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The artful use of groupware: an ethnographic study of how Lotus Notes is used in practice

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This paper uses the results from an ethnographic study of a groupware system in use to argue against two accepted views on groupware systems. Firstly, this paper argues that groupware is useful in how it supports existing everyday organizational processes, rather than as an agent of radical organizational change. Discussing the use of Lotus Notes in a British oil company shows how groupware supports mundane processes such as tracking repairs to equipment or encouraging good ideas. In this case groupware is a useful, yet unradical, technology. This is contrasted with discussions of groupware as a technology of radical change. Secondly, this paper argues that rigidity-the inability to change how a system works-can be a positive feature of a groupware system, or indeed, a very requirement of that system. A Notes system is shown being used to support accountability, in that staff used the record kept within the system to make their actions seem orderly and sensible to others. In this case the rigidity of the system was needed to convince others that the record was not being altered or fabricated. This is contrasted with those who have argued that groupware systems should be highly customisable by their users. More generally, this study uncovers the 'artful use' of groupware systems, how they are inventively integrated into work processes by those who use them.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Hewlett-Packard Labs, Bristol, England

Publication date: 2000-06-01

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