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V. Jagannathan
Y. V. Reddy
K. J. Cleetus
K. Srinivas
R. Karinthi
Concurrent Engineering Research Center
West Virginia University
Morgantown, West Virginia
12.4.1 Technology Overview
12.4.2 Related Research
12.2.1 Technology Overview
12.5.1 Issues in Product
12.3.1 Technology Overview
Effective collaboration among members of a team is the key to success, whether the team is a group
of engineers designing a new engine or a group of physicians planning a medical procedure. This is
now widely recognized, as can be seen by the numerous national initiatives emphasizing teamwork
such as Concurrent Engineering (CE) 1 , Total Quality Management (TQM), Integrated Product De-
velopment (IPD), Open System Architecture for CIM, and the Virtual Enterprise (VE).
Advances in database and networking technology, Internet technologies, groupware, multimedia,
and graphical user interfaces, as well as a steep drop in the cost of computing, make possible the
creation of a truly collaborative environment that transcends the barriers of distance, time, and het-
erogeneity of computer equipment. The ideal collaborative environment will enable any member of
a team to communicate spontaneously, and thereby collaborate, with any other member of the team.
This chapter provides an overview of technologies that facilitate geographically distributed teams to
work together. Four primary categories of infrastructural services are needed to support collaboration:
collocation services; coordination services; information-sharing and integration services; and corpo-
rate history management services. These are discussed in the remainder of the chapter.
Numerous people over the past eight years contributed to the development of the material presented
here. In particular, Ravi Raman, Dan Nichols, and Felix Londono have contributed to various versions
of the material.
This work was funded in part by DARPA grant number MDA972-91-J-1022 and NASA grant
number NAG 5-2129, awarded to the Concurrent Engineering Research Center at West Virginia
Mechanical Engineers' Handbook, 2nd ed., Edited by Myer Kutz.
ISBN 0-471-13007-9 © 1998 John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
815048307.003.png 815048307.004.png
Informal meetings and scheduled conferences are essential for teamwork, since they provide oppor-
tunities to inform others of ongoing work, consider cross-functional issues, and negotiate to harmo-
nize viewpoints across multiple perspectives. Studies have shown that knowledge workers spend a
large percentage (20-70%) of their time attending meetings and conferences. The parallelism implicit
in concurrent engineering requires that team members perform simultaneous work activities without
waiting for each subteam to report its results; the penalty for this method is a lack of consistency.
Therefore, the basic concurrent engineering process itself envisages periodic meetings to bring about
When people who are geographically dispersed are required to meet at the same location, however,
significant travel time, money, and energy are spent, leading to decreased productivity. Moreover, in
most meetings and conferences, the participants are not equipped with all the information they might
need to function effectively. In other words, they are dislocated from their ideal work environment.
Furthermore, some meetings are totally unstructured and free-form, which diminishes their effective-
ness. And many of these meetings have no effective mechanism for archiving all of the events that
occur for future use.
The solution to these problems is to use existing computer and communications technology to
overcome the distance barrier. The use of technology cannot only cut travel costs and time, it can
also increase productivity by enabling individuals to, in a manner of speaking, bring their offices to
their meetings.
This section describes the technologies available to support meetings involving distributed mem-
bers of a virtual team.
12.2.1 Technology Overview
Several computer-based services are now deployed to support group communication. These services
can be classified according to time and distance (Table 12.1).
Electronic Messaging
The simplest group communication service is electronic mail (e-mail), now widely used in industry,
government research labs, and universities, and available to the general public through long distance
carriers. Electronic mail is a useful facility for keeping members of a team in contact during a project.
Minor structuring of the messages can provide a convenient way of performing daily work: dissem-
inating task assignments, receiving notices of various kinds, and requesting information. A slight
enhancement of electronic mail is the electronic bulletin board, which can serve as a discussion forum
for recording and gathering views, ideas, analyses, and other information. An electronic bulletin board
not only enables the rapid development of ideas and consensus, but it also generates an automatic
corporate memory. A further enhancement indexes the discussion messages so that anyone who
wishes to benefit from earlier knowledge can rapidly retrieve the archives.
