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Staying Current on Collaborative Software: Lotus Notes and Domino

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IT deployments are growing increasingly sophisticated in today's enterprises. IT spending is on the rise, with Gartner predicting it to exceed $2 trillion worldwide by the end of this year. Therefore, many businesses are turning to new, cutting-edge software solutions to bolster their existing technology portfolios and transform their businesses.

One challenge companies continually face, however, is deciding when it makes business sense to upgrade existing technology investments. While there is no perfect way to weigh this important decision, the most compelling argument for upgrading, believe it or not, may be the cost of not upgrading. This is especially the case when examining integrated collaboration environments, a market IBM currently estimates at $8 billion and expects to grow to $11 billion by 2007, as this technology has the ability to make entire organizations more responsive by connecting people with the information and business processes they need in order to be effective in their particular roles within the company.

By not upgrading, enterprises often miss out on the business value of progressive improvements in performance, integration, security, application development, and systems management. For example, using an older version of a program may incur unnecessary costs in network bandwidth, human error, and help-desk visits. Users are missing out on the latest ways to access information and collaborate in real-time with colleagues, customers, and business partners. In these circumstances, upgrades very often pay for themselves through hard dollar savings even before harder to measure productivity gains are counted.

Keeping an active maintenance plan around collaboration software is one of the most cost-effective ways to maximize the value of current investments, as staying current on software releases often entitles businesses to increased technical support. Despite the many compelling arguments to upgrade, however, the decision to stay current with maintenance releases and upgrade existing technology is still not always an easy one. Bottom line, companies need the flexibility to decide when it is right to upgrade their existing software, rather than being forced by vendors into upgrades that do not make sense and will fail to deliver real business value.

Choice and Flexibility

The definition and functions of collaborative software have expanded in the last several years. Collaboration software is no longer a loose integration of email, calendar, and instant messaging programs. It is a tight, but open and standards-based, integration of these collaborative functions with business processes and other business systems. New versions of collaborative software not only perform existing collaborative tasks more efficiently, but also link those collaborative capabilities with CRM systems, ERP systems, and custom business applications.

In the last two years, IBM has introduced IBM Workplace as a way of bringing together collaborative software with business processes to create dynamic work environments for its customers. IBM is expanding the functions of Lotus Notes and Domino with Workplace technologies. However, it is not shifting architectures, but rather enhancing existing services and programming models in a way that assures compatibility with existing customer applications. Customers demand choice and flexibility, not only in the operating systems and programming models they adopt, but also in the pace with which they embrace upgrades and change.

Customers will choose the pace of upgrades based on a number of factors:

  • When is staff available to complete upgrades, and when might other work events, hardware upgrades, or other environmental changes make an upgrade easier or harder?
  • How will specific groups of users benefit from new functionality?
  • Will these functions be put into use in a phased manner?
  • What resources are available to train users on new functions?
  • What other systems must be coordinated with any specific product upgrade?

Regardless of the specific answers to these questions, most Lotus Notes and Domino customers have found that it is most efficient to plan a regular pace of upgrades and maintenance release and, within those new releases, phase the introduction of new functionality to their end users. Of the 118 million Lotus Notes and Domino users, more than 85% have upgraded to Version 6 or beyond. Clearly, these customers recognize the importance and benefits of staying on current releases of Lotus Notes and Domino, as doing so will keep them moving forward to increased function and efficiency.

Lotus Notes and Domino 7

With the recent availability of Lotus Notes and Domino 7.0, many collaboration software customers will be re-evaluating their needs. In a recent survey of customers that upgraded from Notes Version 5 to Version 6, IBM found that, on average, customers achieved a 15% savings in total cost of ownership (TCO). Similar or better savings in TCO are expected when customers upgrade from 6 or 6.5 to 7.0. The Lotus Notes and Domino platform is evolving on an aggressive schedule, rapidly innovating and at the same time improving TCO. The need for functional improvements and the realization of cost of ownership improvements will vary from customer to customer, however. Some customers realized TCO savings well beyond 15% when they upgraded from Version 5 to version 6. Others did not reach the 15% savings. Because of these differing circumstances, customers will choose to upgrade their environments and adopt new functions at their own pace. For this reason, IBM has made sure that advanced capabilities--such as expanded contextual collaboration, activity management, and composite applications--may be adopted in a gradual manner as end-users are trained and customers are ready to use them. There is a compelling value proposition for Lotus Notes and Domino 7.0, but if customers opt not to deploy any particular release, they will be able to upgrade to the next release. For example, Lotus Notes and Domino 6.0 customers who chose not to upgrade to the 6.5 release will easily be able to make the jump to the 7.0 release, without having to deploy Lotus Notes and Domino 6.5 first.

Among the numerous benefits Lotus Notes 7 provides are these:

  • An expanded scope of collaboration
  • Productivity enhancements
  • Integration with WebSphere Portal and IBM Workplace software products
  • Standards-based interoperability and a first embrace of Workplace Client Technology
  • Significant TCO savings

Gartner predicts that by 2008, 80% of the tools that support collaborative work will seamlessly support presence awareness modes of communication and collaboration. In the 7.0 release, Lotus Notes and Domino takes users to that level of collaboration now. Integrated instant messaging and presence awareness capabilities are prevalent throughout the release. Users will see that functionality in their inboxes, calendars, discussions, and invitations and even in the "To" and "Cc" fields in emails. Lotus Notes 7 will also let users save chats to their mail file, where they can easily refer to them later, and send hyperlinks to Lotus Notes URLs into a chat. Another related theme that runs through the 7.0 release of Notes and Domino is the concept of "activities." Users need new ways to organize diverse types of collaborative information more efficiently. Notes 7 can organize mixed threads of emails, application forms, and chats into coherent views, and a new set of attention indicators calls the user to important data.

