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colla_2011_1_30_50065

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E-Collaboration Systems: How Collaborative They Really Are
Analysis of Collaboration Features of Electronic Collaboration Systems
Bettina Schauer, Michael Zeiller
Dept. Information Technology and Information StudiesUniversity of Applied Sciences BurgenlandEisenstadt, Austriae-mail: bettina.schauer@fh-burgenland.at, michael.zeiller@fh-burgenland.at
 Abstract
—Electronic Collaboration Systems support employeesin communication, coordination and collaboration tasks towork together to a common purpose to achieve businessbenefit. However, the marketplace of E-Collaboration systemsis multifaceted and is made up of various types of systems withdiffering emphasis. E-Collaboration systems may be well suitedfor communication tasks or coordination tasks (e.g.,collaboration systems with focus on project management), butlack support of collaborative tasks – and vice versa. To identifythe extent of the support of “real” collaboration of E-Collaboration systems, an analysis of collaboration featuresis applied to a number of E-Collaboration systems. Althoughwe focus entirely on collaboration features and present resultson a number of E-Collaboration systems with above-averagecollaboration emphasis, significant differences in extent andquality of collaboration support can be detected.
 Keywords-electronic collaboration; electronic collaboration systems; Enterprise 2.0; social software; social interaction
 I.
 
I
NTRODUCTION
 
Social software and social media, like Facebook, Xing,LinkedIn, Twitter, Flickr, Wikipedia and many more, arehighly accepted in private use, and modern life becamealmost unthinkable without these tools – at least for theincreasing communities of digital natives. The transfer of thehighly accepted utilization of social software and socialmedia from private use into companies is called
 Enterprise2.0
. Besides using weblogs, wikis and social networks tocommunicate with customers, these emergent social softwareplatforms are used within enterprises, or between enterprisesand their partners or customers [1]. Software solutions weused to call groupware and Computer Supported CooperativeWork (CSCW) software for decades incorporated these toolsand got a significant development stimulus.Team collaboration and willingness to share knowledgeare increasingly claimed by companies as centralrequirements for their employees. Working in teams requiresthe ability to communicate, coordinate and cooperate.Employees have to share their individual knowledge andcollectively manage the corporate knowledge. Team andcommunity building activities and organizational measuresaffecting the social environment of the collaboratingindividuals can be supported by information systemssupporting these collaborative tasks. Electronic collaborationsystems (E-Collaboration systems) assist and supportemployees in different phases of social interaction withinteams: communication, coordination, cooperation/ collaboration and networking.Complete E-Collaboration systems have to provide high-quality support in all four phases of social interaction. Themarketplace of E-Collaboration systems is multifaceted andis made up of various kinds of systems and tools withvarying complexity. But do they really support all types of social interaction sufficiently? To be able to collaborate wehave to be able to communicate and coordinate. Thus,communication and coordination features are actuallypreconditions of “real” collaboration.In this paper we want to figure out whether and how wellE-Collaboration systems really support core collaborationfeatures. We will examine typical E-Collaboration systemsfor their ability to support collaborative activities amongusers. A feature-based evaluation approach is presented thatidentifies the degree of coverage of typical collaborationrequirements. Therefore we will focus only on features thatsupport the phase
collaboration
of social interaction.Features enabling communication, coordination andconnection/networking will not be covered in this paper andare taken for granted.In SectionIIwe discuss the four types of socialinteraction and narrow down the term collaboration as theinteraction type in focus. SectionIIIbriefly describes themarketplace of E-Collaboration systems we will analyze.The features of collaboration that are supported byE-Collaboration systems are introduced in SectionIV. InSectionVwe present the results of evaluating a number of E-Collaboration systems whether they effectively supportthese features and discuss findings in SectionVI. SectionVII  concludes this paper.II.
 
T
YPES OF
S
OCIAL
I
NTERACTION IN
E
LECTRONIC
C
OLLABORATION
 Riemer [2] describes E-Collaboration systems as“software for supporting communication, coordination andcooperation between people processes in groups”. Riemer’sdefinition is based on the basic types of social interactionthat can be found in Computer Supported Cooperative Work(CSCW) systems and groupware: communication –coordination – cooperation [3]. In a similar way Cook [4]
16
COLLA 2011 : The First International Conference on Advanced Collaborative Networks, Systems and Applications 
Copyright (c) IARIA, 2011. ISBN: 978-1-61208-143-4
 
