Electronic meeting system

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Electronic meeting systems (EMS) are one based on information technology that supports group meetings . They facilitate problem solving and decision making in groups. The term Electronic Meeting Systems was developed by Jay Nunamaker et al. minted in 1991. The term is synonymous with Group Support System (GSS) and essentially also with Group Decision Support System (GDSS). Electronic meeting systems are a subclass of the applications for Computer Supported Cooperative Work .

Electronic meeting systems avoid harmful influences and overcome typical blockades of group work, among other things through (optional) anonymization and parallelization of participant contributions.

Similar to a web conference , a host or moderator invites the participants to the meetings by e-mail.


Electronic meeting systems are to be conceptually differentiated on the one hand from classic groupware and on the other hand from web conference systems. Given the large number of products, there is some overlap in reality.

EMS differ from groupware in the intensity of the cooperation: According to Lubich, groupware supports the cooperation of groups, whereby the individual contributions remain recognizable. EMS support the group in the cooperative development of a result for which the group as a whole is responsible. Groupware systems and EMS are process-wise complementary, because groupware supports teams in researching and creating documents in preparation for an EMS session or in implementing the results of an EMS session.

Web conferencing systems and EMS are complementary. EMS supplement web conference systems with interactive tools for the generation and documentation of group results. Web conference systems complement EMS with the missing functionality for voice conference and screen sharing.


The beginnings

Nunamaker et al. name the CASE project PSL / PSA in the mid-1960s as the first approaches to developing EMS technology. According to today's understanding, the first EMS emerged in the early and mid-1980s as university or research projects:

  1. The University of Arizona developed a prototype called Plexsys based on the PSL / PSA project.
  2. The University of Minnesota developed the SAMM (Software Aided Meeting Management) system.
  3. The Xerox PARC developed Colab.
  4. The University of Michigan developed various Macintosh-based EMS tools and did research on interior and furniture design.

The work differed in its objectives: while the Xerox PARC focused on small cooperating groups of 2 to 6 people, the University of Arizona focused on larger, not necessarily cooperating groups of 16 to 24 people.

A commercial EMS market emerged in the late 1980s. In 1989 the University of Arizona founded Ventana Corp., which developed the commercial product GroupSystems out of Plexsys. At the same time, VisionQuest was developed as a commercial product from the start. In 1992, Xerox PARC founded the independent subsidiary LiveWorks Inc., which developed the commercial product LiveBoard on the basis of the Colab research project.

First LAN-based products - 1990s

Group Systems, which has been developed by Ventana Corporation since 1989, is regarded as the forefather of modern EMS systems. For the first time, Group Systems provided the standard functions of modern EMS systems such as brainstorming and categorization, voting and discussions in the context of a chronological agenda. Contributions could be made in parallel and anonymized, the results of a work step, e.g. B. a brainstorming, in a subsequent tool, z. B. a vote, copied.

Technically, the system was based on clients running Microsoft Windows, which accessed a server with a Paradox database via a local area network (LAN). The restriction to local meetings, the considerable demands on the infrastructure and the complex control of the software by the moderator prevented widespread commercial distribution. As a result, Group Systems was developed into an expert tool that was mostly used in special conference rooms equipped with computer technology or by specialized management consultancies.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, other EMSs developed. Like the Dutch Inteam or the American Meetingworks, these were based on a LAN-based client-server architecture and were subject to the resulting restrictions. Facilitate.com took a special route, which already relied on HTML technology at the beginning of the 2000s, but accepted the (at that time) serious functional restrictions of this technology for Internet capabilities.

Web applications

Since around 2005 the development of EMS has focused on systems that realize the graphical usability in the web browser that is familiar from modern operating systems . In addition to using the EMS in permanently installed meeting rooms, this also simplifies its use in online meetings via the Internet. The meeting leader must be aware of the special situation that all participants - supported by the EMS - only communicate through technology. These skills required for this are called e-moderation .

Prototype representatives of this product generation are the product think tank, which emerged from Group Systems, as well as the more recent MeetingSphere or the teambits: workshop originally developed by the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft . These products offer the functionalities of an EMS web-based, but differ in terms of their orientation and functional depth: ThinkTank offers the functional depth known from Group Systems for professionally moderated workshops and is expanding this further. teambits offers digital moderation tools that can be used both in on-site meetings and via the Internet together with web conferences . MeetingSphere, on the other hand, positions itself as an integrated set of meeting tools for supporting online meetings and workshops as well as working asynchronously in virtual teams. The focus of development here is on simplifying usability. The Portable MeetingSphere Server extends this approach to local workshops and large group moderation.

The next.moderator and teambits: unite products play a special role and are aimed at supporting very large groups at large events . The focus here is on ideally networking many people on site and bringing common results together, automatically logging them and making them quickly visible to everyone.

Standard functions

EMS offer a number of standard functions, mainly from moderation technology , which, however, differ considerably in terms of functionality and depth. They also differ in the offer of additional tools as well as the type and scope of the administration functions, as well as the degree of interoperability with web conference systems for screen sharing or voice conferences .

Brainstorm and categorize

Electronic brainstorming is based on jointly describing a common list of ideas. In contrast to paper-based brainstorming or brainwriting processes, posts sent are immediately displayed to all participants, typically in an anonymous form. By reducing the social and procedural barriers (anonymization, parallelization), more - even deviating - ideas can be generated in less time. The advantages of electronic brainstorming over traditional methods increase with the size of the group.

Optionally, the articles can be categorized jointly in topic folders. In the case of graphically operated EMS, the participants drag the contributions into the folder with the mouse.


