Issues of Collaboration in a Virtual Environment

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2 Preface World Wide Web is becoming a utility, not unlike electricity or running water in our homes. This creates new ways of using the web, where Social media plays a particular role. This gives an unprecedented opportunity to study the emerging social phenomena in the virtual world. In addition, it opens new avenues for improving public services such as schooling. This book includes some of the latest developments in employing the information and communications technologies for examining both virtual and real-life social interactions. Investigating modern challenges such as online education, web security or organized cybercrime, this book outlines the state of the art in social applications and implications of ICT. 9

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4 Issues of Collaboration in a Virtual Environment Blaž Rodič Faculty of Information Studies in Novo mesto, Slovenia Abstract With the globalization of the economy, more and more employees are working with team members half way around the world. This paper examines the benefits and issues in using information technologies, including Web 2.0, to support collaboration of teams in a virtual environment, the emerging methods and technologies and socio-technical issues associated with collaboration and teams in virtual environments, and proposes a new categorization of e-collaboration tools, which supplements the older classifications. In order to reduce the negative effects, developers and users of e-collaboration tools for virtual environments should address human interaction issues as well as social issues and organizational issues. Keywords e-collaboration, virtual teams, virtual environment, HCI, globalization 1. Introduction Advancing research in the area of human-computer interaction, smart environments, multi-modal interaction, ambient intelligence and ubiquitous computing nowadays is converging into the dawning era of human computing (Pantic et al., 2006). Human computing escalates the complexities of human-human and human-machine interaction in the already complex software engineering and system integration (Clancey, 1997). Emerging e-collaboration systems are expected to be increasingly adapted to the nature of human cognition and communication and present a quantum leap beyond modern productivity-oriented workplace technologies in which performance is the key objective and the user experience comes after business process logic and formalized workflow. To understand the current limitations, i.e. opportunities for improvement in e-collaboration tools and concepts and possible issues, we first need to define e-collaboration itself. Kock (2005) stated that e-collaboration consists of the following elements: 11

5 The collaborative task: A task that parties can work on together. For example, jobs beyond the capacity of one organization, or jobs that require complementary skill sets; The e-collaboration technology: Existing or new IT infrastructure such as teleconferencing, discussion boards and instant messaging; The participants: Organizations that are collaborating, industry associations and government agencies. Characteristics of the participants and size of the group can also have an effect on the collaboration. Mental schemas of the participants: The knowledge and experience of the participants and the degree of similarity between participants. For example, expert or novice understanding of the task. The physical environment: The location of the participants. For example, the geographical location of the toolmakers was dispersed and therefore they needed to apply more effort to e-collaboration, whereas the IT organizations were within the same geographical area; The social environment: the perceptions of trust and the behaviour among the participants as well as peer pressure among participants. An ever-increasing number of e-collaboration systems and solutions have been developed recently. E-collaboration can be categorized according to the time and space where/when the participants are present. The space dimension is discrete, while the dimension of artificiality (nature of a participant s presentation in the software) can use several different combinations of realistic and synthetic representations. We have combined the model of shared spaces proposed by Benford et al. (1998), which focuses on synchronous communication with the categorization of several types of groupware tools. Our proposed categorization of groupware is shown in Table 1. This new categorization gives a better insight into the relation between the dimensions of artificiality, space, time, and the type of tools available. Several examples of tools are listed in multiple categories, as their flexibility allows usage under synchronous and asynchronous conditions and the choice of representation is left to the user. It is also evident that some modes of collaboration are supported by more tools than other modes. E.g. tools made specifically for asynchronous collaboration at the same location are rare, as location is generally not relevant for asynchronous collaboration. 12

6 Table 1: Proposed categorization of e-collaboration systems according to time, space and artificiality Augmented Reality Virtual Reality DIMENSION OF ARTIFICIALITY Synthetic (generated) Physical (real/istic) Same time (synchronous) Different time (asynchronous) Physical Reality Same time (synchronous) e.g. e-meetings, e-voting, e-brainstorming Different time (asynchronous) e.g. collaborative design Local (physically present) Dimension Of Space Same time (synchronous) e.g. virtual worlds, chat Different time (asynchronous) e.g. virtual worlds, forums, wikis Tele-Presence Same time (synchronous) e.g. teleconferencing, e-meetings, screen sharing, shared documents, chat Different time (asynchronous) e.g. workflow tools, document management systems, , shared documents, forums Remote (represented) For example, electronic meeting tools can provide participants that are present at the same time, either at the same or different locations with the following benefits: Interactive systems supporting synchronous, non-structured decision processes. Provide methodological support in analysis of a problem and drafting of solutions (Systematic and documented discussion). Provide tools for automation of several aspects of the meeting, e.g.: Keeping meeting minutes, Brainstorming (empty sheet concept), Group categorization, ranking, voting, Parallel and shared activities instead of turn-by-turn (submission of ideas, categorization) and anonymity of participants, which can drastically improve the efficiency of meetings. 13

