Introduction to Groupware, Workflow, and Workgroup Computing

Windows NT is Built for Collaboration
For a good introduction to the theory and concepts of groupware, Introduction to Groupware, Workflow, and Workgroup Computing is a suitable place to begin. Authors Setrag Khoshafian and Marek Buckiewicz are more concerned with what groupware is, what it can do, and the implications it has for business than they are with the details of the hardware and software. This emphasis probably reflects their interests, but it also means that the book won't become outdated rapidly as the technology advances. Certainly, they are writing within their area of expertise; when they venture into a discussion of operating systems, they fall far short of the standard of the rest of the book. For a book published in 1995, the authors are amazingly poorly informed about Windows NT. On pages 129-130 they make several glaring misstatements, demonstrating that they have failed to do their research properly.

Introduction to Groupware, Workflow, and Workgroup Computing
Authors: Setrag Khoshafian and Marek Buckiewicz

Publisher: John Wiley & Sons Inc.
New York, 1995
ISBN 0-471-02946-7

Price: $34.95, 376 pages

Other than this one unfortunate foray into the specifics of software, Khoshafian and Buckiewicz avoid discussion about which hardware or software is suitable for groupware solutions. Interestingly, as I read the book, I began to develop an appreciation for just how well designed Windows NT is to support collaborative solutions.

The authors introduce the concept of groupware as it has evolved during the past few years. The catalyst has been the trend toward connecting PCs to powerful networks, coupled with the emergence of client/server technology as a way to make information readily available throughout the enterprise. The authors discuss the different types of interactions and the challenges and problems of implementing a groupware solution.

Once the concepts have been established, the book continues with a discussion of objects. The authors include a discussion of Object Linking and Embedding (OLE) and compound documents, subjects that might lead you to believe there is something to Microsoft's vision of the future of computing. Khoshafian and Buckiewicz mention that the current trend in graphical user interface (GUI)-design toward a document-centric interface has significant implications for groupware. Now that the power of computers allows us to concentrate on the business task instead of how to accomplish it, the fact that most of these tasks are group efforts is becoming apparent. This reflects some of the new features introduced in Windows 95, and the trend will no doubt continue when Cairo becomes a reality.

Khoshafian and Buckiewicz see client/server computing as the enabling technology for groupware, and they allocate an entire chapter to that topic. They actually go into some detail about the Open Systems Interconnect (OSI) networking model. If you skip the discussion of network operating systems, the chapter is a good introduction to the fundamentals of client/server systems. They move on to describe email systems. Although they avoid specific product descriptions, they do detail the Messaging Applications Programming Interface (MAPI) and Vendor-Independent Messaging (VIM) specifications and also the X.400 transport standards.

Workflow is a topic that goes back further than groupware, at least as an idea with a label attached to it. The computer industry has a longer history of trying to automate workflows--not always successfully. Better analysis of what a workflow represents could increase the chances of a successful implementation. The section of the book dealing with workflow is definitely worth reading.

Electronic meetings are one aspect of collaborative or workgroup computing, and the authors cover the topic thoroughly. From scheduling multiple people for a meeting to allowing people to work together even when geographically separated, computer technology has made a big difference to the corporate meeting.

There is far more information in this book than can be covered in a brief review, and with the caveats mentioned earlier, it's a good reference for anyone who wishes to learn more about the concepts of groupware. For anyone planning a business solution centered on corporate databases, access to information, and client/server technology, Introduction to Groupware, Workflow, and Workgroup Computing will provide a good theoretical foundation on which to build a sound product.