City University Business School
It is widely claimed that groupware can bring substantial benefits to organisations but there has been relatively little
research done on the true organisational impact of groupware.
The City University Business School (CUBS) has carried out a study, sponsored by EDS, of how companies have implemented
groupware and the issues they have faced in the process. The study focused exclusively on one groupware product, Lotus Notes,
which was selected because of its widespread adoption.
The study found that many companies are getting tangible benefits from using groupware, but that resistance from the IT
organisation and a lack of knowledge of what groupware can do have limited the potential benefits to only a few areas in most
businesses. The findings also provide some insight into implementation strategies, technical issues, groupware
personalities and the impact of other groupware systems.
The objective of the study was to improve the knowledge of how groupware is used in organisations and therefore it was felt
that a broad-based group of participant companies was needed. Over twenty-five companies were selected according to industry,
size, structure and stage of Notes deployment.
Lotus Notes was chosen as the groupware platform as it is widely used and companies have had a long time to implement it and find
out what the problems are. As this study covered the impact of groupware on organisations it was important that the companies
had actual experience of using it over a reasonable period of time.
The research teams were made up of masters students and final year business studies and business computing undergraduates at
CUBS. The method involved in-depth interviews with a number of people in the organisation, ranging from the Notes champion to
the business sponsor, people in the IT department and end-users. The range of people interviewed was considered vital in improving the validity of the findings as previous studies
involving single interviews had proved incomplete or misleading. The information on the individual companies was declared
confidential, thus ensuring more realistic findings.
The research design was not intended to make a comparison between companies. The research teams were encouraged to focus
on the important issues facing their own target company so as to broaden the findings and build theory about groupware usage.
This preliminary study paper is therefore a collation of individual case studies, which nevertheless gives good insight
into how companies are actually applying groupware in their organisations.
According to Holtham1, groupware can be adapted to any organisational culture, from the hierarchy to the flat
organisation, and this was confirmed in this study. Companies with either organisational structure reported benefits from
using groupware. However, the key finding was that most problems arise when companies try to apply groupware in a way that
conflicts with the existing corporate culture.
It is widely believed that in order to maximise the benefits from groupware there needs to be a collaborative culture in
place beforehand, which may entail some change management activities. Some companies we studied felt that they already had
a sharing culture, and others had actively embarked on change management projects before implementing groupware. However,
culture change can be a lengthy process with no guarantee of success. Overall, companies were more successful when they
adapted their groupware applications to fit the way people worked currently, rather than making the changes in advance.
For example, in the corporate office of a UK retail bank Notes was implemented in order to support cultural change, to shift
the focus of the group from operational to strategic issues and to facilitate a 50% reduction in headcount. However, there were
problems with the first version of the Issue Management application in Notes. Staff did not like putting their data into
the system as they felt too visible. This was in spite of a lengthy change management project with external consultants.
Rather than continue with more change management activities, the Notes implementor decided to fit the application to the culture,
restricting access to certain parts of the database and making the system more secure. People became far more comfortable with
the application and started using it shortly after, and in due course this drove the demand for further Notes applications.
Culture was often cited as an important factor in the successful adoption of groupware, but in-depth interviews revealed that for
most companies this was a post-rationalisation of events. In fact the majority of applications had to be "tweaked" to make
them fit with the way people wanted to work, even when the application supported a re-engineered business process. Where
this was not done the applications remained unused and the expected business benefits were never realised.
One global manufacturer developed a strategic planning application consulting a number of business users during the
development process. When it was deployed few end-users liked it and the process continued with more traditional methods. The
Notes implementor was aware that the application was not being used and blamed the failure on the people rather than the
process. From the end-users' perspective all that was required was a minor change to the template but as this was not done they
simply stopped using the system.
Fitting an application to an existing culture does not mean that there should be no process improvement or business process
re-engineering (BPR). Our findings showed that users are more willing to adopt an application which fits their current way of
working. Yet as people become acclimatised to the application and the Notes environment, they quickly demand changes to their
application and actively look for ways of improving the underlying business process - in effect re-engineering from
The benefits of this approach can be far greater than the usual BPR method, more akin to "massive incremental change"2, as the
benefits are more likely and occur quicker. The reason for the success is that fact that people are an essential part of any
process and if they are not acclimatised to the change then they will not be ready to adapt. As Charles Handy suggested, it is
easier to boil a frog in cold water than hot water as it does not realise what is happening (though it ends up just as
Role of the IT Organisation
Clearly the IT organisation plays a pivotal role in groupware implementations, but more often than not it is the main barrier
to effective use of the system. Many IT managers were actively hostile, some tried to sabotage Notes and others stifled
innovative uses of groupware through indifference. At the other extreme some IT departments almost "smothered Notes with love",
not realising that they were thereby weakening groupware's position in the company.
