Guide to Collaborative Groupware Software CodeBeamer
Collaborative Software Clearing House

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Groupware is technology designed to facilitate the work of groups. This technology may be used to communicate, cooperate, coordinate, solve problems, compete, or negotiate. While traditional technologies like the telephone qualify as groupware, the term is ordinarily used to refer to a specific class of technologies relying on modern computer networks, such as email... More

How important is collaborative software? According to Eugene Eric Kim, founder and director of Blue Oxen Associates, the future of the free world may well depend upon it -- and no, he's not kidding! More at techtarget

Collaborative Software (Groupware)

Definition: Collaborative software, also known as groupware, is the term used to describe a range of software applications designed to allow multiple users to collaborate on related tasks on either local or remote servers.

Concept of Groupware

As enterprises become more diffuse (through regional, national or multi-national expansion) collaboration between dispersed groups of employees can become problematic. In order for growing enterprises to best utilise the knowledge and skills held within a decentralised workforce it is necessary to implement technologies and strategies that allow employees to communicate and collaborate across geographical boundaries.

collaborative softwareThe development of communication technologies such as e-mail, video conferencing and the Internet has led to the development of collaborative software that facilitates the sharing of knowledge and information between these geographically dispersed groups of people, allowing them to work together towards the attainment of a single goal.

Features of Groupware

While many different types of applications come under the umbrella term ‘groupware’, each of these applications typically shares the same general characteristics.

* Centralised Data Storage

Since groupware requires multiple users to work simultaneously on the same set of data it is important that there be a centralised data storage facility to allow for the management of a master copy. Users will typically be allowed access to the latest version of this data each time they connect to the application, and they will be required to check in (i.e. submit their latest modifications) each time they sign off.

Using methods of centralised data storage and version control minimises the risk that multiple users will step on each other’s toes and waste time making the same modifications as each other. Centralised storage also maintains the integrity of a master copy of the information, ensuring that – if there is an error – the data can be rolled back to its last known good configuration.

* Communication Enablement

Groupware improves collaboration and communication by making available a number of avenues of communication between multiple users. At its most basic, this communication could consist of a shared message board or an instant messaging service. At its most complex the software could provide web conferencing capability, group calendars for task scheduling and workflow management to automatically route information to the appropriate user.

* Problem Solving Capabilities

One of the greatest advantages of collaborative software is its provision of identical data to all members, allowing enhanced problem solving capabilities to the group.

collaborationWith appropriate version management controls, users can gain access to only the most recent modifications to the shared data, allowing them to quickly make decisions on the best way to move forward. When paired with the capability to instantly communicate with other team members it becomes possible to increase the efficiency of the decision making process and ensure that as little time as possible is wasted.

Applications of Groupware

Perhaps one of the best examples of groupware would be an application used in the development of software. Software programs are almost universally developed by multiple team members, as the programs are usually too large to be written by a single developer (at least for complex commercial software).

Clearly, when multiple users work on the same software program it is vital that there be adequate communication between team members, as even the slightest errors can create faults in the program. Implementing version control in the groupware can ensure that a complete history of the program can be held in the central storage location for use in the event of any errors.

Other Uses for Groupware

The groupware described above would generally be termed a collaborative management tool – that is, an application that aids an enterprise in the management of a project using geographically dispersed members. While these tools are essential for decentralised enterprises, collaborative software can also be of great use in the creation of collaborative media knowledge bases such as wikis.

By allowing multiple users to access and modify a knowledge base (millions of users, in the case of public knowledge bases such as Wikipedia), it becomes possible to organically collect the explicit knowledge held within its contributors.

While this can be both interesting and useful of a public scale, its value to an enterprise can be potentially enormous. By collecting the combined industry specific knowledge of every member of a workforce the enterprise can build a knowledge base unmatched in their industry, giving them a new core competency by which to dominate their market.