Groupware is software that facilitates a group of people working within the same system or application, no matter where they happen to be. Such groupware applications are commonly email, newsgroups, and chat. Common groupware applications that are easily recognized by today's computer users include Lotus Notes, email server systems such as FirstClass and Microsoft Exchange, 24Seven Office, Livelink, and Workspot.
Some experts divide groupware into three categories: communication tools, conferencing tools, and collaborative management tools. Communication tools include email, FAX, and voice mail. Conferencing tools include data, voice, and video conferencing; and message boards and chat rooms. Collaborative management tools include electronic calendars, project management systems, and workflow systems.
Other experts divide groupware into two categories related to time and two other categories related to place. When employees are using an application at the same time, it is synchronous groupware; workers using the same application at different times, however, are using asynchronous groupware. The place-related categories are collocated, groupware that is used by people in the same place; and distance, groupware that is used by people in different places.
Businesses use groupware for a variety of reasons. One primary reason is to bypass the traditional problem of having employees in different places who need to work on the same application. By logging in to a network or intranet server, employees in different places can access the same application and benefit from the various perspectives and opinions of others. This functionality is a primary facet of telecommuting. If you can log in to the company server from anywhere, then you don't need to be in the office in order to access certain groupware.
Telecommuting can save on travel costs for both companies and employees. It can also enable real-time communication when it would otherwise be impossible. This communication can foster a greater understanding of the targets and goals of a business's projects, through group discussion of each step along the way to achieving those targets and goals.
Another use for groupware is group problem-solving. Many times, some employees see things differently from other employees. If they are all working within the same application framework, they can solve problems collectively, saving the company time and money. Without groupware, such real-time cooperation would not be possible.