uses four primary functions to classify social software:communication – cooperation – collaboration – connection.Communication allows people to converse with othersand exchange information with the help of synchronous (e.g.,chat, conferencing tools) and asynchronous (email, weblog,microblogging) communication tools [2][4].Coordination allows a temporal or issue-related matchingand agreement on tasks and resources. Typical operations of coordination support team members in coordinatingappointments, processes and tasks in projects, plus surveysand workflow management.Collaboration encourages people to work with each otheron particular problems, with shared commitment and goals[4]. Collaborative activities involve working on some kind of content in a team. Creating and editing of the content canoccur in an asynchronous or synchronous way. The contentcould, for example, comprise some kind of document orgraphics, or collecting or creating information and ideas on atopic with the help of a wiki or a virtual whiteboard. Anotherkind of support for collaborative activities is provided byshared applications or shared desktops that offersynchronous working using the same applicationssimultaneously. Collaboration and cooperation use theservices of communication and coordination.Connection refers to networking technologies that enablepeople to make connections with and between both contentand other people [4]. Social networking is the mostprevailing technology for connection, but there are also anumber of enabling technologies like people profiling andpeople search.In terms of this work E-Collaboration systems aredefined as
software for supporting and enablingcommunication, coordination and collaboration between people in shared projects, processes and teams withinorganizations and for cross-organizational use
(followingRiemer [2]). Thus complete E-Collaboration systems have tosupport all four types of social interaction – the 4Cs:
 
Communication
 
Coordination
 
Collaboration
 
ConnectionEven though complete E-Collaboration systems have tosupport all of these types of social interaction, the focus of this paper is on the provision of features for the corecollaboration activities. The reason for this emphasis oncollaboration is that the evaluation of a number of E-Collaboration systems according to these 4C categoriesshowed, that some systems provide a variety of coordinationor communication features, but fall short when it comes tosupporting real collaboration [5].In a narrow definition
to
 
collaborate
means to work withothers on a non-routine cognitive task – that is, workingtogether [6]. Enterprise collaboration is a working practicewhereby individuals work together to a common purpose toachieve business benefit [7]. Electronic collaboration(e-collaboration) is operationally defined in [8] ascollaboration using electronic technologies among differentindividuals to accomplish a common task. Working togetherin a collaborative way is identified by cooperation, sharedcommitment and common goals. Examples of collaborationare working together on shared objects, or conjointlycreating and modifying electronic documents (synchronousor asynchronous) [2]. Therefore we perceive collaboration asa special case of ICT-based cooperation where the maincriteria are a collective goal-oriented behavior and collectiveresponsibility for the result that are subjectively experiencedby the participants. This definition presupposes types of personal work organization that assume high autonomy andintrinsic motivation of the participants (i.e., team members).III.
 
E-C
OLLABORATION
M
ARKETPLACE
 The marketplace of E-Collaboration systems consists of various heterogeneous system classes. There exists a largevariety of open source and commercially available tools forteam cooperation and collaboration. Some tools weredeveloped out of former project management or contentmanagement systems, others put an emphasis on supportingcommunication with conferencing tools or originate fromgroupware solutions.Several scientific and commercial market studies onE-Collaboration systems aim at structuring and organizingavailable software packages into system classes andcategories and set up descriptive criteria, refer, e.g., to [2][9][10][11][12].According to our definition of E-Collaboration systems,only those systems will be part of a detailed analysis thatsupport all four basic types of social interaction (full supportor partial support per interaction process, but all types haveto be supported). Applying this limitation means that the vastnumber of single function tools, e.g., all those wikis,weblogs, chats, video conferencing tools, projectmanagement tools, content management tools, tagging orbookmarking solutions, etc., that offer only a limited numberof features according to their system class, but do not coverthe entire spectrum of functions for team collaboration, areexcluded from the evaluation.Based on a detailed market analysis in which weanalyzed the functional range of candidates, we set up a listof about 50 tools to be included in our study. The entireevaluation process is described in [5].IV.
 
C
OLLABORATION
F
EATURES
 Based on a literature study (e.g., [2][13]), an analysis of various studies and reports on the evaluation of E-Collaboration systems, CSCW software and groupwaretools [9][12][14][15], as well as a number of interviews withexperts in the field of CSCW and electronic collaboration, aset of typical functionalities of E-Collaboration systems thatespecially support collaborative activities was identified(TableI). These core functionalities or features of electroniccollaboration are arranged in six subgroups. They providethe basis of a feature-based analysis of a representativenumber of E-Collaboration systems presented in the nextsection. They cover features regarding shared content anddocument creation (asynchronous and synchronous) as a corefunctionality including supportive content managementfeatures as well as social software and connection.
17
COLLA 2011 : The First International Conference on Advanced Collaborative Networks, Systems and Applications 
Copyright (c) IARIA, 2011. ISBN: 978-1-61208-143-4
 
