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Computing Applications Global Applications of Collaborative Technology

Global Applications of Collaborative Technology: Introduction

Collaborative technologies, sometimes referred to as "groupware applications" given their deployment to support groups of individuals engaging in collaborative tasks, have developed rapidly in the last few years. Much of this expansion has been fueled by the dramatic increases in Internet penetration in societies around the world, making it possible for globally distributed teams to work on projects. We see these technologies being applied in a variety of ways, ranging from organizational communication and decision making to distributed software inspections and development to virtual education initiatives. The systems themselves include an array of technologies that may include video- and audioconferencing, shared calendaring, (digital) document management systems, text-based group support systems, and many more.
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The geographical spread of the applications is no longer restricted to the developed economies of Western Europe and North America, even if this remains the zone where most such application occurs. We have witnessed the emergence of teams with members distributed around the world, and we expect to see more such teams in the future. Inevitably, these distributed teams not only cross time zones, but also cultures. Indeed, some of the most interesting and valuable lessons can be learned from these cross-cultural experiences. The opportunity to learn from people in different cultures is inestimable, as all too often these people bring their own insights, perspectives, and values to bear upon the task context. Technology applications are adapted in local contexts to fit local norms and needs, with new technological and organizational forms emerging.

In this special section, we present seven articles representing some of the most current wisdom on the global application of collaborative technologies. These 18 authors from six countries describe applications that involve a wide variety of cultural and political settings, several being multicountry studies. Dubé and Paré describe their experiences in the trenches of global virtual teamwork. They note that challenges come equally from technology and people, with critical issues involving cultural diversity, language differences, and varying levels of IT proficiency, in addition to the accessibility, reliability, and compatibility of available technology.

Newell, Pan, Galliers, and Huang focus on the specific challenges for organizations attempting to employ collaborative technologies across the firm and around the world in the context of global competition. They present two cases of organizations that failed to make effective use of collaborative technologies, examining why failure occurred and drawing lessons for practice. Kelly and Jones identify the social infrastructure of distributed collaborative technology as a partially successful experience deserving particular attention.

DeSanctis, Wright, and Jiang emphasize the value achievable through careful management of cultural diversity since such diversity is a strength to develop, not a barrier to overcome. In their study of a multisite global learning community, they note that asynchronous communication is preferable in contexts where cultural differences are extensive, people are not geographically proximate, and team members are mobile. Evaristo complements this study with a piece on what he terms "non-consensual negotiation." He describes a phenomenon that occurred in a European grant proposal write-up process where team members not only represented multiple cultures located in multiple settings, but were also continuously on the move: One member visited seven countries in Europe, North, and South America in a single week.

Massey, Montoya-Weiss, Hung, and Ramesh investigate cultural perceptions of task-technology fit, noting that people in different cultures do not adapt technologies in the same way. Rather than capitalizing on this diversity, they recommend that team norms be established prior to engagement to minimize subsequent problems. Zigurs and Qureshi wrap up the section by providing an overview of the themes presented here, special section, identifying paradoxes and prerogatives inherent in global virtual communication, and suggesting guidelines for reaping the benefits of virtual collaboration in the face of these paradoxes.

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