In the IT department the position of the advocate for groupware, or Notes champion, had a significant impact on the chances of
success. If the Director is the visionary then it can be hard to communicate the vision and turn it into action, as people at an
operational level may prefer other development or messaging tools. Lower level advocates in the IT organisation can lack the
influence to force through Notes, although sometimes they overcome this be allying themselves closely with the business
One of the reasons why IT departments were often wary of Notes was the overlap between Notes functionality and internal
application development projects. In one financial services company there was a conflict between the traditional developers
who were working on bulletin boards and document libraries on the mainframe, and the Notes team who were developing the same
applications, with additional functionality, in a much shorter time span.
Another problem was the positioning of Notes both as a communications tool and as a development environment. It was
felt that the mail functionality of Notes was not robust enough for enterprise-wide communication and the majority of companies
continued to use their existing mail packages, such as cc:Mail and MS Mail. Also there were few companies who really exploited
the development functionality of Notes, and often the IT group was still promoting stand-alone relational database packages
even though these applications could be developed just as easily in Notes.
This problem was recognised in two medium-sized companies and their approach was to skew the application criteria in Notes'
favour by starting from the position that the application could be done in Notes and then forcing the business user or IT
developer to prove otherwise. This tactic seemed to be working well as it reduced the number of private databases in the
company and opened the data up to be shared.
There was still a battle for the "hearts and minds" of the IT department and it was not obvious whether the business would
reclaim IT from the IT professionals. This battle focused on the choice of a technical platform, rather than the technology's
ability to support the business. A key criteria missing from many IT departments was a sense of urgency to meet business
requirements. Some of the larger companies researched had been waiting for competitor groupware products to come out, but in
the end were forced to adopt Notes by the business as they needed groupware capabilities urgently.
A global pharmaceutical company was using an e-mail system from a different vendor and had been promised that a groupware
version would be available soon. After two years of waiting they realised that many operating companies had already implemented
Lotus Notes, and eventually the IT organisation was reluctantly forced to support Notes recommending that it be used to solve
tactical business problems.
The mainframe mentality was evident in some of the firms we studied. Notes was considered to be a "toy" as it lacked many of
the characteristics which mainframe developers took for granted. In companies who use mainframes to support their core business
there was even more resistance to using groupware applications. In one UK supermarket chain, a purchasing manager had to fight
to get IT support for his 40-person Notes application, even though that single application had been largely responsible for
annual cost savings of 5-10m. The reason for the battle was that the IT department thought their role was to provide
transaction-based systems for massive volumes of data and not workgroup applications.
We did find one company who introduced Notes as a direct replacement for the mainframe. This was due to an increasing
maintenance cost for the existing mainframe and a need to offer extended communication functionality to business users.
There was a feeling in many IT departments that Notes was IT's domain. This meant that there was a tendency to try and control
what was happening with Notes. Since this sometimes prevented Notes being used in the first place, some companies had
deliberately set up Notes outside the IT department, as they feared that the bureaucracy and "religious wars" of the IT
department who slow down or thwart the implementation.
Given the differences between the various organisations it is not surprising that there were many different strategies for
implementing Notes, and whilst some implementations were carefully planned in advance, the majority were more reactive to
user demand. It is to early to tell whether the strategies have been completely successful and indeed whether the same
techniques can be used elsewhere. However, there are some common issues which most companies faced in their Notes deployment.
A critical limiting factor was the availability of the technical infrastructure to support Notes. For some companies this meant a
substantial investment in new hardware which made Notes a more serious financial decision. The adoption of Notes was fairly
simple for companies who already had an infrastructure in place as it gave them an opportunity to leverage their existing
infrastructure investment at relatively little extra cost.
Existing e-mail packages complicated decisions as companies had often made significant investments in time and money to get
their current mail systems working properly. This problem was further compounded due to the difficulty in persuading senior IT
professionals that it was necessary to have Notes and a separate mail package coexisting in the same environment.
Management support was also a key issue in implementations. Typically Notes was introduced to a company via a business unit
or department. Senior management only really got involved either when the small-scale roll-out had grown significantly and was
beginning to impact other business groups, or that it became obvious that Notes needed to be deployed company-wide to support
intra-enterprise communication. In the latter case senior management support proved vital to the success of the
deployment, as they were able to push aside objections from the IT department, and give visible support to the position of
groupware in the company.
