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Users offered many options for groupware.

Workgroup computing appears to be coming of age. For one thing, the innovative concept of "groupware" is now generally understood and its business benefits widely recognized, thanks largely to the huge success of Lotus Notes.

Not surprisingly, Notes has spawned a host of competitive groupware products, which is further good news for workgroups. In addition, the reach and availability of groupware are about to expand dramatically with the imminent introduction of AT&T's Network Notes.

Since its acquisition of cc:mail and Soft-Switch, Lotus has also pioneered the integration of groupware with E-mail to provide an even more powerful tool for collaborative computing. Here again, competition is growing.

At the same time, the range of options for workgroup computing continues to grow. The old concept of computer conferencing has given way to sophisticated new products such as Intel's ProShare personal conferencing software.

In addition. desktop videoconferencing is now practical, thanks to powerful data compression techniques and the availability of wideband links to the desktop. What's more, organizations are starting to tap the collaborative computing potential of the Internet.

In yet another applications area, networking has extended document imaging into workgroups, unleashing the improved efficiencies and responsiveness possible with electronic document management. Another innovative concept known as "workflow" has further eased the paper crunch by streamlining business operations as simple as processing an expense report and as complex as an insurance claim.

Now that workgroups have been identified as a viable and growing market, they are now the target for niche products from companies better known for database management systems and networking products.

Oracle Corp. is one DBMS vendor which has taken aim at workgroup applications with its Workgroup 2000 product line: a set of databases, communications software and application development tools for building small-scale client/server applications.

The new Oracle databases are intended to fit into existing corporate environments, where desktop users will access them through familiar graphical user interfaces. To win over workgroups, Oracle is offering desktop and LAN versions of the Oracle7 database manager that it claims are easy to install and use.

The Workgroup software components automatically connect client applications on Windows PCs with networked Oracle databases, while the Oracle Power Objects toolset allows users to create applications by connecting ready-made software objects.

As for networking vendors, 3Com, Chipcom and Hughes LAN Systems have all recently introduced switching products to ease the workgroup bandwidth crunch.

3Com extended its SuperStack line of stackable routers, hubs and switches with a 10-port Ethernet switch designed to provide increased bandwidth for workgroups and remote offices. The LinkSwitch 500 is based on an application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC) design and supports SNMP for network management.

Chipcom's 16-port Ethernet switch, the ONsemble Workgroup Switch, overcomes bandwidth limitations by segmenting workgroups into several smaller LANs, providing dedicated 10 Mb/s links to the desktop.

Hughes LAN Systems upgraded its Workgroup Ethernet switch with additional management capabilities and more connectivity options. Model 1700 provides 16 10Base-T ports, four of which can be configured to support 100Base-T. An optional 16-port module can double the number of switched Ethernet ports. Groups of ports within the switch can be used to create virtual LANs.

Meanwhile, back in the groupware arena, Lotus has some new competitors. HyperDesk Corp. of Westboro, Mass., recently unveiled a low-end tool called GroupWorks that lets groups of two to 15 individuals collaborate on a project-by-project basis, while Digital Equipment introduced a new version of LinkWorks for creating collaborative, workfow and document management applications.

Groupworks is a Windows-based, peer-to-peer file-sharing system that lets users create folders in which they can store documents and files related to a particular project with links to a calendar. Once a project is created, team members can access the folders. assign work to each other electronically, arrange meetings, share documents and start discussion databases related to the project.

LinkWorks is a groupware framework for linking existing desktop applications with network services to create enterprise groupware solutions. It includes an expanded object-oriented architecture based on the Common Object Model framework being built by Digital and Microsoft.

Another groupware supplier, Soft Arc, of Markham, Ontario, has succeeded in penetrating one of Lotus Notes' key markets, the large consulting firms. Andersen Consulting, Coopers & Lybrand and Price Waterhouse are three of the biggest Notes users in the country.

Peat Marwick, however, chose Soft Arc's Firstclass groupware system for its Knowledge Manager "knowledge base," which gives consultants access to the firm's encyclopedic store of client experiences, proposals, methodologies, best practices, vendor and product information. Booz Allen & Hamilton also chose Firstclass as "a low-cost groupware solution that requires little or no training."

Firstclass runs on a Macintosh server and supports Mac, Windows, DOS, OS/2 and Unix clients. It uses a file-based structure and combines electronic messaging, bulletin boards and database access with forms processing and public network connectivity.

Groupware may be a natural for consulting firms, whose products center around information, experience and competence. But other types of organizations have also realized impressive returns on their groupware investments.

In a survey of Notes users, for instance, International Data Corp. of Framingham, Mass., found that 90% of the companies surveyed reported returns of 40% or more, with half showing returns of greater than 100%, and one quarter returns of more than 200%.

Data communications consultant Morris Edwards serves as program chairman of the Network Computing Solutions Conference and Expo (NetCom), to be held Aug. 30-31 in Charlotte, N.C., and Oct. 18-19 in Nashville, Tenn.
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Author:Edwards, Morris
Publication:Communications News
Date:Jul 1, 1995
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