16 de Enero de 2019
Portal Educativo de las Américas
 Imprima esta Página  Envie esta Página por Correo  Califique esta Página  Agregar a mis Contenidos  Página Principal 
¿Nuevo Usuario? - ¿Olvidó su Clave? - Usuario Registrado:     


Número: 71
Año: 2002
Autor: Johann Van Reenen, Editor
Título: Digital Libraries and Virtual Workplaces. Important Initiatives for Latin America in the Information Age

The new, nonlinear world of work

     The traditional functions of libraries have been changing during the last decade or more and are likely to change even more dramatically and rapidly in future. These changes are driven by new technologies and new demands placed on libraries by academic administrators, faculty, researchers, students, and the larger economy. Diana Marcum, president of the Council on Library and Information Resources in Washington, DC, expects that: “On a practical level, a host of changes are in the offing – in the relationships between an institution’s library and its information technology division; in the way collections are acquired, organized, and delivered; in the design of library buildings and facilities, in the participation by libraries in consortia; in financial models for libraries; and in the nature of the library’s leadership needs.” (Marcum 2000). To this we can add the overarching socio-economic driving forces which are impacting the way we live and work in an information-based and globally connected society.
     The shift from an industrial to information age has altered the nature of the workplace, the worker, and the work. Workers in the Industrial Era were usually located in urban factories doing repetitive and routine work, often on an assembly line. Productive workers were seen as those who were reliable and passive and good at manual work.
     Whereas workers in the Information Era, can work anywhere with electronic connectivity and can work flexible time schedules. They, are required to be innovative, learn quickly and continuously, work collaboratively, and be comfortable with experimentation and risk taking. They require less supervision and more coaching and vision from their leadership.
     Information Era leaders and managers therefore have to lead and manage very differently from those of just a decade ago. This chapter will explore these changes in context of library and information workers and the development of “digital libraries” and collections of digital content across the academic and research landscapes. The immense impact of these changes on academic and research institutions and the economy-atlarge will be illustrated.

Characteristics of the 21st century
  • Pervasiveness and Growth of Technology
  • Globalization
  • Competition
  • Disequilibrium and Unprecedented Change
  • Speed
  • Complexity and Paradox
Organizations who want to succeed in the 21st century must adjust to new leadership and management realities brought about by six primary characteristics of the new century (Tetenbaum 1998):

1. Technology: The infomedia industries (computers, communications, and consumer electronics) are capitalized at $3 trillion. The new technologies increase efficiency, productivity, speed of production, and consumer power. This creates an attractor condition (Friedman 1998) that leads still more people to adopt technology and IT is becoming increasingly more affordable.
2. Globalization: Increasingly large numbers of people all over the world are interconnected in the flow of information, money, or goods; thus interdependence is growing.
3. Competition: Globalization and technology have led businesses to compete fiercely for a worldwide market share. Small companies can out-compete large, established companies based on flexibility and technological innovation.
4. Change: 21st century changes are discontinuous and happening at a geometric rate. Organizations must be sufficiently agile to be instantly reconfigurable to meet new demands. The disequilibrium created is unprecedented in our history and the novelty of change is increasing. The environmental changes occurring are so different from earlier conditions that organizations are disconnected from experiences that informed past decisions and it becomes less and less feasible to learn
from past experience and tradition.
5. Speed: The incredible increase in technological speed is matched in business by fast paced product life cycles (measured in months not years) and in people’s lives (most of us feel we are running as fast as we can merely to stay in place).
6. Complexity and Paradox: Paradoxes will be ubiquitous in the new millennium and will present a significant challenge to managers. The above factors in combination contribute to the complex and unpredictable nature of our current existence.

     The above characteristics can be debilitating if not confronted with new attitudes and skills that allow us to approach them in an opportunistic light. Halal (1999) provides such an optimistic vision of a coming era of prosperity and growth made possible by corporations that foster learning at every level and promote enlightened cooperation. He proclaims three fundamental principles that organizations must adopt to survive and grow:

1. Entrepreneurial freedom — not centralized planning — is needed to compete successfully in complex global markets.
2. Cooperative exchanges of information, not closely guarded power, make a company stronger and more efficient.
3. Knowledge and spirit - not material assets alone - make progress possible.