Support from the IT organisation also affected the roll-out of Notes and this has been covered in more depth in the previous
There were some interesting tactics used to deploy Notes in the different companies. In companies with an autonomous structure
it is often hard for the group IT organisation to impose any technical solution, their role being mainly to advise on the
This was the tactic problem faced by a UK recreation and leisure firm. The Group IT Director was interested in Notes but as the
business units had a great deal of autonomy from the centre it was difficult to persuade the units to adopt Notes as a
standard. Instead of forcing Notes through the organisation, Corporate IT decided to "drip feed" the operating units with
Notes. They gave each operating unit a single Notes licence and dial-in access to the corporate servers and then convinced the
Head Office staff to use Notes to disseminate centrally collated data, such as bulletin boards, competitive information and
policy documents. Gradually users in the different operating units were beginning to discover the information in Notes
causing growing demand for more Notes seats and dedicated servers.
As Notes is a communications medium it pulls people into the network once the benefits become evident. Think of Notes as a
telephone system. When the telephone was first introduced it was sold in pairs. Two people would have a particular business need
to communicate. Soon they would want other people in their group to get connected, and they too would get phones. After a while
others either need to have access to a phone or want to use a phone for their own particular requirements, and over time a
critical mass of phone users builds up. At this time it finally becomes clear that the communications medium, be it the
telephone or Lotus Notes, has to be deployed organisation-wide.
Some companies have taken the opportunity to re-evaluate their IT needs with the introduction of Notes. One company decided
that a full suite of desktop applications was not necessary for their business as most work involved simple letters of
spreadsheets, nearly all of which had to be shared with other people in the organisation. Their solution was to deploy Notes
as the workgroup environment and only let a few people have fully featured word processors or spreadsheets. This reinforced
the concept of collaboration, and also cuts down on costs.
One stage of Notes implementations which is not often talked about is the "crunch time". This is when a key decision has to
be made about which direction to take with the groupware product. Sometimes it occurs after the successful completion of
a major pilot. Sometimes it happens as Notes becomes a victim of its success with the infrastructure failing just as people begin
to seriously use Notes in their daily business. This phase can take a long time to reach but once it occurs senior management
have to be involved. In all the companies we study to havereached this point they all decided to continue with Lotus Notes
and deploy the software company-wide.
Application Development Methods
One of the major benefits of Lotus Notes is that it offers a flexible development environment. Although Notes is not a
traditional development tool and cannot be used for transaction-based applications, there is great scope to apply
Notes in both workgroup and business-critical applications.
Many IT developers commented on the fast development times that were possible using Notes. Often Notes was only applied after
the more traditional tools were rejected, usually due to business pressures. However, as the experience of a UK
automotive parts company shows, the benefits can be dramatic and ever-present. In this firm there were about to run a massive
training programme for its managers, and originally it was thought that they would have to use a specialist software to
support the event at a cost of over 30,000. When the Notes implementor heard this he proposed using the existing Notes
infrastructure and developed the same kind of application in Notes. The Notes solution was accepted and the resulting
applications not only fitted the business need but were flexible enough to adapt to changing requirements. A rough estimate of
the cost of the Notes applications came to just a few thousand pounds, a big difference from the original estimate, but this
was only possible due to the existing infrastructure.
There was a balance in most companies between central application development and end-user development, yet the
emphasis varied among the companies studied. Half of them preferred central development and actively prevented their
end-users from developing their own applications, while the other half encouraged end-user involvement, giving their users
more freedom to create their own applications.
One reason for this difference was the perception of control. Some IT developers showed a genuine fear of end-user development
and they had usually had some bad experiences with poorly designed databases. The criticism in these cases was that
end-user developed applications were not scaleable or designed to corporate data standards. Sometimes, though, the IT
department deliberately stopped Notes development to prevent the software from getting a hold in the organisation. This was
mainly due to people with a mainframe mindset or to fans of other software vendors.
In companies who allowed end-user development there was normally quality assurance procedures in place, and these had to be
carried out before any databases could be put onto a production server. This was occasionally seen as an extra layer of
bureaucracy designed to slow down the development process but, as many companies had experienced problems with poorly checked
applications, this step was considered essential.
One successful way of developing business applications was the use of floorwalkers. These are enthusiastic people, usually
graduates, who possess reasonable PC skills and have been trained on basic Notes development. Their role is to go to the
business units and proactively find workgroup applications and rapidly prototype and develop them, passing on complex
applications to the central development team. Although this technique was only used in financial firms it seems likely that
it would also work in other companies.
