This chapter introduces the concept of a Virtual Organization (VO), using the Internet to link geographically separated participants in an efficient and novel manner. In particular, the chapter contrasts the attributes of Project VOs and Community VOs. The former tend to be more formal and arise for a particular collaborative goal with a limited lifetime. The latter are less formal and more open-ended, with a less specific purpose, largely aimed at developing an online community as an end in itself. The features of Project and Community VOs are compared and the various technologies are discussed. Two case studies are presented as examples. This is a rapidly changing area with new technologies becoming rapidly available, but the underlying concepts and reasons for the existence of VOs in the support of virtual collaborative practice remain more stable.
…the manner in which a virtual community develops must be dictated by the organic needs of its members, not the other way around
—Howard Rheingold, The Virtual CommunityTop
Virtual Organizations (Vo)
The nature of virtual collaboration and community is manifested in the notion of the Virtual Organization (VO). Such organizations are built upon ‘cyberinfrastructures’ (Internet, web services, etc.) to link groups of people and resources distributed across organizational, institutional, and/or geographic boundaries. They are formed to leverage complementarity, core competencies and pooled resources to create productive ‘organizations’, be they not-for-profit, community-focused, corporate, research or educational, and they may often appear to others to be a single unified organization with a real physical location (Churchill et al., 2001; Lee et al., 2006). The VO stems from the concept of a distributed virtual networking system, the development of which has as its goal to provide a new and more effective means of using computers as tools for communication, collaboration and information sharing with others (Schraefel et al., 2000). The term VO has also been associated with ‘collaboratories’, online communities (Preece, 2000) and virtual environments, among others. VOs as collaborative structures have further been the study of a range of practitioners, including computer scientists, organizational theorists, sociologists, and business modelers.
Key Terms in this Chapter
Virtual Organization (VO): An organization built upon ‘cyberinfrastructures’ (Internet, web services, etc.) to link groups of people and resources distributed across organizational, institutional, and/or geographic boundaries.
Project VO: A Virtual Organization based around the notion of a Collaborative Work Environment that is predominantly task and/or goal oriented, often with a formalized structure, normally of finite duration, and internalized for a project team.
Community VO: A type of online social aggregation, including shared access to tools and/or website resources, enabling the support of communication, typically self-forming based around interests, information and/or knowledge, often with a loose informal structure, open-ended in nature, and externalized with a public interface.
Virtual Team: A concept commonly used to describe the way of working within a Project VO. Members of a virtual team may never meet face-to-face, whereas in a hybrid team there are typically occasional face-to-face meetings.
Collaborative Work Environment (CWE): Provides technology that enables collaboration over time and space, both within and between geographically distributed organizations.
Web 2.0: Second generation web-based applications including community portals, professional and social networking websites, meeting set-up facilities, blogs, wikis, project management tools, chat/videoconferencing, media sharing, and other participatory tools (e.g., online discussion forums).
Virtual Community of Practice (VCoP): A set of relationships among geographically distributed people, facilitated by electronic networked communication.