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.
The 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.
With 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.