An intranet, portal, collaboration workspaces, knowledge management, workflow, e-HR, ERM, these terms with somewhat vague semantic content have gained real fame in recent years. They reflect the emergence of a new generation of software in organizations, the so-called software for business, which can be combined under the general term “multi-user software.” The purpose of this article is to restore the historical context in which these programs appeared, and then present their main characteristics.
Business software first appeared in the mid-1960s with the release of the first major computer systems. This first generation of enterprise software was intended to automate the basic functions of the organization’s life: accounting, remuneration, production management, inventory management, a back office for financial organizations, reservation in the field of transport, etc.
Note that software like time tracking of business schedules is a direct descendant. The advent of personal computers in the mid-1980s led to the advent of the second generation of business software. These include programs such as word processing (Word) or a spreadsheet (Excel). This second-generation software is no longer intended for the enterprise as a whole, but is considered an independent entity for each of its participants. This has been called the personal computer revolution: capturing users with computer applications.
Third-generation software, multi-user software, appeared in its infancy in the late 1980s with Lotus Notes software. The introduction of Internet technologies in the business has contributed to the introduction of next-generation software. Multi-user software is not intended for the company as a whole and not for employees in particular, but for employees as members of a larger whole (company, management, project team, etc.).
Before analyzing the main characteristics of multi-user software, such as file sharing programs or crm software, it is useless to fix some ideas and give specific examples. There are two types of multi-user applications. On the one hand, those who appeal to large groups, for example, all members of the organization, and on the other hand, those who appeal to smaller groups. In the first category there are many applications that relate to the field of human resources. Classical examples are applications for managing vacations and vacations, managing expenses, reserving combined resources (cars, meeting rooms).
There are also applications that automate the annual processes for distributing staff scores and raising salaries, or applications that automate the processes of hiring and internal mobility. In addition to human resources, knowledge management applications are a good example of multi-user applications.
In the first generation collaboration software that runs on large computer systems, the concept of “software user” can be understood in two ways. This applies either to the person who controls the system (for example, the one who enters the data) or to the person who benefits from the processing result (for example, the one who checks the output). In second-generation software, spreadsheets, and word processing, the two visions of the user described above are confused. The user is both the operator of the application and the recipient of its results. In multi-user software, the view of the user is radically changing.
The user intervenes in accordance with his “role” in a process that is automated. Depending on the context, the user may need to accept several roles. In the vacation management example, an employee can sequentially assume the role of a regular user when he makes a vacation request, the “manager” role when he accepts a vacation request from one of his employees, and the administrator role if he has access to certain administrative functions ( for example, to assign vacation rights). This example shows that the concept of user has changed significantly compared to the software of previous generations. From the status of the user, we move on to the status of the participant. Vacation and absence planning provided by the software will be useful only if all employees contribute to the system, each in accordance with the assigned role or roles.