Recent products, such as Lotus Notes, carry this structuring much further in two respects: first,
in generating structured databases to serve the messages belonging to different categories (for ex-
ample, engineering change notices, task assignments, customer complaints, meeting announcements,
etc.) using organization-specific indexes; second, by making it possible for messages to contain
attached graphic files produced by any application so that the recipient can view them as long as the
application can be executed on his or her computer.
Computer-Supported Meetings
Computer-supported meetings come in several varieties.
Xerox Colab started with the idea of holding a problem-solving meeting around a "chalkboard"
with several participants. They constructed a meeting room in which each participant had a computer
in a connected network, and everyone could view and manipulate the contents of an electronic
chalkboard on the computer screen via a "what you see is what I see" (WYSIWIS) chalkboard. The
participants can also converse face to face. At the front of the room is a large electronic chalkboard—a
Table 12.1 Communication Services
Same Time
Computer support for face-to-face
Desktop multimedia conferencing
from the workplace, computer
supported meetings
Different Time
E-mail, computer supported
asynchronous meetings
E-mail, computer supported
asynchronous meetings
Same place
Different place
larger-scale replica of what is displayed on each screen—and a podium from which a speaker can
manipulate that chalkboard directly.
The chalkboard provides a shared memory, enabling meetings to be focused and allowing direct
and simultaneous participation. Later, Colab evolved in two directions.
The first direction involves a structured and recorded meeting. The meeting is organized into
distinct phases—brainstorming for ideas, organizing by categorizing and ordering the ideas, and
finally, evaluating the ideas and agreeing upon conclusions. The basic tool is a word processor with
an outlining capability and a list manager. Once again, the participants operate from their own
workstations. The team can determine whether the sessions are done synchronously with all the
participants simultaneously present, at different times, or as soon as possible. With this kind of
meeting facility, the entire group advances to the next stage only when the previous stage is complete.
This structured decision support capability is carried much further in some recent commercial
software, compressing the time taken to arrive at decisions, particularly in the synchronous mode of
operation, by a factor of 10! Group Systems V (from Ventana Corporation) is a Group Decision
Support System (GDSS) allowing synchronous or asynchronous meetings to take place with some
structured phases of decision-making; that is electronic brainstorming. Other options include Cate-
gorizer, Voting (seven kinds), Topic Commenter, Group Dictionary, Alternative Evaluation (multiple
criteria voting), Policy Formation (group writing to devise a short mission or policy), Idea Organi-
zation (powerful list-building and organization, e.g., nominal group technique), Group Outliner, Ques-
tionnaire (on-line, fill-in-the-blanks, survey tool), Stakeholder Identification, Group Writer (everybody
works on different sections), and Group Matrix (two-way analysis of agreement between values for
different criteria for different alternatives). VisionQuest (from Collaborative Tech Corp.) is much like
Group Systems V and is in regular use at an electronic meeting room for rent at a Marriott Hotel in
Washington, D.C.
The second direction Xerox Colab took involved the addition of an argumentation facility, the
Argnoter. With this facility, someone proposes an idea, someone else then raises an argument for or
against the idea, others ask questions regarding the proposal, and yet others raise issues that come
up in the consideration of the proposal. This sequence of argumentation is structured and made
commonly visible to all the participants, whether or not they are currently signed on to the discussion
or arrive later and wish to take part.
Many incarnations of Argnoter now exist. IBIS (Issue Based Information System) and gIBIS
(Graphical IBIS) are two examples. CM/1, a commercialization of gIBIS designed at the Micro-
electronics Computer Corporation (MCC), is a groupware system for qualitative decision-making
support, shared issue exploration, decision mapping by a group, and documentation of decision
rationale. The anticipated results include organizational learning, better decision-making, and greatly
enhanced productivity for collaborative work groups.
Desktop Conferencing
Another type of tool for virtual meetings is the desktop conferencing system. A desktop conferencing
system consists of hardware and software that enable real-time, full-motion video and real-time audio
conferencing. Some systems also enable application sharing and the archival of meeting minutes.
Desktop conferencing systems provide a significant advantage to professionals who need to fre-
quently consult and cooperate with team members at other sites. Users can conveniently and effec-
tively communicate in face-to-face meetings because they can see each other, notice each other's
facial expressions, hear each other's voices clearly, and use whiteboards and other media to draw
pictures, take notes, and point to items on the screen.