TABLE I. F
EATURES
S
UPPORTING
C
OLLABORATION
 
Feature / functionality Weight
 Asynchronous content sharing 20,00%
Documents 9,00%Multimedia content (audio, video, images) 4,00%Document libraries 7,00%
Synchronous real-time editing 11,00%
Collaborative real-time editor 8,00%Whiteboard 3,00%
Content management 18,00%
Versioning 4,00%Check in/check out 4,00%Access control 6,00%Up- & download 4,00%
Creating and editing documents out of the shared workspace 15,00%
Text documents 5,00%Spreadsheets 1,50%Graphics and presentation 2,50%MS Office integration 6,00%
Social software 24,00%
Wiki 5,00%Weblog 5,00%Social tagging 4,00%Social bookmarking 3,00%Social cataloguing 1,00%Social presence 3,00%Tracking 1,50%Rating 1,50%
Connection 12,00%
People profiling 3,75%People search 3,75%People tagging 1,50%Networking services 3,00%
Most of the activities in electronic collaboration involvecreating or editing some kind of document jointly by severalpersons. E-Collaboration systems should thus offer featuresfor asynchronous and even synchronous editing of documents. Concerning the asynchronous way of sharingdocuments or other kinds of files like multimedia content,the systems provide various kinds of libraries that supportthe collaborative editing of content by functionalities likecheck in/check out. The synchronous editing of documentsallows for several team members to work on the samedocument at the same time. Thus, for synchronouscollaboration the systems have to support functionalities fordisplaying who is editing which part of the document,highlighting the changes and locking parts of the document.Brainstorming and creating ideas together is supported byvirtual whiteboards that can be edited simultaneously andoften are complemented by some kind of chat or instantmessaging system to communicate while collaborating.Versioning and access control are crucial forsynchronous as well as asynchronous collaboration ondocuments or content.Another important aspect concerning the collaboration ondocuments is, whether files can only be up- and downloadedto the platform or whether it is possible to create variouskinds of documents directly out of the shared workspace.Our evaluation distinguishes between text documents,spreadsheets as well as graphics and presentation. Creatingand editing documents out of the shared workspace explicitlyfocuses on documents and goes beyond just creating awebpage with the help of an online editor.The possibility to create and edit Microsoft
Officedocuments within the workspace qualifies E-Collaborationsystems for collaboration of standard teams as these are theprevailing document formats. Creating and editingdocuments within the shared workspace without having toup- and download the files, showed to be a significantfeature for E-Collaboration systems to be integrated intodaily work routines. Workspaces supporting thisfunctionality have got higher chances to replace the desktopand to be used as the standard workplace that supports alldaily collaborative working routines. WhereasE-Collaboration systems, that provide only up- anddownload of documents, risk being used as a repository fordocuments instead of supporting active collaboration. Suchsystems are often not used like a standard workplace, but theusers enter the E-Collaboration system in order to getdocuments to be edited locally and afterwards the documentsare stored within the platform again.Among the social software tools, wikis have turned out tobe a very flexible and suitable tool for collecting andstructuring ideas and information on a topic together in ateam. With the help of weblogs, news can be published andcommented or discussed by other users. Social tagging,social bookmarking and social cataloguing refer toorganizing content conjointly and to provide information forthe other team members in a structured way. Thus, teammembers should get easy access to the collected informationon selected topics.Social presence provides information of the teammembers´ state and can reveal where people are, whetherthey are available for communication or concurrent contentediting, and which is the best way to contact them. Thus,social presence serves as a basis for synchronouscollaboration. Tracking refers to following the activities ortasks of other team members or the status of a document andthus provides transparency. Rating content is a very commonfeature for blog posts, but systems also provide rating forother kinds of content. The team can evaluate contenttogether and thus gain a common understanding of the stateof the art concerning a certain topic.Finally, a very important aspect of E-Collaboration isconnection. Features for connecting people, but also forestablishing a connection between content and the teammembers who create the content, are a distinguishingcharacteristic for systems that really support collaboration.These features comprise people profiling, people search,people tagging and the support of social networking. Profilesprovide information about the team members, their expertiseand contact details as well as their organizational integration.Profile sites, that also provide space for personal details,
18
COLLA 2011 : The First International Conference on Advanced Collaborative Networks, Systems and Applications 
Copyright (c) IARIA, 2011. ISBN: 978-1-61208-143-4

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