7 Things IT Managers Should Know About Lotus Notes

Your company might use Lotus Notes and Domino Servers. But you probably aren't taking advantage of this powerful enterprise application.

By Thomas Duff
Tue, December 09, 2008

CIO — When the phrase "Lotus Notes" is mentioned in the halls of your IT department, you probably hear a range of responses, from "That's still around?" to "Notes is a critical part of our application portfolio, and we couldn't deliver value without it." For a significant enterprise collaboration application that's been around for more than two decades, it's surprising that so many IT professionals still have a difficult time explaining just what Notes and Domino is, what it does and how it fits into the IT infrastructure.

Lotus Notes is the "Ginsu knife" of application development. It slices, it dices, it cuts both leather and tomatoes. This extreme flexibility means that Notes doesn't fit neatly into a single software category in either its definition and functionality. But it also means that your investment in Notes and Domino can deliver more than "just e-mail" to your organization. Are you taking advantage of what it can do?

1. Notes is more than "just e-mail."

With near-universal use of e-mail as a corporate communication tool, Notes users spend much of their time in their mail file. This tends to lead to the never-ending debate of which is better: Lotus Notes or Microsoft Exchange. In reality, that's an unreasonable comparison.

If you're using Lotus Notes as "just" an e-mail application, you could do much better (and save a lot of money). Download an open-source mail transfer agent (MTA) like Sendmail and an open-source mail client like Thunderbird, and you have e-mail. Historically, the Notes mail client has not been "best-in-class" (to put it nicely), and as such has suffered in comparisons to Microsoft's Outlook mail client. But it's what Lotus Notes offers beyond the mail client that makes it so valuable to the enterprise.

In addition to its e-mail capabilities, Lotus Notes is also a full-featured rapid application development platform. Notes uses a semi-structured data store that allows for the creation and processing of "documents" (which are similar to records in relational database systems). Documents are displayed to the user as "forms," which reveal the application's pertinent fields. This means that you can use Notes to build electronic workflow applications that can create requests, notify approvers via e-mail and process the requests once the approval is granted.

For instance, an expense reporting application built on the Notes platform could allow users to enter their expenses, route the document to their supervisors for approval (perhaps with an additional level of approval if the amount is over a certain limit), and then generate a notice to the Accounting department to reimburse the user.

Another example might be an information request form on your corporate website. Once the form is completed and the "submit" button is clicked, Notes could route the request to the correct department and track its fulfillment.

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