One finding which may surprise IT people was that relatively few end-users actually developed their own applications. Some user
groups, such as engineers and highly skilled technical people, were more willing to play with Notes, but the majority of people
had too much to do in their daily work and did not like to spend time developing systems. The main reason why users developed
their own applications was that they felt they received poor support from their IT group.
Business Benefits from Groupware
There were some perceived benefits from linking groupware to strategic objectives, but most companies had only realised
significant returns on investment through specific business applications. There were many different types of application
which brought benefits and some had already provided substantial competitive advantage.
It is possible to use groupware to support strategic objectives but more often than not Lotus Notes was an afterthought in
companies' business strategies. There were one or two exceptions to the rule though. The Notes champion at an insurance broker
brought in Notes as a way of introducing business process re-engineering "by the backdoor". Another company deliberately
implemented Notes to enable their learning organisation, by supporting knowledge sharing and facilitating more basic
processes related to learning, such as booking training courses and running the reference library.
Some of the benefits of business-specific applications were through reduced operating costs and lower administrative
overheads. In one legal firm, Notes enabled the company to reduce the number of secretaries from two per lawyer to one per
lawyer, reducing the size of the internal organisation without losing any organisational effectiveness. Notes also saved money
in IT projects. The insurance department of a large UK retailer urgently needed a new application but could not afford to pay
the 70,000 for a UNIX application. Notes was proposed and the application took just four man days to develop. As it could run
on the existing hardware and infrastructure the application saved more than 50,000 and offered more functionality and
flexibility than the original solution.
There were a number of cases where Notes had successfully been applied for competitive advantage. Often these applications
focused on improved customer service, faster time to market or leveraging employees' knowledge. The kind of application
depended on the industry and the business area where Notes was used. A few companies had even begun to use Notes for extended
enterprise communications to strengthen relationships with their customers and suppliers before they had fully implemented Notes
An interesting finding was that in some industries, notably the financial sector, the leading edge firms had applied Notes to
great effect in some areas of their business, but their competitors did not think that Notes offered the same potential
for them. One reason for this was the preoccupation with "core systems". This has meant that in some organisations the majority
of resources, both financial and physical, were focused on certain types of system, such as order processing or stock
inventory, while other areas of the business, like coporate finance or marketing, were neglected. Of course these companies
could still benefit from using groupware but a change in mindset would be required.
Notes Champions: Crucify or Deify!
In the early stages of deployment it is important to have a good Notes champion. The role of the champion is to persuade people
that groupware is an important technology for the company to acquire and that Notes, or whatever other groupware product,
fits the organisation's current and future need.
Champion can exist in many different places in an organisation. Some champions were business or team managers, others were
senior executives, and some came from the IT department. The level of the champion in the organisation was found to impact
the success of Notes though: more senior people were more influential than middle managers. However, there is a tendency
in companies to empower departments at lower levels and to grant people a greater degree of autonomy in budgets. This has meant
that in some companies there were thriving departmental Notes implementations despite resistance from the IT group.
Our research showed that the position of a Notes champion can be precarious. If the implementations works well (i.e. the business
application proved successful), the champion gained respect and sometimes was even promoted. On the other hand, where Notes was
perceived to be a failure the champion was almost ostracised from the rest of the organisation and gradually lost their
authority. In other research we have found that some champions have even lost their jobs due to the poor reception of Notes in
the organisation, although this was mainly for people in the IT department. Even when Notes was a resounding success there could
still be problems for the Notes champion, as they got branded a Notes "zealot" and correspondingly lost respect.
Gradually as Notes does become accepted people are taken on as Notes implementors to drive the deployment project, and later,
when Notes becomes more mature and stable in the organisation, it gets treated like any other IT product and supported in the
The study found evidence of organisational resistance to groupware in several companies. Opposition was strongest and at
its most destructive in IT departments, but there was a degree of resistance from business managers as well.
This is partly explained by a general fear of change, yet a more powerful reason is a lack of knowledge of what groupware is and
what it can do. This was overwhelmingly true for business managers, and as a result groupware got little management
support in many organisations leading to few business applications and a weak position for Notes as an IT development
The Impact of E-mail
E-mail can be considered as a subcategory of groupware. It provides basic connectivity between people and can be used to
run business processes and to cross organisational boundaries. However, e-mail offers limited functionality for those
workgroups who wish to take full advantage of the features available in modern groupware technology.
In many cases we found that e-mail and Notes was kept separate. Notes was often considered as the groupware platform, whereas
e-mail was the messaging or communications platform. Somehow a distinction had been made in these organisations to position
Notes apart from messaging.