The discussion tools in EMS are similar to a structured chat that takes place on several topics at the same time, usually under a higher-level question. The parallelization takes place on several levels: on the level of the topics presented for discussion at the same time, on which the participants choose the topics to which they want to actively contribute, and on the level of the individual contributions, which all participants can enter and send independently of one another. Discussions can be conducted anonymously or by name, usually partly anonymously according to group membership.

By reducing the social and procedural barriers (anonymization, parallelization), a significantly larger number of contributions can be exchanged compared to the oral discussion. Interpersonal conflicts can be avoided, peer pressure can be lifted.


EMS offer a number of typical voting processes such as scales, multiple selection, ranking or budgeting. The multiple coordination according to different criteria or coordination processes enables utility and impact analyzes. The results are available at the end of the vote, usually in both tabular and graphical form.

In contrast to classic voting by raising hands or sticking dots in the context of moderation on the pin board, voting in EMS is anonymous (partly also partially anonymous according to group membership) and with a significantly higher degree of differentiation.


Modern EMS organize the course of the meeting in the form of an agenda that divides the activities of the meeting thematically and chronologically and specifies them by tool. The moderating (host) person controls the meeting from the agenda by inviting (starting) the participants to the individual tools. In some cases, agendas can be taken from existing meetings or from templates.


The contents of an EMS-supported meeting are available as database contents. Depending on the system selected, they can be output as a file or printed out in different formats.

Synchronous and asynchronous meetings

Synchronous, d. H. Concurrent, meetings offer the advantage of immediate, spontaneous interaction between participants. However, they require the simultaneous availability of all participants. Asynchronous meetings increase the availability of participants by leaving the exact time of participation up to the participant. Asynchronous meetings are therefore particularly suitable when it is less about spontaneity than about the reflected input from selected participants.

Technically, synchronous, i.e. H. simultaneous, meetings, and asynchronous meetings in which participants participate with a delay, based on how long the tools are available to the participants. Typically, the participants of a synchronous meeting are each active in exactly one activity that they work on together. Simultaneous online meetings usually require a parallel voice conference for the verbal control of the group process as well as screen sharing via web conference if screen content is to be presented.

In asynchronous meetings, on the other hand, several tools with different questions are often open. The timing and the immediate interaction between the participants is purely coincidental. Asynchronous meetings are often used to get feedback or input. Either independent of a synchronous real or virtual meeting or in its preparation or for the follow-up to open questions.

EMS differ considerably in their support for asynchronous meetings. The differences mainly concern the duration of the supported meetings (24 hours / days / weeks), the planning and communication of asynchronous meetings (agenda, invitation) and the characteristics of the license model (flat rate / pay-per-use / concurrent meetings, etc.)

Advantages of electronic meeting systems

The advantages of EMS compared to traditional conferences or workshops with pin board moderation are

  • Online capability, eliminating travel costs and times
  • Increased availability of the participants
  • Increased interactivity and participation through parallelization
  • Increased openness and impartiality through anonymization
  • Sharper analyzes through coordination and evaluations in real time
  • Reduction of preparation times through the use of agenda templates
  • Repeatability of meeting and workshop processes through agenda templates
  • Automatic, neutral documentation

Disadvantages of electronic meeting systems

Most of the disadvantages of EMS compared to traditional conferences or workshops discussed in the literature have been overcome through technical progress or the target group-specific characteristics:

  • The previously high infrastructure requirements have been reduced to Internet access and browsers
  • The previously high requirements for the moderator have been greatly reduced in the systems that are designed for everyday use
  • The cultural hurdle of holding meetings via a technical medium is reduced by getting used to web conferences.

The remaining disadvantages primarily result from the spatial distribution of the participants due to the lack of face-to-face encounters and the significantly reduced range of non-verbal communication options , which can only be compensated to a small extent by video conferences .

Individual evidence

  1. ^ A. Dennis et al.: Information Technology to Support Electronic Meetings . In: Management Information Systems Quarterly . Vol. 12, No. 4 , 1988, pp. 591-619 .
  2. a b Jay Nunamaker, Alan Dennis, Joseph Valacich, Douglas Vogel, Joey George: Electronic Meeting Systems to Support Group Work. In: Communications of the ACM. Volume 34, No. 7, July 1991, pp. 40-61.
  3. ^ ES McFadzean: Improving Group Productivity with Group Support Systems and Creative Problem Solving Techniques. In: Creativity and Innovation Management. Vol. 6, No. 4 1997, pp. 218-225.
  4. ^ HP Lubich: Towards a CSCW Framework for Scientific Cooperation in Europe (=  Lecture Notes in Computer Science . Volume 889 ). Springer Verlag, 1995, ISBN 3-540-58844-2 , pp. 26 .
  5. AJ Schäfer: EMS - Electronic Meeting System - support for meeting management in architecture . Hanover November 1997, p. 5 .
  6. AR Dennis, JS Valacich: Computer Brain Storms: More Heads are Better than One. In: Journal of Applied Psychology. Vol. 78, No. 4 1993, pp. 531-537.


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  • J. Fjermestad, SR Hiltz: Group Support Systems: A descriptive evaluation of case and field studies. In: Journal of Management Information Systems. Volume 17, No. 3, 2001, pp. 112-157.
  • Arnd Klein: Adoption of Electronic Meeting Systems. Dissertation. Gabler Verlag, 2004.
  • ES McFadzean: New Ways of Thinking: An Evaluation of K-Groupware and Creative Problem Solving. Doctoral dissertation, Brunel University, Uxbridge, Middlesex 1996.
  • Jay Nunamaker et al .: Lessons from a Dozen Years of Group Support Systems Research: A Discussion of Lab and Field Findings. In: Journal of Management Information Systems. Volume 13, No. 3, 1996, pp. 163-207.