drop box systems.
Knowledge creation tools are a collection of groupware tools that can be used to support the learning and sharing of knowledge throughout an organisation. Knowledge can be classified as tacit (Knowledge that is difficult to transfer by verbalising it or writing it down) or as explicit. Groupware systems support both through collaboration using a variety of structured and non-structured methods. Tools which offer this include; white-boarding, chat, discussion groups and other tools. Knowledge creation and sharing is important throughout organisations. "The need of cooperation between geographically dispersed workgroups is a critical issue to global organizations: the best specialists to solve a problem do not usually work on the same floor." (Carvalho, Rodrigo Baroni de & Ferreira, Marta Araujo Tavares, 2001). As this statement suggest groupware to help creation of knowledge is now fundamental because of the needs of organisations to span a much larger (often global) market.
Closely coupled to knowledge creation tools are the groupware tool classified as knowledge management systems. The systems main objective is to manage the "creation, capture, storage and dissemination of information."(Maier,2007) Because of the diversity of organizations many varying systems are currently available. Learning management systems such as Blackboard are ideal examples of groupware facilitating learning. Blackboard is a well known product used in over 2200 educational institutions, its primary goal is manage course content but also provides tools for learning and collaboration between users. Through my own experience of blackboard it vastly improves the ability to find relevant information to apply towards projects and examinations, using the online discussion boards it is possible to carry out peer to peer knowledge sharing to aid my personal development. Assessment and interactive learning content is another feature present helping to increase individuals knowledge throughout universities. There are many other organizations using a variety of software packages. Lotus notes (IBM) is an example of collaborative software which incorporates knowledge management, this system is typically used throughout businesses and offers a range of collaborative tools such as email and calendaring.
A collaborative project management tool is an application that facilitates a project throughout its lifecycle. Many groupware tools can be used to support a range of projects. Projects have a much higher rate of success if they are managed effectively. The ability for multiple team members to carry out work on a project from different geographical locations is greatly improved with the use of collaborative project management tools. As the internet has become a more powerful resource it has lead to the growth of tools such as sub-versioning. Throughout the software industry it is often feasible for programmers to operate from different locations all carrying out modifications on a globally stored project.
Collaborative project management tools do bring issue. When projects are carried out by non co-located groups they often work on the same data this can lead to data inconsistency throughout a project. Data inconsistency can often lead to inaccuracy and loss of integrity through information. Groupware commonly uses the approach of having a central single data store. This can still lead to loss of integrity with multiple people modifying the same information. Techniques such as locking can be applied and is used in packages such as repository programming where files are locked until they are updated by the person modifying them. This does remove the issue of data inconsistency but reduces productivity, communication is vital to avoid such issues.
The future of Groupware
All disciplines of technology continue to advance at incredible rates, I believe that groupware will become critical to large organisations. Enterprises are continuing to become more and more popular fulfilling a huge magnitude of services. As the rates of communication through computer continue to increase (i.e. internet speeds) the ability to collaborate with organisations in multiple countries using more personal media will become available. Furthermore the collaboration achievable will improve, bringing down the limitations of geographical dispersion and providing media much more similar to a face to face conversation.
Large organisations such as Microsoft and IBM are continuing to focus development towards overall groupware solutions such as Lotus notes. As these organisations continue to develop reliable secure systems I believe the use of collaborative systems will grow throughout small to large work environments. The term groupware is hard to quantify, including small systems such as e-mail through to large software packages, I believe solutions that incorporate a framework and many tools will become more readily available. These sophisticated solutions will offer flexibility so that the processes they operate and projects they manage can change and still be supported, in the same way which humans are flexible to change. With flexibility will need to come scalability of a system, organisations are constantly changing to stay relevant with in their market, groupware will need to be able to support the need for growth.
Organisations often consist of technically skilled IT employees capable of managing the internal and external systems but workers do not always have strong technical abilities. If groupware is to become a necessity for all organisations, the technical skills needed to work with the software will need to be basic, this is something I believe will become more present within current tools.
Today's world is becoming heavily encircled around mobile devices with millions of people using smart phones and other hand held devices to access the Internet and carry out many daily activities. With the movement away from desk workers to people whom travel in their daily work life the demand for groupware systems that can be supported through a mobile platform to allow communication and collaboration whilst on the move. Groupware tools such as email can already be accessed via mobile device but I believe more multifunctional solutions such as lotus notes will become more available via mobile devices. As with the move to mobile platforms cross platform will also be needed. I believe that this will be accomplished with an increase in web-based solutions running on hosted systems similar to groupware such as Google groups. The inevitable move towards cloud computing will continue to bring an increase in web-based tools with less need for local storage and an increase in hosted data warehouses.
Groupware will continue to grow but this brings the cost needed to secure systems. Large organisations with top-secret information or organisation secret information will no doubt like the rest of the Internet become a victim to cyber-crime. If security is not kept at the forefront of developers minds when producing groupware tools it could become an easy target for cyber criminals exploiting the software for their own benefit. Tools like Sms and E-mail have already fallen victim with numerous scandals, the increase of overall groupware systems which incorporate the majority of business processes will become a target, an example being the attack of a payroll system.
Groupware as discussed within this essay is hard to describe with a broad range of technologies being incorporated under the term. Although groupware is hard to define the software tend to have common goals such as improved communication. The majority of collaborative tools can be described as one of the following four; Knowledge management tools, Knowledge creation tools, Information sharing tools and collaborative project management tools. Throughout the essay I have identified some techniques used to classify different groupware tools, in my opinion I believe for an organisation to take full advantage of computer systems a range of tools should be used. In an environment where learning is expected a range of tools would be beneficial because of the way in which people learn differently.
The goal for all types of groupware is to improve collaboration and increase organisational efficiency.
The growth of e-enterprises has increased the need for groupware systems. I believe that with the continued need for collaboration internally and externally for organisations to prosper, the use of groupware systems will follow such growth.
(Carvalho, Rodrigo Baroni de & Ferreira, Marta Araujo Tavares, 2001)
Carvalho, Rodrigo Baroni de & Ferreira, Marta Araújo TavaresÂ (2001) "Using information technology to support knowledge conversion processes" Â Â Information Research,Â 7(1) [Available at http://InformationR.net/ir/7-1/paper118.html]Â
Maier, R (2007): Knowledge Management Systems: Information And Communication Technologies for Knowledge Management. 3rd edition, Berlin: Springer.