This can be explained by the existing e-mail system used in companies. Few companies used Notes Mail, but the majority of
companies were very interested in the integration of Notes V4 with cc:Mail and Microsoft-based messaging products.
The real impact of e-mail on the use of groupware was on the user community. It was often very difficult to persuade users,
some of whom may have been using e-mail for a long time, to start using Lotus Notes. The main reason for this was that there
was very little perceived benefit in moving from e-mail to Notes. This was especially true when the existing e-mail package
supported rich text and file attachments.
When Notes was introduced to groups who had never used mail before the take-up of Notes was much faster than normal.
Groupware and mail go towards solving perhaps the most pressing problem faced by organisations, that of effective communication,
and once users realise that the tools can help them communicate they start to take an active interest in using them effectively.
Educating the Business
Many companies complained that there was a lack of knowledge amongst business users about what Notes could do for their
business. The results of this was that Notes did not have sufficient management support which limited its effectiveness in
supporting the business.
A number of companies tried to educate their users on the concepts of groupware, like computer-supported collaborative
work and information sharing through discussion databases, but overall these efforts were not very successful. The reason for
this was that groupware concepts were too abstract for business users who preferred to hear about how Notes could actually
support their business processes.
Notes worked best when there were business-specific applications in production, and this drew related business groups to consider
Notes as a tool. The difference was that it provided tangible examples of how Notes could be applied, something that managers
and users could experience for themselves, giving them a better understanding of the potential for Notes.
Education of business users was considered vital if companies' Notes implementation are to move beyond the initial deployment
End User Acceptance
Findings were mixed on how well Notes was accepted in organisations and it appears as though acceptance depended on
how Notes was sold to the organisation and the kind of applications developed.
Some firms actively tried to improve acceptance through training sessions, road shows, and presentations to business teams at
staff meetings. However, the effectiveness of these methods was not clear from the study findings.
The most effective way of building up user acceptance was through word-of-mouth and, where there are applications which
contain useful information, the take-up of Notes can be rapid. The key to generating enthusiasm for groupware was developing
applications which fit particular groups' business needs. Once a group had a good database which fulfilled their requirements
they usually talked about it with other teams, thus creating a user demand for groupware applications.
Acceptance by individual users also depended on their level in the organisation. Usually senior management felt less of a need
to access Notes directly, either getting their staff or their secretaries do access databases for them. In a professional
services firm, we found that some lawyers were reluctant to use the Notes databases as they were used to having assistants doing
their research for them. Some felt that it was a waste of their valuable time, others that it was a little demeaning to do the
work themselves. There is a further problem of age as older people often feel less comfortable with computers and the idea
of sharing information via a computer.
Finally, one problem facing Notes visionaries is that often usage of Notes is far less than they imagine. This can be due to
a breakdown in communication between the implementor and the business users, or between the implementor and the IT
department, or an inability to put into practice the grand designs for groupware in the organisation. The Notes champion in
a marine insurance company had a powerful vision of using groupware to change the organisation and foster more knowledge
and information sharing. At first it seemed as though this was already a reality as there were numerous business applications
in development. However, further interviews found that few people were actually using the system as none of the
applications had been deployed.
Finally, there was a perception amongst end-users that Notes was always "more work". Sometimes this was true as the application
added effort to an existing process, but more often than not the Notes application reduced work and yet people had not been
willing to learn about the applications and adapt their work routine.
The preliminary findings of the study have provided important insights into how groupware is being used in companies today. We
found substantive evidence of business benefits in most organisations, irrespective of size or industry, and it was
clear that there were tremendous opportunities for further return on investment by applying the technology to different
areas of the business. The major barriers came from the IT organisation and a general lack of education on the business
possibilities for Notes.
The key determinant of success was found to be the existence and use of business applications. In order to leverage the benefits
of Notes, applications had to fit the existing culture at least at the beginning, leaving room for massive incremental change
once people became adjusted to the new groupware environment.
I would like to thank EDS Belgium for their generous sponsorship, and Martin Rich and Clive Holtham at CUBS for their
support and effort in managing this project. I am especially grateful to the many companies who devoted a substantial amount
of their time to help us complete this work, and to all the final year students who carried out the actual research.
1 Holtham, C. (1992) Improving the Performance of Workgroups through Information Technology. CUBS Working Paper
2 Massive incremental improvement is loosely defined here as incremental change in business processes which rapidly leads to
a step improvement in performance. By automating an existing process users are more likely to start using the system, and as
they get used to the new environment they will normally make suggestions to enhanced first the system, and then the process