IBM Notes and Domino: State of the Union – Part 1

This article has been in draft mode for several months and I thought the timing was right to publish it. First let me state that my love affair and relationship with IBM Notes and Domino is now in it’s twenty-first year. So much of my identity as an adult has been tied to the people and technology involved with Notes/Domino. Whether it was my work at Underwriters Laboratories, OpenNTF, SHARP, Taking Notes, Elguji or my consulting customers; everything I did was intertwined together with Notes/Domino being the common thread. I am writing at this time to share the current “state of the union” as it pertains to IBM’s Notes and Domino.

Here is the first part of my address which, focusses on the Independent Software Vendor (ISV) and Business Partner ecosystems. Frankly, it’s the shortest section of my address. The next part will focus on IBM Notes and Domino customers and my thoughts on what they should be planning for.

The State of the ISV and Business Partners

First let me speak from an ISV and Business Partner perspective. Elguji and our IdeaJam software created an amazing opportunity to sell a packaged software application for IBM Domino. We set out in 2007 to prove a few points. The first point was to prove that Domino was an extremely capable environment for creating Web 2.0 apps. Secondly, we were fortunate to have sold a lot of licenses. To this day we continue to sell and improve both our IdeaJam and IQJam products.

It’s no secret that the overall ISV market has drastically shrunk. Sure there are some great ISV offerings out there to help manage Notes and Domino infrastructures, mobile app and other development tools, but its not like what we had say 10 years ago with hundreds of ISVs. One of the things that I hoped would happen and didn’t, was that a web app ecosystem would have developed. Especially with the introduction of XPages and the IBM XWork server. I am aware of a few ISV’s who have created vertical apps with XPages and the XWork server who are doing quite well. This is awesome.

A new PaaS offering was announced at IBM Connect 2014 based on SoftLayer however, I’m not really seeing this as a play for ISV’s to create cloud apps. Much like hosting market leader Prominic do today (and do it very well – Elguji is a happy customer).

The number of exhibitors at the annual IBM Connect (Lotusphere) Product Showcase has also gone down significantly. Frankly, I didn’t recognize many of the exhibitor names at this years conference. Sure, the big ones like Panagenda, Teamstudio, Ytria, BCC and others were there, but not the dozens that used to exhibit.

It was a rich app ecosystem that helped propel the adoption and allure of Notes and Domino in the enterprise. So the question becomes: How can this be turned around or changed? At this point, I’m not quite sure if it can or even needs to be changed. Is there even a need for 3rd party products and apps?

What are your thoughts?

Part 2 coming soon.


Author: Bruce Elgort

You’ll find this technology professor – an award-winning instructor at Clark College – working hard to inspire and challenge his students with meaningful web development and programming experiences. With a skinny vanilla latte (no foam) in hand, Bruce loves to tinker and test the boundaries of existing and emerging technologies, to then guide hungry minds through memorable, educational journeys to showcase with passion the ever-evolving innovations of society. An industry leader, Bruce is known for co-developing Elguji’s IdeaJam software, and is recognized by IBM as an ‘IBM Champion’ for being an innovative thought leader in cloud technologies.

16 thoughts on “IBM Notes and Domino: State of the Union – Part 1”

  1. Unfortunately IBMs lack of investment in the Domino platform until recently, and holding onto the awful Lotus name way too long has left them so far behind the competition I believe it is too late to come back. Sucks for me, as I am pretty darn good with Notes, but after a couple of years in the .NETand SQL platforms I’m getting pretty darn good at that now too. It’s not as fast to build and deploy, but it is much more powerful, and flexible, and up to date.

  2. I completely agree with you, but I wouldn’t say it as diplomatically as you. The Notes/Domino market is dead. Yes, there are companies who decide to stay on the platform (my employer included) and the Domino platform is still capable of doing great stuff.

    Personally I think Notes 9.0.1 will be the last version. A huge client taking hundreds of megabytes (gigabytes with the designer and administrator) is not something that people is looking for in this day and age of cell phones and pads. In addition, the Notes client is a bitch to administer. Seriously, it is! Even the staunches Notes supporter (and I still consider myself as one of them, but I might be a bit more realistic about the state of Denmark) has to admit this.