     He thus suggests three major goals for organizations: creating an internal enterprise system, forming a network of cooperative alliances,
and leveraging knowledge. The latter implies enhanced roles for information professionals.

Emerging trends that will affect libraries and the information industry

     Technological development often seems to force chaotic change on human culture. Some respond by ignoring it; others try to purposefully block it, and must live with the consequences. A society which ignores technology places its people at a disadvantage and, ultimately, at great economic risk. Important socio-technological ideas are currently percolating, some will emerge as viable long term trends which will reshape economics and academics. In the areas of library and information science, these are:

     E-commerce, using the Internet to stimulate and manage innovation, the rapidly growing workforce who freelances on the Internet (so-called E-lancers), the development of E-Ink and E-books; telecommuting and virtual work, management models based on systems thinking, the development of new ways to measure and of new assets, and the transformation of management and leadership. Although some of these will affect all industrial and social sectors, their effect will be felt most by knowledge workers and information-based endeavors.

- E-commerce

     Using the Internet for advertising, buying, selling and, in some cases, delivering goods and services is currently the most significant economic trend. New industries are emerging and old ones are getting a new lease of life. E-commerce is based on digital inventories (“libraries”) of people, products and services. Indications are that the widespread adoption of e-commerce will result in more efficient ways of doing business and that benefits will exceed the initial costs. The efficiencies brought about by e–commerce are expected to result in changed employment opportunities and faster innovation driven by customer expectations. This is explored in greater detail in Chapter 2.

- Using the Internet to stimulate and manage innovation

     Increasing numbers of companies are using the Internet to stimulate and manage innovation by putting the best new ideas into the hands of the people who can turn them into products more quickly than their traditional counterparts. In management circles, it’s called “knowledge markets.” (Stepanek, 1999). The notion is that large companies can harness the Web with small entrepreneurial teams to drive innovation at a rate they’ve never before experienced. This is a way to bring the startup mentality inside large existing companies.
     The majority of library services are becoming Internet-based and many successful models for serving customers at-a-distance have been pioneered by libraries as will be seen in other chapters.

- E-lance economy

     Freelancers on the Internet who work for more than one company at a time and contract for specific long or short-term projects are creating an “e-lance economy”. We see it in the emergence of virtual companies, in the rise of outsourcing and telecommuting, and in the proliferation of freelance and temporary workers. Even within large organizations, we see it in the increasing importance of ad-hoc project teams referred to above and in the rise of “intrapreneurs”. Managing such a massive and unpredictable explosion of capacity and creativity would have been beyond the skills of even the most astute and capable executives. The Internet had to be selfmanaged. Malone & Laubacher (1998) speculate that
The Internet is the greatest model of a network organization that has yet emerged, and it reveals a startling truth: in an e-lance economy, the role of the traditional business manager changes dramatically and sometimes disappears completely.
This has lead them to wonder if big companies will become obsolete, replaced by smaller, more flexible companies.

- E-ink and e-books

     Electronic publishing, already a growing force in scholarly communications, will benefit from recent developments in developing E-ink. Electronic
ink technologies aim to develop high-resolution displays for personal electronics and laptop computers, and eventually electronic books and digital wireless newspapers. E-ink provides significant advantages over traditional flat-panel technologies, such as flexibility, ultra-thinness, and larger sizes. Information provided in this way can be updated remotely and offer a contrast equivalent to printed media.
     Electronic book collections are already commercially available, such as NetLibrary ™, but are still based on “traditional” digitization, storage and access methods.
     Both these technologies will have significant impact on the physical space that printed collections require and on the portability of personal reading.

