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IBM Cambridge Research Center

  Project: Version Manager: Group-enabling 1-2-3

Researcher: Irene Greif
Contact: research@lotus.com

A Collaborative User Experience Project:

Prior to this project, the most successful groupware products have been those that facilitate general group communication, such as email systems and Lotus Notes. Based on a belief that the next wave of innovation in workgroup computing would be integrating desktop tools such as spreadsheets, word processing, and graphic design with the communications and data sharing capabilities of groupware systems, we set out to create a "workgroup worksheet."

The inspiration for this application is budget planning -- the quintessential group financial activity. At most large corporations, people across the organization are involved in discussions, negotiations, planning and approval cycles for corporate budgets for months out of every year. First, a financial officer builds a mode for the whole organization, then each department fills out its own section in the spreadsheet and sends it in. They can see only their section the spreadsheet. Typically this data , which was usually collected offline via floppy disk, was then rolled up by a macro. Much of the work in the budget process involved complex interactions among groups of people before they were ready to fill in their section. Spreadsheet sharing technology would not only make budgeting process more efficient, but also make possible new ways to work together, negotiate, and share decision-making.

As a result, we designed a spreadsheet that allowed users to save and name alternative versions of ranges in a spreadsheet that represent different cases. The user could also annotate the version, which would make it them more meaningful if he shared them with others. For example, the user could label various versions of a sales forecast, "Best Case" and "Worst Case." As a result of our design process, early prototyping, and user input. we shifted from creating the separate "workgroup spreadsheet" we originally envisioned to group-enabling 1-2-3 and incrementally added group support to using Notes technology.

Another significant outcome of our work on Version Manager was that we discovered customers found group-enabling features very attractive for individual use. Individuals working over time often need help remembering what they were up to -- this can be provided by the naming and annotating features that help the user understand a new contribution from a co-worker.

Related publications:
I. Greif, "Desktop Agents in Group-Enabled Products." Communications of the ACM 37,7 (July 1994), 100-105.