Written by Ebrahim Ezzy and edited by Richard MacManus.
The term groupware refers to applications that facilitate real-time communication, coordination and collaboration amongst groups of people. A number of startups are working hard to develop the nascent groupware market, so in this post we identify some of those startups and provide an overview of where the market is heading.
What is Groupware?
Groupware has existed (in various forms) since the invention of email. What is new now is the way that groupware is available on every web-enabled PC - through desktop clients such as Groove, Colligo, SocialText (Enterprise Edition) or web-based suites like Joyent, Zimbra, Atlassian, Goowy (Enterprise), and many others.
Current groupware offerings combine personal and group work management. They provide personal project execution and work management tools - including chat systems, meeting schedulers, messaging, conferencing, whiteboards, etc. What all these things have in common is that they facilitate groups working together.
As a recent poll suggested, 70% of you prefer niche social networks connectable via a meta social network, over a giant centralized social network with thousands of members. We're calling the former Social Groupware and the latter Social Networks.
Social groupware products allow the creation of remotely hosted user-groups, special-interest groups - or any other group of like-minded people who share similar passions, interests and goals.
Besides the popular ones - CollectiveX, iMeem, Multiply, PeopleAggregator, and Wetpaint - which we've profiled already on R/WW, there are two more promising social groupwares worth checking out:
SixApart's Vox launched recently - it is a personal blogging service with privacy controls, so that family and friends only can view the content. It also has hooks into some popular web services, such as Flickr, Photobucket and YouTube.
Enterprise groupware enables more effective interaction with networked information systems. Groupware products are becoming increasingly important in the marketplace because:
- They help businesses to work more efficiently with improved use of resources.
- They permit better coordination of activities by reducing/eliminating time and space barriers, and speeding business processes.
- There is an organizational movement from personal computing to work-group or team-based collaboration, with the idea that it'll improve productivity.
Groupware and collaboration tools help businesses a lot - and what's more they have never been so cheaply available.
Examples include Atlassian, SocialText, Groove, Colligo, TeamDirection, Joyent, TeamSpace, Zimbra, ZohoX. We will review these in detail in a separate post.
Virtual Teams and Groupware
Many service professionals believe and rely on the common adage that "50% of success is just showing up" - not considering the future virtual workplace in mind. However, these days, letting information workers not show up is becoming a key ingredient to competitive success.
Everything of the Web 2.0 era can be traced to the advances brought about by collaborating teams of distributed participants, whose primary mode of interaction was virtual.
Smart employers know they have a far better chance of hiring the best talents if they don't expect all of them to be located in the same place. For example 37signals, the popular web 2.0 company that developed winners like Basecamp and Backpack, spreads out over 4 cities and 8 time zones. From Provo Utah to Copenhagen Denmark. In this 24x7 world, geographically dispersed virtual teams like those at 37signals are at an advantage.
Groupware makes it possible for these virtual teams to keep precise track of project status, maintain complete communications records, monitor deadlines and outstanding problems that need attention, and manage tasks that must be completed in certain sequences, etc.
As a result of groupware, virtual teams are quicker, smarter and often more productive than conventional teams working in a typical workplace.
A major portion of work in any business is tied to communications of different types. Taking advantage of enterprise groupware technologies for communications, businesses can drastically improve on productivity, efficiency and ultimately profitability. Let's quickly review some of these technologies:
Email; has been the principal form of communication and a strong driver of productivity and efficiency for most businesses. Enterprise Groupware takes email to the next level by providing structured email communication, that automates and improves business processes and increases workflow productivity.
Chat; once considered taboo in the workplace, is now the standard form of communication after email. It enables faster responses, quicker problem resolutions and effective team management.
Weblog; enables businesses and entrepreneurs to share information instantly and frequently - and reach out to their customers in a more casual manner. Weblogs are also effective in educating potential customers and engaging them in two-way conversations around related topics.
Conferencing; allows individuals to communicate and create virtual learning or meeting environments online, instantaneously with anyone - anywhere, at anytime. Most services enable participants to share documents, applications, web sites or even presentations with others.
People working alongside one another as in a typical workplace - learning and interacting with each other in order to get smarter - is not collaboration. It can just result in blind-leading-the-blind. Collaboration requires goals and is maximally effective when it results in the creation of a communal mind. The possibilities of innovation, efficiency, and productivity are endless only when the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Collaborative groupware applications are designed to streamline project management and workflow systems; and allow collaboration on processes like inventory management, customer service, project and task management. This collaborative environment enables virtual teams to plan, organize, innovate and drive projects to completion in a timely fashion.
Workflow systems; most sophisticated Content Management Systems have workflow, which manages "how tasks are structured and who performs them, what their relative order is, how they are synchronized, how information flows to support the tasks and how tasks are being tracked."
Office Suites; bundles up various office applications - increasingly as a web-based suite.
Project & task management; helps establish clear and explicit expectations - along with establishing goals, timetables and methods - for monitoring progress.
Personal & shared calendars; helps team members keep track of tasks, appointments, deadlines, plan and schedule initiatives; and since they aren’t hand-written, there’s less room for misinterpretation.
Having evolved over the past several decades, the time is ripe for groupware. The potential of groupware applications to greatly enhance efficiencies in personal and business operations is driving widespread interest in them.
What's more it will continue to evolve as time progresses - and new and different demands are made on applications being used within the realms of group interaction.
Overall, groupware has changed the way people communicate and the way business is conducted.
It has facilitated the creation, management and sharing of information though various channels of communication. This communication and collaboration when applied, sums up to a highly productive and shared environment which accelerates productivity. It also facilitates easier management of files, documents, and data in general.
Groupware will always remain only as strong as the abilities of the people who use it. But when groupware is successful, the benefits accrued are dramatic.