Monday, December 13, 2004

Office Automation and Group Collaboration

Group Collaboration
A collection of software applications and devices used in a computer networked environment are called groupware. The is no specific set of application that make up this groupware, it is software that allows a large group of people to collaborate locally over a LAN and over vast distances over some type of WAN.

The most common type of collaboration is done via electronic messages called email. This email can be either standard SMTP and POP3 email or Newsgroup email like at the University of Phoenix.

The Newsgroups are used to collaborate ideas. The collaboration occurs when a newsreader client connects to a newsreader server and than exchange messages. The people post their messages and download the messages posts of others. The newsreader application that most people are using is Outlook Express. Outlook Express can use both newsgroups and regular email.

Most businesses today use email as a form of collaboration between vendors and customers as well as other employees. A commonly user email collaboration server software is called Microsoft Exchange. Exchange allows users to collaborate email, calendars, contacts, tasks and basic project information via a dashboard. The Exchange server can also be used as newsgroup servers. Newsgroup servers have an advantage over regular email as everyone that is subscribed to a newsgroup gets to read all the messages posted in that group. It aids in keeping everyone in sync with electronic communications. Standard email is one to many or one to one, and sometimes people can be left out of the loop when information is requested or disseminated.
There are other forms of groupware applications such as Microsoft Share Point Service. It allows the posting, collections and better organizing information and documents than what a newsgroup can do. Share Point is getting better, but it is very hard to setup and maintain. It is not backwards compatible and the environment is easily corrupted.

My favorite groupware collaboration software is a web-based groupware application called allows anyone with little to no experience to built web based relational databases in real-time on the fly, ready to use after building. It is by far the most impressive company I have ever worked with. It allows rapid prototyping, rapid application development and production usage in minute’s verses days, weeks and months. We have converted all our traditional client server based databases all to web-based database group collaboration software at

There are many other software applications that are effective tools for groupware collaborations such as WebEx for web based meetings, information and desktop sharing like doing product demos.

Simple instant messaging can be used for example MSN Instance Messenger. Our team uses instant messenger to hold meetings for team assignments. It provides a written record of who said what. It is like a permanent meeting minute’s tracker.

The reading text talks about workflow management groupware applications. I have work with several large companies that have attempted to use these applications and they have not worked out for many reasons. They have been very difficult to use, time consuming to use and very expensive to purchase, deploy and maintain.

The advantage of using groupware applications are the rapid, accurate, in-sync reception and dissemination of information.

The disadvantage is the lack of personal interaction with others in a face to face environment. While video conferencing allows for face to face collaboration, it is not the same as in person interaction and communication of information. Other disadvantages are the additional costs and customization that might be required for a particular business group.

Office Automation
Groupware software applications are often augmented with documents, publications, presentations, spreadsheets, CAD drawings, voice mail, faxes, scanned images, art work, video and other forms of audio within the groupware application. These files are created with other applications such as a word processor, spreadsheet program, power point applications, image editor, video editor, scanning software, etc. The use of this software is referred to as office automation as the software is used replaces the manual method previously used.

Office Automation is the integration of several applications to produce a single output. An example would be a program called HotDocs. It also the fast creations of large documents like legal and commercial real estate contracts. It allows someone with little to no experience to answer a few questions and it will generate all the necessary clauses, language, personal pronouns, sentence structure and pull existing database to populate word documents.

The advantages of Office Automation are an increase in work production, work flow and more accurate information. It is often miss-referred to as a reduction in labor costs. The actual fact is one is still working the same amount of time, but now you are doing more work. The production of work increases, but the labor costs for 8 hours is still 8 hours.

The disadvantage of office automation is the complexity in which office automation can become over a short period of time. It takes more user knowledge to deploy, use and maintain the integration of the various applications and additional user training maybe required. Lastly about every four years all software and hardware used in the office automation efforts will need to be replaced.

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