- Telecomuting and virtual work

     As the trends discussed above develop and mature and as information technology becomes more pervasive, the structure of the traditional work environment is changing. A number of alternatives are emerging where work is performed at remote locations. Existing work practices and managerial strategies are often not appropriate in this environment. “Telecommuting” refers to employees who work in their homes rather than in offices provided by the organization. (Fritz, et. al. 1998). Telecommuting provides an attractive work alternative for many companies as it can lead to reduced costs, enable access to workers with key skills regardless of their location, and provide employees with the flexibility to meet changing life-style demands. Electronic communication with colleagues and management plays an integral role in the efficient performance of organizational work. The virtual worker and “telework” will be discussed in greater detail in the next section because of the far-reaching impact this may have on the manpower and employment issues facing developing as well as the developed countries.

- Systems thinking
“The traditional system of management, based on the purpose of maximizing the shareholders’ return, is the most well-designed system imaginable to produce consistently mediocre results.”
(Senge 1990)
     What then must organizations do to manage successful change and integration into the information economy? “Systems thinking” is a powerful way to see the patterns of interdependency that cut across boundaries and drive change and management systems globally. In organizations, the pressure for showing short-term results and fixing symptoms predisposes us to ignore the underlying causes. So all the problems just keep coming back. Senge (1990) shows that thinking systematically, one soon realizes that many of the most important leaders in any organization are scattered all over the place. They are team leaders, business unit heads, engineering group leaders, and local line leaders. Executives are important for initiating change, but so are any workers who network internally and who
stimulate new ways of working in loose communities within the organiza- tion. Systems thinking refer to the ability to see beyond the surface details and to realize that what currently may make sense to everybody, may soon land the organization in more trouble. Traditionally, we use the term “intuition” to cover what Senge (1990) calls “systems thinking.” Much of this is primarily done intuitively while our formal education process tends to focus on analytic thinking, not on systems thinking. We will explore this in greater detail later.

- New ways to measure

     Nature does not measure. Dr.W. Edwards Deming, a renowned statistician, said that 97 percent of what matters can not be measured. Unfortunately,
management often seems to focus 97 percent of their attention on measurable outcomes, which means that they are spending most of their time on things that don’t matter.
     Companies like VISA International, Shell Oil, Toyota, Scania and Interface have found that the key to success is not obsessively measuring costs and profits but in nurturing the passion, imagination, creativity, persistence, patience, caring and desire of workers to contribute. These organizations are managing performance in a way that is more consistent with how nature works. (Senge 1999 a, b)
     The subjectivity and inadequacy of measures become clear when frontline supervisors explain what makes a work group successful and comprises a great team. They usually mention the same things- energy, vision, imagination, and excitement - intangible assets which are difficult to measure. Yet, managers often attempt to drive change by what can be measured. Senge (1999 a, b) points out that precise measurements do not exist in nature, but patterns do. Much of our perceptual apparatus is designed to give us the ability to perceive ratios greater than and less than rather than abstract numbers. Ratios make up the essence of all pattern
information. The ability to recognize increasingly complex patterns is becoming crucial for survival and success in the electronic environment.

- Learning from Chaos and Complexity

     The incorporation of ideas derived from Chaos and Complexity theories into management thinking is a significant new trend. Such theories enable us to understand why the power of a new technology and electronic networks can unexpectedly and fundamentally change the way we work. The success of the Linux version of the UNIX operating system are seen by some organizational leaders as a accident of hackers in cyberspace but they miss the lessons learned. Malone & Laubacher (1998) shows how it models a new type of community composed of a temporary, self-managed gathering of diverse individuals engaged in a common task. In fact, this may be a new kind of business organization that could form the basis for a new kind of economy. The fundamental unit of such an economy is not the corporation but the individual. Tasks are not assigned and controlled through a stable chain of management but rather are carried out autonomously by independent contractors. These electronically connected “freelancers” (Malone & Laubacher 1998) join together into fluid and temporary networks to produce and sell goods and services.

- The new assets

     It becomes clear from the above that systems thinking highlight the intangible qualities that make an organization excellent. Intangible assets dominate the information economy and communication is a major building block. Five important intangible assets are employees, our stakeholders, customers, community/public opinion, and leadership. In the new economy information, communication and relationships are a company’s most important assets. Respected former Citibank CEO Walter Wriston phrased it thusly: “We have long said that information is power now it is also wealth” (Johnsson 1998). The switch from products to services and the significance of brain-ware over hardware add to the growing irrelevance of traditional balance sheets. Many of the new assets - employee commitment, customer satisfaction and retention, investor loyalty, respect among opinion builders, confidence in the leadership - are build on mutual respect, relationships, and constant communication of values, company information, and ideas. Communication is key!