There are currently a number of desktop conferencing tools available commercially, including
Intel's ProShare and CU-SeeMe (Cornell University and White Pine Software). Research prototypes
include the Meeting on the Network (MONET) system at the Concurrent Engineering Research
Center, West Virginia University.
Application Sharing
Application-sharing technology makes the information displayed on one computer simultaneously
available on multiple computers. This is a very powerful technology fofcollaborative work and it
has innumerable applications. This technology has been used to develop group editing tools, whereby
a number of people can jointly work on developing a document. It can also allow people to present
their data, viewgraphs, spreadsheets, design documents, and other materials to other people, all from
their own workstations. It also addresses how multiple participants can interact with an application
program (such as a finite element modeler), make changes, and see the effects of the changes.
Example of application-sharing tools include the COMIX system (West Virginia University), XTV
(Old Dominion University) and Shared-X (Hewlett-Packard).
Conferencing and application-sharing technology are rapidly maturing and show great potential
in supporting collaboration over the network. Flexible support for latecomers to such technology-
assisted meetings still raises some hurdles. Some interesting solutions are suggested by Abdel-Wahab
of Old Dominion University. For instance, how can such a person be rapidly briefed on what has
transpired up to that point? There is also the issue of managing multiple applications simultaneously.
For instance, in a meeting that involves marketing, design, and customer support, marketing may
want to share a document and design the output from a CAD tool, and customer support may want
to open a spreadsheet or database with failure rate information. Finally, the most significant challenge
in deploying this technology is how to deal with the heterogeneity in hardware and software. Building
tools that work on different hardware platforms and can cooperate with the software that exists on
all of these platforms is still a difficult problem.
Audio Technology
Advances in the field of digital audio are opening new doors in improving productivity in our group
work environments. From one's desktop computer, it is now possible to participate in a conference
call, send and receive voice mail, annotate documents with voice clips, and give remote viewgraph
presentations. Advances in voice synthesis have resulted in more realistic synthetic speech. There are
some programs (e.g., at MIT's Media Lab) that can even provide the speech inflections associated
with laughter and other emotions. Advances in speech recognition will one day make possible the
conversion of voice annotations and speech to text. That day is not far off!
Some of the remaining challenges include managing audio quality over the network, delay and
jitter control, and satisfying the hard real-time constraints posed by the nature of audio data.
Video Technology
Rapid advances in video and compression hardware technologies are making it feasible to develop
and deploy multimedia applications. These include video conferencing over a computer network,
support for multimedia mail, and use of this technology for a variety of other collaborative work.
Transmission Technology
One method for transmitting data over networks efficiently to a large number of computers is mul-
ticasting. Like radio and television broadcasts, computers can tune to specific frequencies to intercept
messages destined for multiple host machines located worldwide. Ideally, only a single message is
needed to contact all host machines. For unreliable delivery, the sender can simply send the message
continuously, as in the case of audio and video data. For reliable delivery, the sender can request
positive acknowledgments from a specific number of recipients.
Multicasting is currently being used experimentally to send audio, video, and shared data over
wide area networks (WANs). The experiment, known as the Multicast Backbone (MBONE), has been
using multicasting successfully since 1993 via Level 2 IP (Internet protocol) packets. The bandwidth
required is at least Tl for a limited number of conferences. The same software and protocols, however,
should be usable given larger-capacity networks (i.e., T3). Indeed, many MBONE sites (Xerox,
Bellcore, Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory) are currently running on an experimental Gigabit network
known as Xunet. The IP protocols are also evolving and the future versions, such as IPv6, have
better support for multicasting.
Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) technology is also evolving rapidly and is inherently better
suited for the high-bandwidth and real-time needs of high-quality conferencing and video-on-demand
On the other end of the bandwidth spectrum are mobile and wireless links.
Traditionally, task coordination has been largely a human process. With the significant growth in the
employment of multidisciplinary tiger teams, however, computer support is critical for group decision-
making and negotiation, especially over a geographically dispersed network. Particular features of
task coordination systems include common visibility of activities and data, planning and scheduling
of activities, change notification, and constraint management across multiple perspectives.
