What Is Groupware?

Definition and Benefits of Groupware, Collaboration Software

A group of computer programmers at work

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The term groupware references several types of computer-supported collaborative working environments. With an emphasis on interoperability and collective working in a multi-user setting, collaboration software 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.

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 both 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 both 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, records that meet legal discovery requirements
  • Communication—chat tools, threaded discussion groups, private mailboxes
  • Interactive work—polls, real-time file editing, 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, proofreading, etc., as well as support for project-management processes
  • Enterprise knowledge management—internal wikis, protected reference documents, group bookmarks, shared password repositories, 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 just large-company employees 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. One challenge in selecting the right groupware solution for a given business need lies in balancing the features each potential platform offers relative to the needs of the organization. 

Groupware Software Examples

IBM's Lotus Notes (or Lotus Software per IBM's Lotus website) was one of the earliest collaboration software suites and is still used in many offices today. 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.