The Wide Area Groupware Trend
Jon V. Ferrara
Today, few managers enjoy the luxury of a personal secretary, and support staff are spread thin. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, during the second half of the eighties, the number of managerial positions increased sharply, while the number of secretarial jobs declined.
Cast adrift, today’s manager or executive is handed a PC, a telephone, and a Rolodex and left to his or her own devices. To handle and manage the ever-increasing onslaught of incoming data, managers and executives are turning to wide area groupware.
Wide area groupware’s key features include network scheduling, contact management, e-mail, sales forecasting, telemarketing, task delegation, database design/modification, word processing, and fax/mail merging. Wide area groupware’s powerfully distinct advantage is based on its integration of these tools. Rather than relying on disparate and distinct systems, wide area groupware provides a single, completely integrated system to manage all of a workgroup’s communication and business applications. Networks and remote synchronization features then provide the pathways by which these communications and transactions travel between offices and staff.
Presently, most offices use three separate programs on a network — a scheduler, an e-mail program, and a contact manager. Because these programs are neither linked nor integrated; none of the meetings, messages or activities are cohesively linked together. This reduces office productivity by forcing users to switch back and forth between programs and not allowing for a common link between meetings, messages and activities. Wide area groupware effectively ties network scheduling, e-mail and contact management that links together meetings, messages and activities to one source — the contact. By linking these activities to the contact, productivity is enhanced and information becomes logically related and easily tracked.
Wide area groupware’s collection of powerful features centralizes all communication issues within organizations. Indeed, wide area groupware’s greatest impact will be its effect on the way people communicate — similar to voice mail’s recent impact. By providing the previously absent pathways, wide area groupware pulls distinct working units such as departments, groups and users together, allowing different groups of people to operate as a linked, integrated and cohesive unit. Users can then interact quickly and efficiently, using task delegation, sales forecasting, tracking and management tools and communication functions to process various issues and concerns quickly and efficiently.
Wide area groupware empowers people to work faster, smarter and more efficiently by relating communications between employees and customers. Wide area groupware was conceived and designed to pull islands of information and their associated users together, integrating separate entities into an efficient, team-based workgroup. Wide area groupware’s integration facilitates, tracks and manages the inter- and intra-communications of individuals in the work environment, connecting people within a single office, across multiple office sites or at remote sites.
Successful wide area groupware will relate all communications and activities about a given contact, tying in all the system users that have somehow touched that contact’s records. E-mail messages will be linked directly to contact records or users, generating electronic “history files,” allowing for a more comprehensive, organized and productive way of conducting business. This integration will provide dramatic savings in time and promote greater usage.
To facilitate the ease of wide area groupware’s usage, users should also be able to import existing databases into the new wide area groupware program, creating a seamless transition. Flexible Import/export/transfer features are requisite to solid wide area groupware programs.
Wide area groupware should also allow users to create and maintain an unlimited number of customizable databases. This gives users the ability to create an unlimited number of records in any one database and create multiple databases, storing and accessing information as needed. The ability to quickly and easily transfer records from one database to another is instrumental in the management of multiple databases.
Although records can be maintained in multiple databases, a wide area groupware program will still allow users to schedule and complete activities from a single calendar. Regardless of which database is active, all scheduled activities should be displayed, as well as other calendar functions, and should remain consistent.
With all of this data floating around, it becomes vital to have certain security levels built into the program. Wide area groupware has varying levels of security, based on user name confirmation. These security levels are transparent to the end user, yet easy to maintain and define by the network administrator.
Wide area groupware can support record ownership, record viewing curtaining and last change stamping by user log-on ID. These security measures further restrict users’ access to specific menu options and/or limit access to private or sensitive contact records. And of course, each wide area groupware user has a log-on password. The databases will be subject to security levels only if need be, however.
Wide area groupware also addresses the needs of remote users, such as communication data exchange. Wide area groupware provides synchronization via modem, communications server or LAN adapter. This allows users to carry over information updates or changes to all site locations, whether remote sites are laptop users or distinct and separate offices. The synchronization is comprehensive and provides another link in the overall chain of events that define the function and operation of the sales force. Users can update and merge notes, history, messages and any scheduled items on the field level utilizing a date stamp to prevent overwriting of data.
With the above features in mind, a wide area groupware program significantly enhances the productivity of an office, acting primarily as a tactical asset. Users are being armed with a powerful weapon in the battle for greater sales and better customer relations. The most sophisticated wide area groupware programs can also deliver management better intelligence on the current status of sales efforts and on advertising and promotional effectiveness in generating queries and sales. Employed in this way, the program becomes a strategic asset. It helps management make better decisions on resource deployment, performance levels and overall productivity by providing timely, accurate statistical data.
Once users try a system that measurably benefits them and their organization, the advantages of scheduling and completing activities electronically will lead to the standardization of everyday business routines. These routines will in turn promote efficiency and productivity by increasing information flow and communication. A good intuitive wide area groupware program would also decrease the initial training and support issues for the network administrator and management – neatly layering functions within the program’s menus so that beginning users won’t stumble over advanced functions.
Wide area groupware will literally revolutionize the way you do business. This involves change — something most people consciously or subconsciously resist. But once the benefits are realized in the very short term, people will adapt readily, just as they did with voice mail. However, the corporate structure and support for this technology must be in place before it is implemented.
Organizations usually make their biggest mistake by not being committed to implementing the technology. Key to the success of wide area groupware is that management support for the new technology should be clear from the beginning. Users will need to quickly grasp and understand the new basic structure and flow of information processing — the “new” way of doing business — and will be more inclined to do so only management strongly backs the new technology.
By establishing simple patterns and processes for the workgroup environment, cumbersome, slow, wasteful and inefficient paper systems will eventually go the way of the punch card reader.
Jon V. Ferrara is Executive Vice President of GoldMine Software Corporation, a leader of LAN- and workgroup-based contact management software development for PCs headquartered in Pacific Palisades. For more information, call 800-654-3526.