- The transformation of management and leadership

Chaos often breeds life, When order breeds havoc.
—Henry Brooks Adams

     All the above are leading to a transformation of how we lead and manage. We see this already in the development of the Internet, which works because everyone involved with it willingly conform to certain technical specifications but to few rules. No one needs to ask for permission to become a network provider or a service provider or a user; one just obeys the communication protocols that govern the Internet. Malone & Laubacher (1998) believes that standards are the glue that holds the Internet together, and standards will be the glue that binds temporary companies together and helps them operate efficiently. They see large companies that remain in the future playing an important role in establishing rules, standards, and cultures for network organizations operating partly within and partly outside their own boundaries. The key role for many individualswhether they call themselves managers or not-will be to play their parts in shaping a network that neither they nor anyone else controls. Most of the necessary building blocks such as high bandwidth networks, data interchange standards, group-ware, electronic currency and venture capital are in place. Most organizations and their leaders cannot conceive of a completely new economy where much of what they know about doing business no longer applies. Imagination is lagging behind technology and many are unaware of the influence of the two groundbreaking theories
discussed below derived from physics. These may provide a greater understanding of the need for new information and management structures.

— Chaos theory

     Although Edward Lorenz described “chaos theory” at MIT in the 1960s, only in recent years has it emerged as a model for explaining the chaotic business and work environments. The chaos model introduces the idea that chance, changing conditions and creativity can enter a complex system at any point and alter its course. Therefore, in addition to anticipating and responding to change, businesses have another, more powerful option: They can influence change as it is emerging (Sanders 1998).
While chaos theory helps businesses understand how markets and the work place change, we must look to “complexity theory” to manage people and information successfully in an uncertain and volatile environment.

— Complexity theory

     The science of complexity studies the fundamental properties of nonlinear feedback networks, particularly those complex networks that are adaptive. Complex adaptive systems consist of a number of components interacting with each other according to sets of rules that require them to examine and respond to each other’s behavior so as to improve their behavior and thus the behavior of the system to which they belong (Stacey, 1996 a, b). Since these continuously learning systems operate in environments that consist mainly of other learning systems, they form a coevolving supra-system that is self-organizing.

- Chaos as a self-organizing entity

     Most readers are familiar with the phenomenal success of Silicon Valley, but how was it “created or managed”? Such geographical economic development events provide real life examples of this paradox of rules and randomness. The existence of Silicon Valley can be attributed largely to the intersection of distinguished research centers at Stanford and the University of California at Berkeley and the availability of skilled labor. These are the “rules”. While Silicon Valley is unique, other high-tech economic areas have emerged in Austin, Texas, the Triangle Research Center of North Carolina, and the Boston area’s Route 128. Their emergence shares a commonality with Silicon Valley in that they, too, arose in areas providing excellent educational institutions and skilled labor. Thus, while these centers differ from one another, clear patterns can be detected: The availability of advanced technology, which attracts electronics manufacturers who, in turn, attracts component suppliers and support companies. The “rules” or common features in these patterns of geographical economic development would seem to suggest that they can be deliberately created, yet when governments attempt to artificially create these geographic concentrations, they often fail (Eisenhardt & Brown 1998). This illustrates the “randomness” of chaotic systems. Chaos is self-organizing and no individual or organization was in charge of creating a high-tech
industry in Silicon Valley, it “emerged” based on some natural rules and capitalizing on randomness. It is a prime example of how spontaneous self-organizing systems produce extraordinary outcomes out of chaos.
     The Internet and its global marketplaces represent yet another type of it’s self-organizing system. No one is really in charge of the Internet, which is still in the process of evolving. Nor is any particular country or organization in charge of global markets, yet considerable coherence emerges from millions of independent, but connected, decisions. The success of both these developments is undeniable. The implications of insights derived from these theories for managers and leaders will be discussed in a later section.

