The Challenges In Getting Rid Of Lotus Notes

Lotus Notes was once a dominant platform for database-centred collaboration applications, but these days it feels outdated. Gartner has some useful suggestions on how to make the move if Notes is still in your working life.

Picture: Paul Hudson

Yes, I know: technically I should be calling the product IBM Notes, or IBM Domino if I’m referring to the server version. But let’s not kid ourselves. Even though IBM acquired Lotus way back in 1995, it was the Lotus branding that remained dominant during Notes’ glory days. (That was equally true of Lotus’ iconic 1-2-3 spreadsheet, which IBM finally killed off last year.)

I have very fond memories of Lotus Notes. I learned to build applications on it, and it was used to generate the first major commercial web site publishing project I was involved in. Back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, it was easiest way to get the job done — and it handled some issues like offline syncing more effectively than many modern alternatives. I also had great fun attending Lotusphere conferences, even if that meant travelling to Orlando, the worst major convention city in the US. But all that was a long time ago.

These days, most people will dive for WordPress or Joomla to solve similar problems for publishing, or will use a platform like Salesforce or SharePoint if they want to build collaborative apps. If that’s the world you’re used to, Notes can feel clunky and unfamiliar.

Notes and Domino are still technically active products. A basic Notes client costs $149.69 per seat, which seems a little steep in the modern world, especially as something else will generally be used for email even if other legacy Notes applications are considered important.

As Gartner points out in a research note on replacing legacy Notes/Domino applications, there are several incentives to move away from the platform. By Gartner’s calculation, more than 50 per cent of existing Notes/Domino applications “would be classified as fit for decommissioning”. But that’s easier said than done.

Finding staff with relevant expertise can be difficult. Migration is not as straightforward as moving from a pure database platform: “The close relationship of application code to content and deeply embedded links in many Notes/Domino databases makes migration difficult and time-consuming.”

One common mistake is to try and exactly match the functions of an existing Notes/Domino app, rather than examining more broadly the business processes involved and how they might be served. As Gartner points out:

Migration of an application presents an important opportunity to realign capabilities and processes to better serve the business needs. Ask whether the existing application capability partitioning will still appropriately deliver the business function. Combining or splitting functions may offer significant opportunity to reduce support costs and improve fit, durability and responsiveness.

Whatever approach you take, it won’t necessarily be speedy. While many organisations plan a migration in a two or three-year timeframe, Gartner says some complex environments may take up to seven years to eliminate. You may be paying those licences for a while yet.

Evolve is a weekly column at Lifehacker looking at trends and technologies IT workers need to know about to stay employed and improve their careers.