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CSUHAJ-VARJÚ, E. - TRAUNMÜLLER, R. (eds.): Telecooperation.

Proceedings of the XV. IFIP world computer congress. Vienna and Budapest, 1998.


Information is the lifeblood of modern society, its chief raw material and also its main product. So the world of business as well as the general public have much to gain from the increased use of information, from more sophisticated information systems, and from a creative and thorough redesign of existing information-handling processes. As the pace of change is growing in any field it is of paramount importance that the enabling potential of information technology is recognized to its full extent.

Telecooperation is an outstandig example for the power of enabling technologies. As well, it is the latest appearing manifestation of those guiding visions and paradigms that have governed application development. These visions and paradigms have come subsequently into the limelight of interest. Each of them opened new opportunities, but also maintained connection to earlier paradigms in order to incorporate existing capabilities as well. Some important paradigms are given in the following:
- Automation and Integration: Automating of decisions and integrating data into databases are examples of early guidelines of development. They governed the application development of the mainframe decade and have kept on to be significant.
- Document Management: This concept gained vigour from the fact that in office and administration documents are ubiquitous: recording policies, standards, and procedures; documenting contracts and agreements; presenting views of reality in reports and plans; creating images and impressions; providing mechanisms for communication; acting as vehicle for business processes; giving help for capturing and articulating concepts and ideas.
- Business Processes: Changing to a dynamic perspective means shifting the focus from documents to processes. Basic metaphor for this paradigm is the production chain derived from industrial engineering: each activity is intrinsically related to preceding and succeeding ones, so as to make synchronization a major issue. This Tayloristic model is suitable to the well structured office procedures and is supported by Workflow Management Systems.
- Collaboration: Oddly enough, it was the widespread usage of Workflow Management Systems that revealed their intrinsic limitations. It was realized that coordinated activities are not "the only game in offce" and collaboration has to be supported as well. This has lead to the development of Groupware Systems with the round table as metaphor. As a pure type, Collaboration designates persons working together without any external previous coordination. It means working together as a group, understanding the intentions and activities of other members, and sharing information. Especially, for the higher echelons of management Collaboration is the prevalent mode of work.
- Management Information: Aim is exploiting the vast volume of stored data in order to get information for planning and decisions. Even the basic event of retrieval can become rather complex needing indexing, categorizing, semantic correspondences, definition of hyper-structures, fuzzy retrieval, case based search etc. A connection with collaborative activities are Group Decision Support Systems (GDSS). They are aimed at the specific situation of taking collective decisions as a group. Many collective decisions are the result of a complex procedure and provide many starting points for assistance. GDSS are a good example that Management Information often is associated with other paradigms. Such associations might in some way explain the chamaeleonesque character of the paradigm Management Information. Concepts and labels have changed quite often and one could mention as examples such established concepts as EIS, DSS, KB-DSS, GDSS or recent approaches such as Data Mining.
- Organizational Memories: Building up memories for organizations is an old dream that has gained actuality. Enterprises and agencies invest more and more in the establishment and maintenance of managing their intellectual property and accessing the institutions knowledge potential. The extent where institutional memory is retained seems to be enormous: individuals, culture, organizational structures and transformations, internal information repositories, and external archives.
- Telecooperation: Telecooperation is the most recent paradigm and the focus lies on cooperation in the broader sense. It is a pronounced holistic vision and it intends to integrate (at least to some extent) many paradigms mentioned above. Hence, Telecooperation comprises procedural and collaborative modes of work and is concerned with the managing of documents and the establishment of organizational memories for organizations.

It is the integrative perspective that enables Telecooperation to cover the whole fan of work activities within an enterprise. On one hand it will include common street-level-operations such as settling accounts in banking from home. On the other hand it means supporting "higher-level" organizational processes involving decision-making, negotiation, policy-formulation and planning. All these are marked by high complexity of issues, sophisticated procedural regulations, conflicting interests of stakeholders and the involvement of several persons.

