What Is Groupware?

Definition and benefits of groupware, collaboration software

The term groupware applies to several types of collaborative software. With an emphasis on interoperability and collective working in a multi-user setting, groupware operates as a portal from which users create and update version-controlled documents, manage online content, share assets like calendars and inboxes, and confer through chat and messaging features.

What Does Groupware Mean?

In some cases, groupware is a stand-alone tool, as with the OnlyOffice platform for document collaboration or the Intuit Quick Base platform for data management. In other cases, the groupware functions like a content management system (as with WordPress) or as a full-featured intranet (as with SharePoint).

The term groupware covers very broad and very specific software implementations. What's common to any definition, however, is that more than one user collaborates in the same environment using the same tools and processes.

Benefits and Features of Groupware

Groupware allows on-site workers and geographically dispersed team members to work with each other over the internet or an intranet. These software applications typically provide many benefits:

  • Authentication and logging: Standard ways of accessing the groupware, logs of who does what, and records that meet legal discovery requirements.
  • Communication: Chat tools, threaded discussion groups, and private mailboxes.
  • Interactive work: Polls, real-time file editing, and shared task management.
  • Discoverability: Central storage of files and information assets supported by a robust searching tool.
  • Coordinated workflows: Processes managed by the groupware that handle approvals, reviews, and proofreading, as well as support for project-management processes.
  • Enterprise knowledge management: Internal wikis, protected reference documents, group bookmarks, shared password repositories, and version-control histories.
  • Social engagement and reputation management: User groups, profile badges, profile customization by users, gamification through user levels, and user engagement contests.

It's not only employees of large companies who benefit from using groupware; for entrepreneurs and freelancers, these tools enable easy file sharing, collaboration, and communication over projects with remote clients, all from the comfort of the home office.

Different groupware solutions support different features. Most groupware environments do not offer all the features listed above, but many offer a subset in different combinations.

Groupware Software Examples

IBM Lotus Notes (or Lotus Software per the IBM Lotus website) was an early collaboration software suite and is still used in many offices. Microsoft SharePoint is another major groupware solution that's well-established in large enterprises.

Major comprehensive groupware suites, beyond the offerings from IBM and Microsoft, include:

  • G-Suite: Google's platform of email, documents, and social collaboration.
  • Zoho One: A business-focused suite for small and mid-sized companies.
  • Salesforce: A platform for customer relationship management.

In addition, a flourishing ecosystem of groupware with targeted-use cases offers flexibility to pursue best-of-breed solutions for use with, or instead of, a more expensive comprehensive groupware suite:

  • Basecamp: A popular paid project management tool.
  • Huddle: Offers a free but limited account and paid accounts.
  • Xero: Offers a complete online accounting system in the cloud.
  • WordPress: A free platform for web-based content.
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