You'll Pry Lotus Notes Out Of Their Cold, Dead Hands
Legacy means mature, not irrelevant.
By Esther Schindler
This is a terrible habit, especially because most software does become better over time. As the aged members of your IT staff will be sure to remind you, maturity does not mean "over the hill;" it means wisdom gained from real-world experience. Nonetheless, companies continue to migrate to newer or more efficiently marketed tools, even when that isn't the smartest choice.
For professionals who use Lotus Notes, there's simply no reason to change.
The Wheels That Squeak, The Wheels That Roll
Notes is still heavily entrenched at many sites, even if it's no longer given labels like "strategic." According to Larry Finkelstein, president of Creative Systems Programming Corporation in Mt. Laurel, New Jersey, "At one Fortune 150 pharmaceutical company, there are over 80 Domino servers in the US, and another 50 globally. There are dozens of fully functioning applications that are still fully functional, with little to no maintenance for the last several years. These applications are used by over 50,000 users globally, and this company isn't using Domino for e-mail," he said.
Once it's set up correctly, Notes requires little handholding. One Notes administrator has 10 Notes IT professionals at his company. Yet, they spend every day, he complained, fighting a battle against a 100-person general IT department that wants to migrate to a Microsoft product portfolio. "We feel like the troops at the Alamo against the Mexicans. We know that we will lose, because management decided to abandon Notes as an application platform and to use Notes only for e-mail." Notes is considered too expensive for e-mail only, even within the Notes community, so the Notes guy sees this as a stepping stone to a Microsoft Exchange migration. "Nobody asked for the TCO/ROI of this migration to Microsoft products," he sighed.
In a way, the software's reliability works against its acceptance. It just runs, so it's invisible. Andrew Pollack, president of Northern Collaborative Technologies in Cumberland, Maine, pointed out the side effect to applications that require less budget to maintain and build apps for, let alone manage: "It doesn't get attention in the company."
Pollack recently performed a security review for a major financial firm, where 15,000 users employ Notes for e-mail and hundreds of corporate applications. The Notes systems are managed by 16 people, spread across several office buildings. The company also has a Microsoft desktop team to support workstation software, such as Microsoft Office and Windows XP. Said Pollack, "The desktops are locked down, so you'd think this would be a small team. The desktops are identical, locked, and managed. That team has a couple of hundred people."
Yet, the majority of the company's applications are built in Notes for departmental, workflow, teamwork, and collaboration, because, Pollack said, "They get done faster, cheaper, and end up reliable. The projects don't fail. The users have never seen an e-mail outage that hit an entire department ? let alone one that lasted for days. They've never had a worm go through their e-mail and send itself to other users."
On the other hand, according to Pollack, you'd be hard pressed to randomly pick a Notes person from the IT staff compared to a Office/Windows person in this company. "You would be 96% more likely, in a poll, to get a favorable response from the IT people [about] Microsoft than to Lotus, since only 4% of the support people do Notes. The impression then, would be that Notes is not favored by the Company's IT organization." Since the budget for the Notes staff is much lower, the technology ? and its personnel ? get less attention from the CIO. Pollack said, "In a company this size, the Notes support staff budget literally falls off the chart in importance."
Reconcile that, Pollack said; "96%, had you polled them, would give you non-Notes answers simply because it takes only 4% of the IT people to support the Notes environment."
Quietly, Notes sales are up, say the product's supporters. Bill Buchan, director of HADSL, specializes in showing developers better techniques and methodologies. Buchan said of Notes, "We have a killer, very stable product, that even IBM ? begrudingly at times ? is starting to sell to its customers again. This is a product that's had zero marketing between 2001 and 2005, and [it] still increased seat count."
IBM has a new version of Lotus Notes underway, called Hannover, which the company says will include office productivity tools. Commented Buchan, "The Hannover release will finally give [Notes'] front end a good going-over, for the first time in ages, and hopefully get rid of that 'it's ugly' slander. The server? It just keeps getting better and better, both in terms of performance (number of users/response time) and capabilty/features. You just can't do disaster recovery like Domino can."