While IBM has invested heavily in efforts to expand collaborative functions, many of the improvements and changes, like those in the calendaring functionality, reflect the product's natural evolution. These changes give users more control and a better interface, including a cleanup tool, the option to collapse the MiniView, and greater administrative control over mail settings. Some additional significant enhancements include Mozilla support, stronger mail management controls, and a new Room Reservation task.

The 7.0 release will include the Notes application plug-in, which lets users run existing Lotus Notes and Domino applications within IBM Workplace Client Technology. Workplace Client Technology, when added to Notes, gives the user access to a wide variety of applications built on the open-source Eclipse framework. This framework opens up new possibilities for collaborative application development. In addition, Domino 7.0 supports the hosting of Web services. These services simplify the process of integrating Domino applications with J2EE and .Net applications. They are a key step in the evolution of composite applications and an important tool for application developers who want to reuse Notes and Domino application logic and data in other applications and business processes. In release 7.0, enhancements to Domino Designer make the creation of new Web services and the conversions of existing Lotuscript agents to Web services a straightforward task for existing Notes and Domino developers.

Finally, Lotus Notes and Domino 7 will provide customers with another set of significant TCO savings. Scalability of systems as measured by the long-established Notesbench workloads have increased by 50% on most operating systems, and CPU utilization has dropped by an average of 25% for existing production workloads. Lotus Notes and Domino 7 also has significant improvements for administrators, who will benefit from the Domino Domain Manager. This feature creates, collects, and displays domain-wide performance and status information for administrators and uses autonomic computing techniques to sense, diagnose, and suggest solutions to administrative problems.

The benefits of an upgrade to Lotus Notes and Domino 7.0 are potentially huge. However, different customers will realize those benefits at different levels, depending on the collaborative needs of their businesses, the loading of their existing infrastructure, and their capacity to do new application development or to expand existing applications.

Beyond Notes and Domino 7.0: Project Hannover

At the recent Lotus Notes and Domino user group conference in Germany, IBM looked ahead to the next release of Lotus Notes when it previewed "Project Hannover." Hannover will simplify and enhance the end-user experience of Lotus Notes and provide improvement in email, calendar, and contact management functionality. Hannover will also focus on improving the way people work with innovations such as Activity Centric computing, a new way to organize all types of collaborative data that will be woven into all aspects of this new client release. Activity Centric computing will be only one of the ways that this new release will extend the unique qualities of the Notes platform to support a new class of composite applications, based on open standards.

The ability to combine multiple technologies into a single application provides significant business value. This release will enable companies to protect and extend their existing assets and respond quickly and cost-effectively to their emerging business requirements. In Hannover, applications will be significantly easier to create than in alternative application development environments. As the majority of customers are developing Lotus Notes and Domino applications today, Hannover will extend these applications within the Eclipse framework by adding in functions developed in J2EE and other programming models.

With Notes release 7.0 and the Notes application plug-in, customers will begin to see the benefits of composite applications and a server-managed client. However, Hannover will provide an innovative new user interface for these capabilities and deliver the next level of contextual collaboration. In this release, users will also have a single client for messaging, custom applications, and productivity tools, plus activity management, document management, and team workspaces. It will simplify and enhance the Lotus Notes user experience by improving email, calendaring, and contact management capabilities, while moving enterprises from an email-centric model to the future: activity-centric collaboration.

The Future of Collaboration

Activity-centric computing is the next collaboration evolution that will continually ask IT administrators to question their upgrades and investments. It focuses the method of communication around the activity being performed, using email, instant messaging, screen-sharing, and file sharing, but it puts these tools in a context in which they can be easily shared and updated in real-time. This method of collaboration will take activities around a certain task and have them appear naturally within Lotus Notes, allowing users to drag and drop a name from their inbox to the contact list and then open a window to show projects in which both parties have been involved, for example.

Looking for information based on activity, rather than by type of information, is a whole new way to process collaboration, but it's more in line with the way people work best--a result of both IBM and IBM Research's determination to improve the user experience more with each release and yet another reason to stay current with upgrades.

While examining whether your organization should upgrade existing collaboration investments like Lotus Notes and Domino can be a daunting task, it is important to keep in mind the needs of employees and remember that the cost of not upgrading can play a large role in the choice, as the benefits of upgrading are often too compelling to ignore. New techniques of collaboration and new ways of administering systems may demand new training for end-users and administrators. However, improved collaboration by employees can pay huge productivity benefits, and the management of server-managed clients can substantially reduce client maintenance and help desk costs by automatically keeping all client software controlled and up-to-date. Examining product roadmaps, setting an active software maintenance plan, and exploring how existing tools are being used can all prove helpful in ultimately making the upgrade decision that makes the most sense and will be most beneficial for each business.

Kevin Cavanaugh is Vice President of Development, IBM Lotus Domino. In this position, Cavanaugh has engineering responsibility for the company's brands Notes, Domino, and Domino Everyplace. He has also managed the company's Advanced Collaboration product development teams and the international product development organization with development centers in Dublin, Tokyo, Beijing, Seoul, Taipei, and Singapore.

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