Some systems, such as bulletin boards and electronic mail, provide an initial underpinning to
support group working, but are very limited and informal. Fundamentally, they only allow for the
exchange of messages, although they are being adapted to support brainstorming and group discus-
sions. However, they do not support structured decision group working.
The team structure must be expressible in computer structures which mirror the organization of
the project into a number of teams spanning many functional areas and ultimately many organizations.
This imposes a substantial requirement that a project-coordination intelligence be pervasive in the
network, so that wherever a person is located, that person can be deputed to belong to several teams
at once. The team's membership profiles, constraints, common workspace, and tasks thus become
visible, making it possible for a person to belong to any project, serve any role, and participate in
all the team interactions at once, without leaving the workstation.
Coordination theory and technology are topics of high interest in current and recent research
As part of the DARPA Initiative in Concurrent Engineering at the Concurrent Engineering Re-
search Center, a system known as the Project Coordination Board was developed to support coor-
dination of product development activities.
Coordination is being considered as part of the Computer-Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW)
research efforts. The National Science Foundation has launched the Coordination Theory and Col-
laboration Technology Initiative under the Computer and Information Science and Engineering Di-
rectorate (CISE).
The Center for Coordination Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is an interdis-
ciplinary team studying new ways to organize human activity and developing new technologies to
help people work together more effectively. In their view, coordination technology will provide ben-
efits to humanity equivalent to those provided by the economies of production and transportation
during the Industrial Revolution.
The technical approach of the Coordination Theory and Technology Project at MCC uses distrib-
uted systems technology to support the flexible automation necessary for coordinating people, tasks,
and resources involved in organizational activities.
12.3.1 Technology Overview
Particular features of task-coordination systems include common visibility of activities and data,
planning and scheduling of activities, change notification, and constraint management across multiple
Common Visibility and Change Notification
Concurrent work involving many functional areas must be coordinated via a common workspace in
which the actual work of product developers is made visible to assure structured group working.
Conceptually, the common workspace is equivalent to the meeting table around which product de-
velopers gather to discuss and reach consensus in traditional engineering environments.
The common workspace must provide constant visibility of a unified cross-functional product
model that provides directives for the information needed by product developers. Product developers
can view and access components of the product structure within each domain of specialization. The
common workspace, through nodes in the product structure, provides access to design information
required during the product development cycle. It is also through iteration with this product model
structure that product developers assert their design decisions onto the common workspace: a product
developer locates some information required for analysis, executes a tool, and obtains the results by
selecting appropriate nodes in the product structure. In principle, the common workspace provides
immediate access to the information required by product developers to do their work. It also allows
product developers to share the results of their work with their peer team members.
Product developers are concerned about how design decisions made by others influence their
work. The product-development effort is driven, in part, by the existence of customer requirements,
rules of design, policies, constitutive equations of engineering relating variables in different domains,
and so on. They help guide and shape the product-development process, but they also raise conflicts
and inconsistencies across perspectives. The common workspace must provide product developers
with visibility of conflicts and inconsistencies across perspectives that affect their work. This aspect
of visibility is supported by functionality that manages all types of dependencies, relationships, and
constraints that exist between components of the product model. Notification mechanisms are im-
planted to support visibility of design decisions as they affect work of the virtual team members.
This is key in assuring that everyone affected by a design decision participates in the final decision-
making process.
Visibility of work concerns visibility of the activities performed by the group. Management of
the relationship between the product and the process models must result in a dynamic approach to
process management in which tasks are planned, scheduled, and monitored over the computer net-
work. The common workspace is the place where the network of activities becomes visible. Product
developers use the common workspace to view and respond to "work units" assigned to them by a
project leader during the product development life cycle.
Finally, being the medium for interaction among product developers, the common workspace is
also the place where consensus about conflicting design decisions is reached by product developers.
This negotiation framework in the common workspace allows for the resolution of conflicts while
exploiting trade-off analysis information to assure that the best design alternative is selected from
the various design decisions posted into the common workspace. Functionality to support negotiation
to reach consensus has two requirements. First, the framework for negotiation must provide means
for human interaction across the computer network. This requirement was covered above in Section
12.2. Second, the framework for negotiation must exploit information available from the system to
facilitate trade-off and multiobjective analysis in the decision-making process.
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