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    It’s the applications that keep the product alive

    Bob Balaban  September 13 2008 07:40:07 AM
    Greetings, Geeks!

    I don't often do soapbox-type posts, but this one's been building for a while.  I've heard it said that most people who use Notes use it only for email (EdB: if you're reading, would you care to comment on the accuracy of that statement?). Assuming that's still true, then clearly IBM's competitive focus has to be on fighting the email wars with Microsoft and Outlook/Exchange (which is most definitely only an email system). That's where most of the revenue is coming from, after all.

    BUT, here's the thing: while nobody in her right mind would try to use Exchange for anything other than email, Notes/Domino is a great application platform for ALL kinds of things besides mail. Look at the list of "core strengths" people came up with over on Vowe's blog (take a look at the "core weaknesses" too, very interesting stuff).

    Why does this bug me? Aside from the fact that (evidently) relatively few users of the product realize what they could be doing with it, but aren't, it bugs me that the product doesn't seem to get the respect it deserves within IBM either. Sure, if most people pay you for an email system, you're going to focus sales and marketing effort around selling email systems, and you're going to focus a certain amount of development effort on making the product a better email system. Normal, heads-down, capitalistic behavior. But really, the product is a floor wax AND a dessert topping. Really.

    And, I claim, this really, really matters, and SHOULD matter, even to heads-down, capitalist bean-counters over at IBM. Why? Because there are lots and lots of accounts where applications  (not email) are the only thing keeping Notes and Domino around. Where, if email were all it did, it would have been tossed out completely.

    Notice that I am not calling the email wars over. I don't have access to the numbers, and nobody (nobody reliable, anyway) is publishing any numbers that mean anything. IBM win some, Microsoft win some, I don't really care who's ahead. OK, that's not entirely true, because I have a 20-year history with Lotus and Notes, and I emotionally want it to be successful (that's why I'm writing this post, after all....)

    But I'm seeing it more and more -- organizations which have had Notes/Domino for a while, and (for whatever reason) who decide to make the change for email, are keeping a few Notes desktops and Domino servers around, even after they stop using the product for email. Why? Because they have applications that they either can't get rid of, or which are too expensive to re-create on another platform. Applications! NOT email. These are often messaging-enabled apps, often workflow-oriented. They use email infrastructure, but only as a service to make the application better able to do its thing.

    And, lest you think I'm making this up, go on over to Wild Bill's blog and see where he says:

      ... we've found more and more customers who use Lotus Notes for applications, and Exchange for email. Or companies (through mergers and acquisitions) that end up with mixed environments...


    Yeah, I'm seeing that too. Does a situation where a given customer dumps Notes email seats, but keeps a few application seats (and servers) show up on IBM's radar as a competitive "loss"? I'm sure it would if that customer went completely over to the other side, but if IBM can still count them as a customer, does it watch the actual revenue decline (as long as it doesn't go to zero) and take notice? I really don't know. Sure, I worked there for quite a while, but I was never plugged into the sales and marketing side of things (Ed? Care to comment??).

    One has to wonder, then how product development investments are made in this environment. Naturally, there are way more cool features and ideas and widgets and languages and @functions that people within the Lotus Notes/Domino dev teams want to do than the company can afford to fund. That's true of every software company. But, like any software company, IBM has to "score" the relative worth of these ideas and measure them against the cost of doing them and the expected benefit. And the decisions get made based on the results of the scoring exercise, however that gets done. "Yes, we'll fund putting the Notes Client on Eclipse. No, we won't fund creation of a Ruby on Rails interface to the back-end classes, at least not right now." (I'm making up the Ruby on Rails thing as an example. To my knowledge, nobody ever seriously proposed doing that, at least not while I was working there. Of course, Sam Ruby works for IBM, but not for the Lotus division....).

    So, one wonders, in the meetings where these decisions are made, how does the value of an investment into Notes AppDev capabilities get scored against, say, a more efficient router? Furthermore, one wonders if the decisions might not go another way if the scoring algorithm used (and believe me when I say I truly have no idea how this happens "on the ground" in the conference rooms and offices at Lotus) took more account of the value to customers (and therefore to IBM) of Notes/Domino's application-not-email capabilities. Yes, they're putting Designer onto Eclipse in v8.5 (yay!!). Yes, they're doing a bunch of other great things to beef up "appdev" in the product. But, if the scoring algorithm were a bit more cognizant of the fact that "appdev" is the ONLY thing keeping the product alive in a growing number of customer accounts, would we have maybe seen all of these things (and more!) sooner? Better?

    Discuss!


    (Need expert application development architecture/coding help? Contact me at: bbalaban, gmail.com)
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