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Practical Internet Groupware by Jon Udell

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Groupware Nirvana and Reality

For years, groupware vendors have touted structured solutions to these communication problems. Often these solutions do leverage email but harness it to software that:

  • Coordinates the flow of messages according to some model of a business process

  • Relates messages to roles and activities defined within that model

  • Stores messages in a central database

These are great ideas, and in certain situations they can be usefully applied. What characterizes those situations? Well-defined workflow, clearly understood roles, agreed-upon milestones, and fully specified deliverables are what pave the way for successful business process automation. Every enterprise has at least a few mainline business processes that qualify. And then there’s everything else—the ad hoc, amorphous, fast-paced buzz of communication that weaves in and around the mainline processes. Teams form and split, plans change, training occurs, documents evolve, communication flows across the corporate border to and from vendors, subcontractors, and partners. All this stuff, happening all the time in real time, is what really defines the daily reality of a modern knowledge worker. It’s messy and highly idiosyncratic. Software systems that impose order on this chaos just don’t exist. Could they? Yes, but to support a corporate culture with a groupware system deeply attuned to that culture requires serious customization. In Part III, we’ll explore ways to customize and extend the standard Internet communication tools. Here in Part I, we’ll focus on how to use them more effectively.

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