Route map of network jungle

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The Independent Online
TO ITS adherents, groupware is the concept that enables information technology to work for a business, rather than just add to its costs. To its detractors, it is a 'woolly' management tool, writes Roger Trapp.

Certainly, it is complex. The company that readily decides to computerise its administration system and then equip its employees with personal computers takes a little convincing to invest in a product that essentially links up all the PC users and enables them to communicate with each other.

Even though its Notes is regarded as the leader in the field, Lotus Development admits that take-up has been slower than anticipated. It is pinning its hopes on a City University Business School survey it has supported.

The report, Improving the Performance of Workgroups through Information Technology, by Clive Holtham, the school's information management professor, draws on research conducted during a competition organised in conjunction with the Independent on Sunday last year, with the aim of raising awareness of groupware.

One of the key findings is that 80 per cent of companies implementing groupware are using it to cut costs and increase organisational efficiency. The rest are seeking strategic advantage: improving customer relations, redesigning core business processes.

While claiming this is a blow against the detractors, Prof Holtham has a word of warning: 'Companies must start by establishing what their business communication needs are, rather than just viewing the technology in isolation.'

In the course of the research, based on case studies of 26 large and small organisations, the school's team examined how different organisations applied groupware to tackle problems. As a result, it was able to develop a matrix that classifies the business processes to which groupware can be applied. This simple model can be used by companies seeking to improve those processes and assess their technology needs.

Further aid is provided in identifying potential barriers to networking.

In short, groupware is like any management development. And a business embarking on a potentially expensive journey needs to know what it wants to see when it gets there.

(Photograph omitted)

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