7 2. E-collaboration Tool Development Trends A new type of e-collaboration has recently emerged that is not product of the thousands of man-years and millions of dollars, invested in the development of formal ecollaboration solutions (usually proprietary and created by professionals): the dark horse is user-created and community-driven e-collaboration, produced by volunteers, and freely available. In the world of new collaborative media, content is increasingly created by users, enhanced by community contribution, and accessed through open platforms, particularly Web 2.0 based platforms. Web 2.0 platforms are technologies, which enable users to form up virtual communities in order to interact and communicate over the Internet. A virtual community can be defined as a group of people sharing common interests by using Internet applications. Nowadays an increasing number of companies and non-governmental and non-profit organizations set up virtual communities (McAfee, 2006; O Reilly, 2005). Virtual communities implemented by companies promise to improve the knowledge management by integrating customers in the value creation chain. As a means of customer relationship management, virtual communities contribute to increase the customer loyalty and a deeper understanding of customer needs (Lattemann & Stieglitz, 2007). Web 2.0 driven social software comprises a couple of innovative technological approaches, which in particular are key elements of virtual community infrastructures. Virtual communities allow members to share knowledge, experiences, opinions, and ideas with each other. The term Web 2.0 was coined around the year 2005 and describes new interactive applications on the internet (O Reilly, 2005). However most technological improvements comprised by the term web 2.0 have already been invented years before ((O Reilly, 2005) and (McAfee, 2006)). Web 2.0 applications are often associated with social software. Whereas traditional software focuses on productivity and process support, web 2.0 applications focus on enabling communication, cooperation, and collaboration of individuals and groups over the internet. Social software is based on different services for setting up networks and supporting the distribution of information within the network (e.g. , instant messaging, chats, or blogs) (Stieglitz et al., 2008). However, social e-collaboration systems can become a compliance and control nightmare and introduce the risk of information leaks and public relations problems. Most companies therefore aim to either regulate or ban non-company e-collaboration systems. However if the CEOs of yesteryear 14

8 wondered whether to ban Facebook and other social networks during work hours outright, today s CEOs wonder how to make employees use them effectively for their business needs. One way of making Web 2.0 more acceptable to executives and security managers is the use of the platform in the development of proprietary, company controlled e-collaboration systems. This approach has brought the advent of Enterprise 2.0. While Web 2.0 is originally about the development and usage of new ways of communication and tools for this in the public; Enterprise 2.0 is about organizationally focused support of collaboration in the enterprise. Enterprise 2.0 aims to help employees, customers and suppliers collaborate, share, and organize information via Web 2.0 technologies. McAfee (2006) describes Enterprise 2.0 as the use of emergent social software platforms within companies, or between companies and their partners or customers To be honest, most concepts in what is now is advertised as a revolution on the Web or Enterprise 2.0 have been used in companies as CSCW (Computer-Supported Collaborative Work) applications since the 1970s. However, the tools of old were not nearly as intuitive, adaptable and usable as today, and the technologies that have been developed since then allow us to make e-collaboration tools accessible beyond the walls of companies. Virtual environments and mobile technologies bring business scenarios closer to the 24/7, anytime, anywhere vision (Kalakota & Robinson, 2001). Virtual communities are set up by companies in order to bridge the gap between customers and companies and thus serve as a customer relationship management tool (Stieglitz et al., 2008). A good example are collaborative Customer Relations Management (CRM) technologies, which allow collaboration and instant sharing of relevant information among employees at different locations, which can improve customer service and increase customer involvement in the business processes (e.g. product design, creation, sales and marketing). The results (Reinhold & Alt, 2009) can be a higher alignment of business offerings with customer needs, optimization of internal business processes with customer feedback and an increased customer satisfaction with the delivered services. One interesting model developed in CSCW or e-collaboration systems for understanding different modes of communication in groups is the people/artifact framework which tackles the functional relationship between members and the tools to support collaboration, and maps out these relationships in a way that allows designers to follow the flow of information within the system (Dix et al., 1993). Figure 1 shows the principle of this framework. The directional and bi-directional connections indicate channels of communication either between participants or between a participant and the artefact. 15

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