     MAJOR POINT: Leaders need to understand the concepts and management philosophies that drive innovation and success in the information era. It is critical to allow less control and more creativity and risk taking in everyday business.

The Future of Information and Knowledge Management
“All aspects of work and business—all products, all activities, all methods — have an information structure at their core that has long been hidden, just like the genetic codes of plants.”
(Maruca 1999)
     Successful organizations are beginning to understand and organize internal (company) and external information and manipulate its structure for economic advantage. According to Maruca (1999), traditional companies share characteristics with traditional farmers. Farmers followed the same agricultural practices for centuries by applying improved methods of cultivation incrementally through continual refinement of these methods. This served them well. The advent of genetic engineering, however, changed all that. Genetic engineers changed the nature of corn, soybeans, orange trees, and other crops. They increased yields by 300%, as well as resistance to disease. Eventually they found ways to improve other aspects such as taste and color. They did this at the genetic level by manipulating the information within seeds. Farmers can ignore the genetic engineers and go on using all the old, established methods, but they would find it more and more difficult to compete in a marketplace where others are using these advances. The benefits of genetic engineering are too great and too revolutionary. The greatest value in business will ultimately reside in the information within business methods rather than their outputs. As Maruca (1999) pointed out “There is, after all, more value in manipulating the information structure of the gene than there is in being a farmer. There is more value in being a user of electricity than in being a producer of electricity. There is more value in Microsoft’s intellectual property than in its products. Any business that thinks it is somehow insulated from the information revolution isn’t likely to succeed in tomorrow’s economy.”

- Knowledge management

     Managing your organization’s information to improve organizational learning and success is knowledge management. We generally focus on the qualities of information which are relatively easy to manage, such as its capacity to be stored, processed, and transferred in vast quantities. Information is treated as an entity compatible with established organizational systems and channels of communication. However, information by itself has little value, much like an isolated fact; it is only when information interacts with other information that it acquires significance and value. Organizations understand this and generally try to have formalized ways of transforming information into useful knowledge. However, informal networks, often personal rather than institutional in nature, have proved most effective (Maas 1998). Formal systems favor codified information, thus inhibiting innovation. Informal networks, on the other hand, may produce surprising or troubling information; the very kind needed to stimulate genuine change and innovation.
     Maas (1998) cautions against institutionalizing informal information networks, which would deprive them of their power. He says that we may have to accept that an organization can do little to encourage informal information flow, but an organization can and should avoid discouraging this flow. The managerial qualities of experience and judgment, not more systems, his study suggests, are what enable organizations to make effective use of information gathered serendipitously.

— Knowledge management strategies

     The increasing importance of intellectual assets have compelled executives to examine the knowledge underlying their businesses and how it is used. Some companies automate knowledge management; others rely on their people to share knowledge through more traditional means.
     Organizational learning (Agres, et.al. 1998; Senge 1990) has become an important concept in management. Improvement of learning processes is viewed as one of the major determinants of organizational effectiveness (Cherniss & Adler 2000 ). Maas (1998) defines organizational learning as the process by which one unit acquires knowledge from another unit in the same organization. Individual level learning occurs when solutions from one unit are matched to problems of an individual from another unit (problem-solution exchange). Organizational learning occurs when:

1. the problem-solution exchanges and consequences are communicated and known by other organizational members (broadcasting),
2. there is some form of organizational memory that stores problemsolution exchanges and consequences (memory), and
3. there is a mechanism for organizations to share their interpretations about the problem-solution exchanges and to update the organizational
memory about their experiences (updating).

