Groupware refers to software products that support groups of people who share a common task or goal and who collaborate on its accomplishment. These products provide a way for groups to share resource and opinions. Groupware implies the use of networks to connect people, even if the people are in the same room. Many groupware products are available on the Internet or an intranet, enhancing the collaboration of a large number of people worldwide. There are many different approaches and technologies for the support of groups on The Internet.
Groupware products come either as a standalone product supporting one task (such as e-mail), or as an integrated kit that includes several tools. In general, groupware technology products are fairly inexpensive and can be easily incorporated into existing information systems. The Internet, intranets, extranets, and private communication lines provide the infrastructure needed for the hardware and software of groupware. The software products are mostly Web-based, which is the trend today. In this article we will describe some of the most common groupware products.
Electronic Meeting Systems
An important area of virtual collaboration is electronic meetings. For decades, people have attempted to improve face-to-face meetings. Initially, people attempted to better organize group meetings by using a facilitator and established procedure (known as group dynamics). More recently, there have been numerous attempts to improve meetings by using information technologies. The advancement of Web-based systems opens the door for electronically supported virtual meetings, those whose members are in different locations, frequently in different countries.
The events of September 11, 2001 and the economics slowdown of 2001-2003 made virtual meetings more popular, as corporate travel waned. It is also hard for companies to ignore reported cost savings, such as the $4 million a month that IBM reported it saved just from cutting travel expenses to meetings. In addition, improvements in supporting technology, reductions in the price of technology, and the acceptance of virtual meetings as a respected way of doing business are fueling their growth.
Teleconferencing is the use of electronic communication that allows two or more people at different locations to have a simultaneous conference. There are several types of teleconferencing. The oldest and simplest is a telephone conference call, where several people talk to each other from three or more locations, The biggest disadvantage is that it does not allow for face-to-face communication. Also, participants in one location cannot see graphs, charts, and pictures at other locations. One solution is video teleconferencing, in which participants can see each other as well as the documents.
In a video teleconferencing (or video conference), participants in one location can see participants at other locations. Dynamic pictures of the participants can appear on a large screen or on a desktop computer. Originally, video teleconferencing was the transmission of live, compressed TV sessions between two or more points. Video teleconferencing today, however, is a digital technology capable of linking various types of computers across networks. Once conferences are digitized and transmitted over networks, they become a computer application.
With video conferencing, participants can share data, voice, pictures, graphics, and animation. Data can also be sent along with voice and video. Such data conferencing makes it possible to work on documents together and to exchange computer files during video conferences. This allows several geographically dispersed groups to work on the same project and to communicat by video simultaneously.
Video teleconferencing offers various benefits. We’ve already mentioned three of them — providing the oppurtunity for face-to-face communication for individuals in differen locations, supporting several types of media during conferencing, and lower travel time and costs.
Web conferencing is conduced on the Internet for as few as two and as many as thousands of people. Web conferencing is done solely on the Web. (Video conferencing is usually done on regular telephone lines, although it may also be done on the Web) Like video teleconferencing, Web conferencing allows users to simultaneously view something, such as a sales presentations in Microsoft Powerpoint or a product drawing, on their computer screens; interaction takes place via messaging or a simultaneous phone teleconference. However, Web conferencing is much cheaper than video conferencing because it runs on the Internet.
The latest technological innovations permit both business-to-business and business-to-consumer applications of Web conferencing. For example, banks in Alaska use video kiosks in sparsely populated areas instead of building branches that will be underutilized. The video kiosks operate on the banks intranet and provide video conferencing equipment for eye-to-eye interactions. Some examples of other uses are: to educate staff members about a new product line or technology; to amplify a meeting with investors; or to walk a prospective client though an introductory presentation.
Web conferencing is becoming very popular. Almost all Web conferencing products provide whiteboarding and pooling features, and allow you to give presentations and demos and to share applications. Popular Web conferencing products are: Centra EMeeting, Genesys Meeting Center, PlaceWare, and WebEx Meeting Center.