NextPlane Blog

What Is the CSCW Matrix and How Does It Change B2B UC Collaboration?

Jul 25, 2014 6:00:00 AM

Computers have been around for quite some time, but it wasn't until 1984 that Irene Greif and Paul Cashman coined the term "computer supported cooperative work" (CSCW). In essence, the CSCW postulated about how collaboration could be enhanced through computing.

In 1988, taking the idea a step further, sociologist Robert Johansen created the CSCW matrix to conceptualize the term. The four-square matrix addresses the four possible aspects of collaboration: individuals working together from the same location or remotely, and whether that work is occurring in real time or is asynchronous.

Thanks to the rise of B2B UC collaboration across geographic distances and multiple organizations is becoming easier than ever. While the CSCW matrix was conceived 30 years ago, its applications still ring true today. Recent research indicates that 75 percent of businesses believe that online collaboration tools play an important role in their business. After all, the whole is often greater than the sum of its parts.


With this in mind, let's take a look at the possibilities identified by the CSCW matrix from a B2B UC collaboration perspective:

  • Co-located and synchronous collaboration is what occurs when people work together via face-to-face interactions on any given project. This kind of collaboration is perhaps the most classic form of it, but as technology evolves, companies are finding that productive collaboration can occur in other settings as well. Thanks to UC federation, when employees from two separate businesses collaborate on projects, rather than having to travel to a physical location, they can be virtually co-located thanks to video conferencing tools. This saves time and money while also providing the same quality as face-to-face interactions that are integral to clear communication.
  • Co-located and asynchronous collaboration can happen when co-workers or employees from two different businesses that are collaborating on tasks that can’t be completed in one sitting. For example, imagine you are working on a project with a supplier that is located overseas. In this scenario, UC federation can facilitate this virtually co-located collaboration via presence, chat, multi-user chat, voice and video, as if you are on the same platform.
  • Remote and synchronous collaboration occurs when two or more people are working together on a project at the same time despite being in geographically disparate locations. Such collaboration includes multi-user chat sessions, file & screen sharing and video/voice conferencing. When companies leverage UC solutions for B2B collaboration in real time, they would find themselves “placed” in this box of the CSCW matrix. In fact, most B2B UC collaboration would likely fit into this box.
  • Remote and asynchronous collaboration happens when workers who are dispersed remotely come together to work on projects at different times. To be effective, such collaboration has to be thoroughly planned. It requires significant communication and coordination to be pulled off fluidly. According to the matrix, this box encompasses blogging, workflow, email, bulletin boards, asynchronous conferencing, wikis and more. UC federations allow this type of collaboration to occur, as employees can contribute to a federated persistent chat sessions. For example, when they are in they will be able to follow what’s been communicated in their absence and collaborate from an informed perspective.

But despite the benefits of UC-enabled collaboration, companies still face a number of issues. Interoperability between disparate UC platforms, the ability to quickly and reliably scale services according to organizational requirements and security-related issues all pose major challenges to businesses.

This is especially true if companies are attempting to do UC federation on their own. Depending on the UC platform, for example, it’s either difficult or impossible to establish federation. Generally speaking, UC vendors’ federation gateways offer limited interoperability and only support basic presence and chat.

On top of that, once federations are working, there is no guarantee that they will continue to work. Additionally, UC monitoring tools that provide alerts for down federation links don’t exist.

As companies grow, the number of federations required to support their business operations can multiply exponentially. Depending on the size of a business’s ecosystem, managing the sheer volume of federations can become virtually impossible.

As such, businesses should consider deploying federation solutions that deliver the benefits of the CSCW matrix while eliminating the complexities. That way, management can rest comfortably knowing that their employees can collaborate seamlessly and securely with those inside and outside company walls.

Topics: UC Federation, Co-located and synchronous collaboration, UC Collaboration, Remote and asynchronous collaboration, CSCW, computer supported cooperative work, b2b collaboration, B2B UC collaboration, UC-enabled collaboration, Co-located and asynchronous collaboration, Remote and synchronous collaboration, CSCW Matrix