Collaborative software - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Collaborative software and collaboration

The design intent of collaborative software (groupware) is to transform the way documents and rich media are shared in order to enable more effective team collaboration.

Collaboration, with respect to information technology, seems to have several definitions. Some are defensible but others are so broad they lose any meaningful application. Understanding the differences in human interactions is necessary to ensure the appropriate technologies are employed to meet interaction needs.

There are three primary ways in which humans interact: conversations, transactions, and collaborations[6].

Conversational interaction is an exchange of information between two or more participants where the primary purpose of the interaction is discovery or relationship building. There is no central entity around which the interaction revolves but is a free exchange of information with no defined constraints. Communication technology such as telephones, instant messaging, and e-mail are generally sufficient for conversational interactions.

Transactional interaction involves the exchange of transaction entities where a major function of the transaction entity is to alter the relationship between participants. The transaction entity is in a relatively stable form and constrains or defines the new relationship. One participant exchanges money for goods and becomes a customer. Transactional interactions are most effectively handled by transactional systems that manage state and commit records for persistent storage.

In collaborative interactions the main function of the participants' relationship is to alter a collaboration entity (i.e., the converse of transactional). The collaboration entity is in a relatively unstable form. Examples include the development of an idea, the creation of a design, the achievement of a shared goal. Therefore, real collaboration technologies deliver the functionality for many participants to augment a common deliverable. Record or document management, threaded discussions, audit history, and other mechanisms designed to capture the efforts of many into a managed content environment are typical of collaboration technologies.

Collaboration in Education- two or more co-equal individuals voluntarily bring their knowledge and experiences together by interacting toward a common goal in the best interest of students' needs for the betterment of their educational success.

Collaboration cannot take place in a vacuum, it requires individuals working together in a coordinated fashion, towards a common goal. Accomplishing the goal is the primary purpose for bringing the team together. Collaborative software helps facilitate the action-oriented team working together over geographic distances by providing tools that help communication, collaboration and the process of problem solving by providing the team with a common means for communicating ideas and brainstorming. Additionally, collaborative software should support project management functions, such as task assignments, time-management with deadlines and shared calendars. The artifacts, the tangible evidence of the problem solving process, including the final outcome of the collaborative effort, require documentation, archiving and promotion for potential reuse. This should also include the artifacts of the process itself, such as project plans and schedules noting deadlines and deliverables.

Collaborative software should support the individuals that make up the team and the interactions between them during the group decision making process. Today's teams are composed of members from around the globe with many using their second or third language in communicating with the group. This provides cultural as well as linguistic challenges for any software that supports the collaborative effort. The software should also support team membership, roles and responsibilities. Additionally, collaborative support systems may offer the ability to support ancillary systems, such as budgets and physical resources.

Brainstorming is considered to be a tenant of collaboration, with the rapid exchange of ideas facilitating the group decision making process. Collaborative software provides areas that support multi-user editing with virtual whiteboards and chat or other forms of communication. Better solutions record the process and provide revision history. An emerging category of computer software, a collaboration platform is a unified electronic platform that supports synchronous and asynchronous communication through a variety of devices and channels.

An extension of groupware is collaborative media, software that allows several concurrent users to create and manage information in a website. Collaborative media models include wiki (Comparison of wiki software) and Slashdot models. Some sites with publicly accessible content based on collaborative software are: WikiWikiWeb, Wikipedia and Everything2. By method used we can divide them into:

  • Web-based collaborative tools
  • Software collaborative tools

Along with these, already traditional, methods recent expansion of corporate use of Second Life and other virtual worlds lead to development of a newer generation of software that takes advantage of a 3D data presentation. Some of this software (3D Topicscape) works independently from virtual worlds and simply uses 3D to support user in concept creation, planning, organization, development and actualization. Other ([1]) designed specifically to assist in collaboration when using virtual worlds as a business platform, while yet another type of software, Collaborative Knowledge Management (cKM), bridges the gap and can be used simultaneously in Second Life and on the web.

By area served we can divide collaborative software into:

Collaborative project management tools

Collaborative project management tools (CPMT) are very similar to collaborative management tools (CMT) except that CMT may only facilitate and manage a certain group activities for a part of a bigger project or task, while CPMT covers all detailed aspects of collaboration activities and management of the overall project and its related knowledge areas.

Another major difference is that CMT may include social software while CPMT mostly considers business or corporate related goals with some kind of social boundaries most commonly used for project management.


During the mid-1990s project management started to evolve into collaborative project management; this was when the process in which a project’s inputs and outputs were carried out started to change with the evolution of the internet. Since the geographical boundaries broadened the development teams increasingly became more remote changing the dynamics of a project team thus changing the way a project was managed.

Former chairman of GE Jack Welch believed that you could not be successful if you went it alone in a global economy. Therefore Welch became a driving force behind not only collaboration between organizations, but also collaborative project management.

Difference between collaborative management tools and collaborative project management tools

Collaborative project management toolsCollaborative management tools

In addition to most CMT examples, CPMT also includes:

CMT facilitate and manage social or group activities.

Examples include:


Different frameworks could be established based on a project needs and requirements in order to find the best software. But the best framework is the one in which the characteristics are so well defined that they cover all the aspects of collaboration activities and management of the overall project.

The challenge in determining which CPM software to use is having a good understanding of the requirements and tools needed for project development. There are many dynamics that make project management challenging (coordination, collaboration, sharing of knowledge and effectiveness of pm’s to facilitate the process). Choosing the right CPM software is essential to complementing these issues. According to a survey conducted in 2008 to find out what project managers' expectations and uses of project management software are, the features most important to project managers with project management software were:

  • Ability to plan using and sequence activities using CPM/PDM/PERT or Gantt Chart method,
  • Produce project master schedules based on project/task breakdown structures, with subordinate details,
  • Critical path calculation.
DimensionsDescriptions / Examples
Resources Requirements
  • Human
  • Equipment
  • Time
  • Cost
System Requirements
  • Platform: The operating system that the system can perform on (example Windows, Mac, Linux). Platform type single and multiple.
  • Hardware: physical requirements such as hard drive space and amount of memory.
  • Installation/access: How and where the software is installed.
  • Types of installations stand alone, server based, web portal.
Support Requirements
  • Email
  • 24/7 or restricted schedules
  • Online or web help
  • Built-in Help i.e. MS Office
  • On location assistance
  • Training on-site/off-site
Collaboration Requirements
  • Group Size: The number of users that software supports
  • Email list
  • Revision Control
  • Charting
  • Document versioning
  • Document retention
  • Document sharing
  • Document repository

The Three levels of collaboration

Groupware can be divided into three categories depending on the level of collaboration: (1) communication tools, (2) conferencing tools and (3) collaborative management (Co-ordination) tools.[7]

  1. Communication can be thought of as unstructured interchange of information. A phone call or an IM Chat discussion are examples of this.
  2. Conferencing (or collaboration level, as it is called in the academic papers that discuss these levels) refers to interactive work toward a shared goal. Brainstorming or voting are examples of this.
  3. Co-ordination refers to complex interdependent work toward a shared goal. A good metaphor for understanding this is to think about a sports team; everyone has to contribute the right play at the right time as well as adjust their play to the unfolding situation - but everyone is doing something different - in order for the team to win. That is complex interdependent work toward a shared goal: collaborative management.

Lists of collaborative software