It is the central role of work that makes Telecooperation such a remarkable paradigm. Not alone that work is put in the centre of consideration, it is also liberated from up to yet inherent spatial limits. Cooperation in unlimited space produces a global framework as important accomplishment. This effect is mirrored by a series of notions all illustrating extending space: Global Office, Telepresence, Teleadministration, etc. For the later one an illustration is given below.

Teleadministration, for instance, would imply remote access to administrative services and interaction from the home, from a kiosque, from a neighbourhood centre or from a public library. Regarding the topics of civic information systems they will comprise manifold services: general orientation, referral assistance, information about welfare, civic rights and duties, material on local affairs, consumer information, everyday information. Usage will range from quite simple questions (where-to-go) to the participation in planning processes.

A comment on the design of adequate solutions is to be added. Teleadministration should ensure comfort and sophistication of communication - notably by means of interactive multimedia. An appropriate solution has to include the use of intelligent software as well as the possibility to have - mediated by multimedia - a "quasi-face-to-face encounter" with a relevant officer. Bringing the pertinent expert into the dialogue may become necessary, because the case might include critical problems. Moreover, such mediated contact can solve issues of communication, interpretation and comprehension. Much to often such issues will occur considering the widespread experience that administrative language is not well understood by ordinary citizens.

Fast growth combined with  swift commercialization are further characteristic traits of Telecooperation. The impressive growth is incited by sound progress in many fields: Collaboration, Tools, Methods, Mobile Computing, Web-technology, etc. It is a sometimes ebullient evolution leading to new products, new professions, innovative services and new lines of business. In someway, now, a degree of informatization of society is reached that already had been addressed twenty years ago in the prominent report of Nora and Minc.

There is an additional reason that this paradigm is so important. Telecooperation drastically changes the aspects of work for millions of peoples. It is a core question in all enterprises, how to do business now that this variety of technical means exists. This issue requires hard thinking about the ways in which work is carried out and shifts the interest from technical means to their adequate usage. Full benefits of technology will only be reaped if work and organizations will be reshaped. So in the end both, users and organization, will earn substantial profit from change. Breathtaking prospects of new potentialities have already appeared on the horizon. The sign posts directing to them bear well-known labels: Electronic Commerce, Electronic Government, Teleworking and Virtual Organization.

Hence the proceedings of the conference cover four main domains.
- Collaboration: This part deals with all the various efforts aimed at improving "working-together mediated by technology". Goal is an effective and agreeable interaction that comes close to habitual and natural ways of communicating and cooperating: the results achieved will be convivial systems.
- Tools and Design Methods: Working-together in co-located or geographically dispersed groups needs particular technologies. In a similar way methods for analysis and design have to be developed that can cope with the characteristic situation of cooperative work.
- Teleworking and Virtual Organizations: They are different sides of the organizational goal to use telecooperation technology for redesigning work. Although such innovations can be regarded as advantageous per se, they may induce an amount of change to organizations and users yet far from being managed adequately: striking the balance is a delicate task.
- Electronic Commerce and Electronic Government: Both applications have become the main beneficiary of Telecooperation with progress prompted by the rampant spreading of the Web. And yet significant questions remain open. They have to be solved in order to achieve the same degree of reliability, security and entrustment by electronic means as it is guaranteed in the conventional ways of doing business.

Many people have worked hard to form the conference and to prepare Program and Proceedings. So notable acknowledgement is owed to the Chairs and Members of the Program Committee listed below. Special thanks have to go to the Organising Committee chaired by Maria Tóth and Walter Grafendorfer and to those persons who have been involved particulary in the preparation: Wolfgang Hawlik, Gabriela Küng, Lisi Maier-Gabriel and Eszter Zubovics.

Roland Traunmüller, coeditor
Johannes Kepler University

Erzsébet Csuhaj-Varjú, coeditor
Hungarian Academy of Science
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