    And as you quite correctly point out: Companies are just not making solutions for Notes anymore. Nor are they doing web based solutions running on Domino. I know of several companies who had Domino as their speciality who are either going out of business, or are changing to Sharepoint, php and MySQL.

    There will still be millions of users on Notes/Domino for several years. But it will mostly be on legacy systems that will be running for years in a company, while they are all the time thinking of replacing them.

    Xpages is in my opinion a blind alley. It’s too difficult to use compared to a lot of other technology out there. I know, because I’ve tried to use it, and I just find it frustrating, and then I just get the data from the Notes database and present it with php, css and JavaScript. In cases where that’s not an option, I’m still generating templates with Lotusscript (a least that way I keep the load on the server down, as Lotusscript is SLOW on the web).

    I’m also still doing development work on solutions running in Notes, while dreaming of webyfying them. And other developers I talk to say the same thing, but they all regard Notes as a dying platform.

    My bet: IBM will try to convert even more people over to Connections, via an integrated email and calendar system. But it’s important that they don’t fall into the Notes/Domino trap again. Make sure there are applications available for Connections!

    Anyway, that’s my five cents (give or take the Norwegian exchange rate)

  3. Xpages is a bit of a mess, and I certainly wouldn’t base an ISV offering on it. It has all the restrictions of IBM licensing, and the faults of a new language and platform. The real problem is that after 10yrs of bizarre messaging and offerings, I no longer trust IBM to stick with anything. I’ll agree with the poster who said too little, too late. Notes was a gold mine of goodness, but once IBM purchased the product, they marginalized it and stopped investing (except for a spurt of advertising around R5). Then 8.5 came out and took 45 seconds to start up…it was absurdity. I’d say that was the nail in the coffin.

    Connections is a bloated mess. Where Notes appealed for the simplicity of running ‘setup.exe’ and being on the new version 10 minutes later, Connections scares the hell out of me….it’s nothing I would look to run on-site. However, IBM will try to boost the Connections name by trying to migrate Notes customers to it.

    What we will likely do as a customer, is simply drop support and run the solid 9 product until something else comes along. It has an acceptable web design tool, still has the client apps that users are familiar with, and requires almost no support from our in-house staff. After a nuclear war, two things will surely still be alive: cockroaches, and Domino servers. It really does everything we will need now, and in the immediate future.

    1. Oh, yeah. Don’t get me started on Connections. So far we’ve had one reinstall, and the second reinstall we tried last weekend failed. Personally I’m recommending anyone wanting to use Connetions to do it in the cloud. It’s way to complicated to run yourself

  4. While there is very little opportunity to build product based on Notes / Domino due to licensing restriction and such, there is a much larger opportunity to support your so called dying ecosystem. Most company I know stop developing application on Notes / Domino because they no longer have people with knowledge about said platform. This is something that Business Partner can leverage, providing support and development talent for those companies who wanted to built application but have no expertise on Notes / Domino.
    I think that applications is the only factor that kept companies from migrating away so if a company kept on developing applications then at least Notes / Domino will still be used there for quite some time.
    By the way, the same thing also happen on the administration side, resource that know how to fine tune Domino so that it work flawlessly are hard to get.

    1. As I mention below, we have certainly seen this. Companies who still use Notes/Domino but have basically done away with developers are often interested in products that solve problems they would have done in-house before, especially if the cost of the product is lower than a consultant for 3-5 days. With our Midas LSX product, this has meant making sample databases which solve various problems without developer intervention. People buy a license for Midas and get the samples free. We sometimes tweak them a bit depending on the customer experience, and the samples get more robust. I see this as a growing business opportunity in a world where traditional Notes/Domino developers are increasingly scarce and companies with Notes/Domino are trying to squeeze a few more years of value out.

  5. A really good measure of the health of a product can be seen by looking at the number of ISV’s and Business Partners that support it. Your observation that “[t]he number of exhibitors at the annual IBM Connect (Lotusphere) Product Showcase has also gone down significantly” is much more telling than anything that comes out of IBM or other Partners. While you could argue that the User Groups have taken some of the exhibitors away from Connect, there is no other conference that brings together so many companies from around the world in one place that is dedicated to IBM software. If you are a player in that space, you have to be at Connect. But the lack of any new partners/ISV’s at Connect shows the true state of the union. The “new-to-me” exhibitors were all playing in the Kenexa space.