     Organizational learning increases as more workers have an understanding of and accessibility to an organizational memory and as more people can potentially update the organizational memory.
     Companies approach knowledge management in different ways, depending on the nature of their business and their technological capabilities.
Below are two examples of knowledge management strategies.
     Codification of KM: In some companies knowledge is carefully codified and stored in databases where it can be accessed and used easily by anyone in the company. Such reuse saves work and reduces communications costs.
     Personalization model of KM: Another strategy is to tie knowledge closely to the person who developed it and to share it mainly through direct person-to-person contacts. The main role of information technology at such companies is to help people communicate knowledge, not to store it.
     Hansen, et.al. (1999) advises that an organization’s choice of strategy should not be arbitrary, but depend on the way the organization serves its clients, the economics of its business, and the people it hires. “Different strategies requires different drivers and knowledge managers must decide whether the “economic of reuse” or an “expert economics” applies in their organization.” Where the efficient reuse of codified knowledge is essential because the organization deals with similar problems over and over, both customers and workers benefit from codified knowledge management. Organizations that offer customers advice that is rich in tacit knowledge will require a personalization model. The process of sharing complex and intuitive knowledge is time consuming, expensive, and slow. It can’t truly be systematized, so it can’t be made efficient, however, information technology empowers both of these approaches.
     Strong leadership is needed to clarify an organization’s knowledge management needs and to institute the incentives that will encourage workers to participate in the knowledge sharing process. The two knowledge management strategies discussed above call for different incentive systems. In the codification model, managers need to develop a system that encourages people to write down what they know and to get such documents into the electronic repository. Thus the level and quality of employees’ contributions to the document database should be part of their annual performance reviews. The personalization method requires incentives that reward people for sharing knowledge directly with other people.
     Investments in information technology also differ depending on the chosen knowledge management system. For example, significant investments in IT support is critical for the codification model but less important for the personalization model. (Hansen, et.al. 1999)

     MAJOR POINT: Organizations should understand what type of knowledge management system best suit their needs and the technology and other resources required to created such a system.

- The virtual worker and Telework

     Telework is driven by computers, email, voicemail and the Intemet and marks the transition from working in the industrial age to working in the information age. The potential strategic and competitive advantages of the mobility and flexibility provided by virtual work environments are beginning to impact all types of enterprises.
     Organizations and their workers see many benefits in virtual work and such as lower real estate costs, higher productivity, increased flexibility and others discussed below. Davenport & Pearlson (1998) identify five common arrangements:
  • “telecommuting” refers to situations in which workers with fixed offices occasionally work at home
  • “hotel”-based workers come into the office frequently, reserving a cubicle where they can use the telephone and link their laptop computers
    to the network
  • the “tethered worker” has some mobility but reports to the office on a regular basis
  • “home” workers work entirely from a room in their homes
  • “fully mobile” workers are on the road or at customer sites during the workday.
     More and more all work places are managing alternative work arrangements usually mixing virtual and non-virtual offices and activities.
The number of telecommuters in the US rose to 15.7 million in 1998, and there were as many as 18 million telecommuters in 1999 (Alexander 1999). Research such as that of Hill, et.al. (1998) indicates the following benefits:
  • Improved quality of work life, morale, and less stress
  • Better balance of work and family, with less commuting pressure. Research in this area is contradictory as will be seen below
  • Enhanced job performance and productivity. Studies on the influence of the virtual office on productivity note increased work effectiveness and greater productivity in the “anytime-anyplace” office. Conventional wisdom is that telecommuters may give back about half of their commute time to the company in the form of longer work hours (Nilles 1997)
  • Increased ability to recruit from larger pool of talent as well as ability to retain workers
  • Environmental conservation due do fewer people commuting
  • Some organizational cost efficiencies (Tapsell 1999) and potential saving of office space
  • Greater flexibility in the location and timing of work.
     Organizations who are moving towards telework may loose some of the benefits of traditional office arrangements such as a shared understanding
of the corporate culture; a sense of loyalty; informal communication; access to people, information, and materials; and managerial control.
Good communication has traditionally been dependent on physical proximity as employees working in conventional offices have attended meetings.
Workers develop alliances, think through problems, and learn from each other through communication and conversation with coworkers as a way of getting work done. In addition, individuals must communicate with colleagues to find out about and adjust to shifting organizational priorities and coordinate the performance of interdependent tasks. Other negatives may include a loss of teamwork and some scholars say that the virtual office may blur the boundaries between work and home life (Jones 1997). Virtual work may also add new levels of complexity as employees attempt to deal with flexibility, personal and family life and new technology and behaviors. In the latter case they may have to adjust to isolation and will have to learn to compensate for social breaks by maintaining contact
via phone, email, or visiting the office.
     As we have seen, measuring output is another challenge as close supervision is not an option, nor a good practice. Managing from a distance requires objective standards of measurement to assess progress, give feedback and set timetables as well as continuous training.

