Nearly 30 years ago, Lotus Software came out with a radical new tool called Notes that has since become a corporate staple. More than an email program, it was used by IT and non-IT alike to build collaborative apps. It was also one of the first programs to bring remote workers together. Notes flourished as John Head said in his post, “because anyone who could write a macro in a spreadsheet could build an application in Notes.” Think of it as the origin of the citizen developer movement.
IBM eventually purchased Lotus in 1995 and has since extended the product to work with the web and other application servers. Before there was Wordpress, you could build some impressive websites using WebSphere and Domino, the brand extensions that IBM created on top of Notes. And before anyone knew about SaaS, Notes was one of the best ways to securely synchronize data with offline computers.
But Notes never could catch up with the cloud. Its mobile client required VPNs and other supporting software that were always costly to maintain. Since its arrival in the late 1980s, there have been numerous free or low-code development platforms that were better suited to ad hoc citizen developers, or easier to setup and use without a lot of training. In the world of open software and well documented APIs, Notes wasn’t either and didn’t fit well into the world where REST and web services came to the party natively. And while its app development environment was groundbreaking, in the end many users didn’t get very far beyond its email and forms-routing capabilities.
Notes hasn’t seen a new update to its client for several years now. And the drumbeat for using something else has begun to gather steam. Gartner has stated that at least half of all Notes apps are ripe for replacement and retirement: “The close relationship of application code to content and deeply embedded links in many Notes/Domino databases makes migration difficult and time-consuming.” What began as an asset has turned into Notes’ undoing.
Ultimately, Notes suffered with a high total cost of ownership, and many other vendors now offer compelling alternatives. Still, as Steve Gillmor has written several years ago for eWeek, “The only thing harder than using Notes is getting rid of it.”
So what can citizen developers do to get the decommissioning party started?
Gartner has a six-step migration process that begins by asking whether any of your existing Notes applications can still appropriately deliver the business function. Once you inventory all your Notes apps, you need to figure out what the apps actually do and which systems they presently obtain data from.
Next, you need to examine what database, email, collaboration, synchronization and other features are needed with the new apps and which of these features make the most sense?
Finally, you need to look at alternatives such as QuickBase and other online databases that can be used to support collaborative workers with native SaaS sensibilities. Whatever you do, plan on taking some time to make the transition. It isn’t going to happen quickly.