  6. The idea behind IBM Notes is still awesome. I can hardly imagine how the Notes and Domino ecosystem would be if IBM would develop this product at full speed and with the resources it (imho) deserves. And to be honest I still think it could be a paradise for ISWs. The problem that hardly anyone wants to invest in Notes and Domino nowadays is that IBM himself is not investing much anymore. It is a legacy cash cow with very little input and much output.
    For the Lotus brand I can only say that if you don’t get new customers anyway and you don’t invest in the product line how much sense does it make to rebrand something!?
    The Lotus brand has been an excuse for many years so it is good that it is gone now. It hasn’t changed anything here besides that Microsoft is telling their version of the story to IBM customers (and if you don’t know the details it even makes sense).
    IBM Connections will probably have a bit longer until it starts to struggle but for me it just has the advantage that it came later to the party.
    I am aware that there must be some very big IBM customers somewhere but here in Germany IBM is on its way out in many areas, not just IBM Notes and Domino. The advantage of IBM is that they are so big that they often compensate lost business through company acquisitions and cost reduction. It seems to be a good, long lasting concept, at least for IBM.

  7. IBM have been looking for the “next big thing” since they bought Lotus. It never occurred to any “come and go…..two way highway” executives at IBM that they maybe already had it (with a a hefty investment, which really never came along). NoSQL comes to mind here, amongst other things.

    Most companies using Notes won’t build apps on it themselves anymore (IBM scared them into moving to Sharepoint and .NET mostly) so why would they then purchase anything else the runs on said platform? “Not a strategic development platform” is what I hear a lot, or “no new applications in Notes”. You can argue the web all you want, but there are not many companies willing to invest in the learning curve that is XPages (search for classes on the web) as opposed to .NET or Sharepoint (again search for classes on the web). Unfortunately for IBM, once apps are no longer strategic then mail becomes very very vulnerable. And mail is where IBM makes it’s license money, so in effect their own shortsightedness with N/D appdev is, and will continue to, cost them millions of dollars in lost license revenue year on year.

    To quip a purported “great” IBM Executive, it’s actually more of a “one way street”. And that street is rarely on IBM software when a customer looks around.

  8. I am tempted to write about my thriving ISV business (dipped for a while during the Great Recession, growing steadily again now), but I am too busy pulling the damn sharp bits of bark out of my arms.

      1. Interestingly, the export and coexistence businesses have both been large parts of what we do for many years, but we’ve also gotten a fair number of people lately for data processing, etc. (i.e., people staying in Notes). Part of the reason, sadly, is that a number of companies have no developers left and little budget for consultants, so they use Midas and one of its many samples rather than having a developer build a solution. Works for us, but more and more samples have to be self-sustaining, as there is no developer to change them. Notes/Domino work well enough for them to stay on maintenance and standard templates (such as Teamroom) or products they bought long ago, but they are often not using it to its full potential as they don’t do development.

  9. The remarks about the dwindling ISV and partner ecosystems are one big factor. Since I left IBM I’ve not spoken much (not publicly) about how I saw it, despite a number of encouragements to “stick the boot in”. It’s not something I feel I need to do as the Notes market share is falling away without people like me poking it with a stick. While I was at IBM Lotus I got fed up with the “everyone likes Outlook” reason for ditching Notes – I challenged people to prove it, believing it was a well-worn perception with no evidence. But when a customer said “this critical line-of-business solution integrates with Outlook but not with Notes” there was not much argument.

    Now I’m seeing former Lotus Business Partners turning to Office 365 and SharePoint. Some have had a dual business for a while. Just this week I was asked to speak at an event being run by a former pro-Notes partner running a ‘migrate off Notes’ event. So there you go.

    For now, let me just say that I have a soft spot for Notes / Domino believe they deserve respect as strong competitive products. But you have to question how long IBM can continue to invest. If Bruce is going to cover Notes customers in part 2 I won’t stick the boot in but I have some honest feedback to provide.

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