MAIN POINT: Whatever the advantages and challenges of virtual work and workers, this trend is here to stay and will impact leadership and the management of information workers as will be discussed later.

- Security

     Security issues will permeate the workplace of the future even more than it currently does. Data storage and computer security will be discussed
in other chapters by Jordan, Abat Mota, and Fox.
     Organizational information is an important asset and creator of wealth. Securing access to such information to different levels of users and customers will become increasingly important. For instance, what controls will apply to virtual workers and how will organizational knowledge that goes offsite, be guaranteed? Tapsell (1999) suggested the following list of concerns:
  • The extent to which information is known outside your organization
  • The extent to which information is known to organizational personnel
  • The value of the information to the organization and its competitor
  • The amount of effort or money spent to develop the information
  • The ease or difficulty with which the information can be accurately duplicated by others
  • The potential consequences of its disclosure outside of the organization.
MAIN POINT: The security of competitive information and software systems must be balanced with selected openness to allow cooperative exchanges of information with another organizations (even the competition) when both can benefit.

- Group support systems and collaborative technologies

     Telecommuting and any form of electronic work require the correct tools. For the types of workers we discussed above that means having an armory of reliable, portable tools which facilitate communication, organization, and performance. Such technology, however, is not only essential for telecommuters, but is also used by those working in the conventional office. In addition, technical support must be available for both groups.
     An array of new information technologies are available: the World WideWeb; electronic mail and other Internet services; desktop video conferencing and application sharing; workflow software; group-ware work environments with scheduling, discussion, contact, and other shared work tools; intelligent agents; nomadic computing and many other telecommunication support systems.
     Computer-supported cooperative work (CSCW) holds great promise for the new workplace and for society at large (Mills 1999). Organizations will need to improve the ability of teams to work together through networks of computers.
     People who work together in cross-functional or even crossorganizational teams must quickly establish a work plan, divide up tasks, and determine means of coordination and self-regulation. Often team members work asynchronously, but their work must still be coordinated effectively.
     Problem resolution, idea generation and innovation are enhanced when using group support systems. From a theoretical perspective, electronic communication can provide three components that may significantly change information exchange: parallelism, anonymity, and group memory. Parallelism is the ability for all members to exchange information simultaneously. This allows a group member to participate when he or she has an idea without having to wait their turn. For instance, if there were ten people in a verbal meeting that lasted sixty minutes, each person could speak for an average of six minutes given the norms of most meetings wherein people do not try to all speak at once. Given the same constraints for an electronic meeting, however, it would be possible for each person to participate for the full sixty minutes. Most studies have found that GSS groups using parallel brainstorming techniques produce more ideas, experience increased equality of participation, and report a higher level of satisfaction than groups that did not use GSS (Mills 1999).
     Group memory is the electronic capture of the group’s work. This is then available for review by the group and others in future to stimulate new ideas and add to the value of organizational intellectual capital. All the members of a group thus have a common, shared memory that can be used during or after the meeting. One of the underlying assumptions of the impact of group memory on group idea generation is that this feedback will have an impact on the ideas generated by an individual which is also an assumption of the electronic brainstorming technique (Satzinger et. al. 1999).
     An interesting example of group thinking in an open forum using Internet technology is the Texas A&M University Libraries virtual learning community site on Academic Libraries of the 21st century at http://library.tamu.edu/21stcentury. Here one can see upcoming live Chat Room topics with distinguished participants, participate in these and read the archives of previous live chat sessions.
     “We welcome you to this website, which has been designed to facilitate the exchange of ideas and to foster fruitful discussions among information professionals about the direction and growth of academic libraries in the 21st century. We invite your participation and welcome your comments as you use this resource.”

MAIN POINT: The use of group support systems (GSS) to enhance idea generation, asynchronous group work anywhere/any place, and to improve productivity is important for organizations functioning and competing in the electronic era and require significant investments in information technology and worker training.