Alan Dennis and myself are co-authoring a paper on the use of his groupware,
TCBWorks, and with Blake's blessings, I am using
our committee's use of TCBWorks as an example.
Some of you may identify with the comments in the example below as I had
used the recent feedback solicited from this list about our use of TCBWorks.
To that end, thank you for your contribution!
Please feel free to comment on the draft below.
ISWorld Net Example
The ISWorld Net example which is introduced here, is an interesting look at
how TCBWorks was used by its Executive Operative Committee as a mechanism
for distributed decision making.
ISWorld Net (http://www.isworld.org/isworld.html) is a worldwide virtual
organization and its mission is to =93provide information management=
with a single entry point to resources related to information systems
technology and to promote the development of an international information
infrastructure that will dramatically improve the world's ability to use
information systems for creating, disseminating, and applying knowledge=94.
Some of its founders include the Academy of Managements' Organization
Communications and Information Systems Division, ACM Special Interest Group
on Business Information Technology, The Association for Information Systems,
The International Conference on Information Systems, International
Federation for Information Processing: Technical Committee 8, and The
Society for Information Management International.
The members of this committee are individuals who are actively involved in
helping to build and/or promote ISWorld Net. Each member is involved in
developing a set of web pages to support the world-wide community of
information systems faculty, with each member typically manages one sub-area
(e.g., DSS, groupware) and is solely responsible for developing web pages to
support that area. The committee as a whole develops strategic objectives,
and operating standards, but it is up to each individual to implement those.=
They also advise, on a day-to-day basis the chairperson and, through him or
her, the officers of the ISWorld Net Governance Committee. Because members
of this committee are individuals who represent their own institutions all
over the world, and their contributions are entirely voluntary, the
committee requires a communication medium which is accessible to all its
members to communicate and coordinate their activities. Using E-mail via
setting up discussion lists was the best choice under such circumstances
since most universities would have e-mail facilities.
However, when it comes to ocassions for decision making, the committee has
been faced with a lack of a proper mechanism to facilitate this type of
distributed virtual organizational decision making. Also, the bigger problem
is the actual lack of a formal decision making process within this
committee. Revisiting Habermas=92 (1990) theory of Communicative Action, due
to the distributed nature of the committee=92s members, the =93turn taking=
(Bannon, 1994) more often is mistimed, the discussion may not be in the
right sequence, and not everyone who wants to contribute can have equal time
and opportunity to participate in this process. Often, in order to push
through certain decisions, the chairperson would adopt the policy that no
response means no objection, and will be accepted after a predetermined time
has elapsed. Clearly, there is a need to address the members=92 and the
committee=92s communicative competence in this respect.
Decisions to be made range from strategic decisions such as the choice of
marketing strategy to promote ISWorld Net to more mundane and time
consuming discussion about design guidelines for page formatting. And using
the email is deficient in supporting such decision making activities. The
availability and accessibility of TCBWorks to this committee was welcomed
and on the outset, looked very promising to suit its needs of a better
decision making mechanism. By far, the biggest advantage is that there is
little set-up time, little maintenance and all its members who are already
active on the Web can use their web browsers to use this tool. A few years
earlier, this scenario would not have been possible as proprietary groupware
software would have been cost prohibitive and to get the client software to
the distributed members (each with their different platform and operating
system) would almost be an unsurmountable challenge.
Over a two-week period, the committee actively experimented with this tool.
As the material is to be organized by projects, the chairperson set up a
number of projects, and the members contributed the topics of interest in
the various projects. Using TCBWorks, comments on each topics are archived
in the sequence that they are posted and can be viewed by everyone. This is
a particularly useful feature as it created the shared =93collective memory=
of the committee. Most members who used it genuinely felt that it has a lot
of potential and promise. Also, this feature can add value by letting others
see the issues that are debated (if necessary).
However ever since this initial two-week period, the committee had not used
TCBWorks. One of the authors of this paper sent an email to this committee
to solicit for feedback about its use, with which the following replies were
=B7 the committee as a whole did not really give it much of a test, maybe we
should try again
=B7 the tool did not fit the way the committee operates
=B7 the committee does not have that many issues and when they do, email=
=B7 getting into TCBWorks requires about 5 steps (what page is it on, what=
the password, what is the account name, how does this work?
=B7 not everyone participated
The responses revealed a certain degree of expectation of TCBWorks (in
comparison with other groupware products) in terms of its deficiency in
interface design, interaction and ease of use. It did not however, reveal
the greater problem of a lack of a decision making process. TCBWorks
neccessitates that the =93discussion agendas are clearly defined by the
project leaders who shape and guide the discussions to reach the project
objectives. Objectives and timetables are clearly defined and work assigned
to various members=94. Though TCBWorks requires no facilitators,=
is still neccessary via the project leaders to make sure that participants
understand and observe the requirements and constraints. In the case of the
ISWorld Net committee, it was a =93free for all=94 situation. Of the several
projects that were set up, each project never achieved the critical mass of
getting all the members to be involved, or the topics to be debated and
There was a successful outcome though, on the project that was set up to
test the tool. The chairperson had suggested that everyone should at least
post a comment under this project, and as a result, generated the most
comments. One of the discussion topic was on the choice of day to meet at
the ICIS conference in Amsterdam in 1995. Another topic was to vote on this.
Everyone did meet up with each other at the conference on the right day.
Ironically, this date also coincided with the last use of this tool. After
the conference, there was no momentum to use TCBWorks again.
This brief example of the use of TCBWorks by the ISWorld Net committee
highlights both the failure and the potential of its use. The failure can be
seen in terms of being an example of a good technological support for a
non-relevant task at hand. The committee lacks a decision making process in
the first place, and therefore, to introduce a decision making mechanism
like TCBWorks will not help the situation
The potential can be seen in terms of helping to improve the communicative
competence of distributed groups or communities. If there is a process, if
everyone participates, if everyone who want to participate can participate,
then TCBWorks stands as a good prospect of achieving just that.
* Freddie Quek, [log in to unmask] *
* Information Systems Manager, Electronic Press Ltd *
* 34-42 Cleveland Street, Middlesex House, London W1P 6LB, UK *
* Tel:+44 (0171) 323 0323 Fax:+44 (0171) 636 6911 *
* BioMedNet: http://BioMedNet.com/ *
* Electronic Press: http://BioMedNet.com/BioMedNet/biomedep.html *
* ISWorld Net Prof. *
* Activities: http://csrc.lse.ac.uk/iswnet/profact/profhome.htm *
* Freddie : http://csrc.lse.ac.uk/iswnet/freddie.htm *