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Perspectives on Cooperative Systems

Objective

This exploratory action aims to investigate models for Computer-Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW). Increased importance is being attached to the cooperative approach to work by groups of organisations, whereby common objectives may be established and pursued.
New methodological proposals were made based on 2 practical contexts. The first was the management of a complex industrial project, the construction of a high speed train for the Italian railway, which required cooperation among 4 private companies. The second was the design of an information system for water management in the Lombardy region, which required cooperation among several different branches of public administration. These contexts were studied, applying techniques of enterprise modelling, in order to identify requirements for computer supported cooperative work (CSCW) systems. It was concluded that CSCW technology could facilitate a heterarchical style of management, particularly appropriate for complex industrial projects with an innovative product and time based competition. The action suggests a methodology which emphasizes the importance of modelling the application context and integrating all tools into a common environment.

Problems are defined through the following steps: elicit and collect statements of need and policy; express these statements in an appropriate problem owners, and revise them until consensus is reached; identify, specify, and justify the implied functional requirements. Although here presented sequentially, these steps will in practice be performed iteratively. The elements of a solution architecture are as follows: definition of the application domain, and the sort of needs and policies which it is designed to address; specification of the components from which a solution may be configured; rules for combining these components; recommendations, guidelines, and examples of good engineering practice. To create interesting solutions requires powerful components flexibly combined. If the rules of combination permit only safe, well behaved solutions, experience shows that they will also be of little value or interest.

The proposed method defines roles and responsibilities for people as well as providing tools and procedures. T hus, on the psychological/social side of the solution domain components such as decision conferences, consensus mechanisms and coordination roles are defined. These are implemented at the organizational level. On the technology side solution components such as intelligent problem solving models, distributed document conference shells and common user interface managers are required.
A central concept of CSCW models is that of the intelligent agent, which can be an ordinary user or a software module implementing functionalities of various degrees of intelligence. Well-understood schemes of cooperation are essential in order for such agents to collaborate successfully in achieving goals. To meet this objective a study of possible inter-agent structures will be conducted.

The PECOS action will include an evaluation of the state of the art as regards both technological capability and organisational theory and practice. It will also assess the scope and scale of the market needs which cooperative working will generate in the short and medium term.

A conceptual analysis is essential in order to evaluate these CSCW tools; the pre-requisite for such an analysis is a clear model of organisational cooperation, both in general and in relation to specific organisational tasks. The development of such an analytical model is therefore the key aspect of the action. In order to better identify such a model within the period allotted, two small case studies will be carried out, with the collaboration of two partners acting as users, in two different areas of cooperative work: co-work management and decision-making for complex projects. The model will play a crucial role in the identification of an appropriate software architecture to represent the cooperation platform of the envisaged environment, whose definition is part of the aims of the action.

The expected results of the PECOS action will be delivered as a final report together with two small animation prototypes of the systems designed for the case studies. These will serve mainly as explanatory support to the cooperation modelling approach and software architecture described in the final report.

Coordinator

Artificial Intelligence Software SpA
Address
Via Rombon 11
20134 Milano
Italy

Participants (6)

Emmepi
Italy
Address
Via S. Sofia 377
20122 Milano
INDUSTRIAS DE TELECOMUNICATIONES
Spain
Address
Telemaco, 5
28027 Madrid
Lombardia Informatica SpA
Italy
Address
Via Frigia 27
20126 Milano
MARI Applied Technologies Ltd
United Kingdom
Address
Boldon Business Park Witney Way
NE35 9PE Boldon
THE BABBAGE INSTITUTE FOR KNOWLEDGE AND INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY
Belgium
Address
Plateaustraat 22
9000 Gent
UNIVERSITAT POLITECNICA DE MADRID
Spain
Address
Campus De Montegancedo
28660 Madrid