Notes/Domino not vanquished, says Burton analyst

Peter Bochner

What's collaboration, besides a new battlefield for IBM and Microsoft and an overused technology term? According to Peter O'Kelly, it's a combination of communication and collaboration. O'Kelly is a senior analyst with the Application Platform Strategies service of IT infrastructure research and advisory firm Burton Group, where he focuses on the areas of collaboration, database management, and Microsoft platforms, tools and applications.

Before coming to Burton, he worked in software product management and strategy for IBM, Lotus, Groove Networks Inc. and Macromedia Inc., and also worked as a systems analyst and database architect. He maintains a blog site, called Peter O'Kelly's Reality Check.

While, by some estimates, Exchange has surpassed Notes in the enterprise messaging market, O'Kelly is quick to point out that Notes/Domino is not vanquished, and he has issues with the "it's only a matter of time before Microsoft owns everything" mindset of the mainstream business press. SearchDomino recently had the opportunity to discuss Notes/Domino, enterprise collaboration technologies and the whole IBM vs. Microsoft issue with O'Kelly.

SearchDomino: What's the biggest motivator for a company to start using all these state-of-the-art collaboration technologies?

Peter O'Kelly: Some companies think of collaboration defined as "Metamucil" software -- you should do it because it's good for you, even if it doesn't taste so hot. Some companies have taken the view that if you can't give us immediate ROI, we're not going to do it. Other more enlightened companies have gone ahead and deployed it anyway, simply because of the soft benefits they think they'll get.

The bottom line is it's useful for any company to have less wasted time in the areas of communication and coordination. For many of the companies that have implemented collaboration, the carrot is productivity. That and improved response time. For other companies, there's the stick motivator: You don't have a choice. If you don't do it, your competitor is going to. Or perhaps you don't have a choice because you're in a highly regulated industry and you're required to track all interactions for auditing purposes.

The good news is that right now we're seeing a lot of convergence around a common model of collaboration.

SearchDomino: What common model is that?

O'Kelly: Historically the terminology in this area has been a real mess. There have been all these different terms for the same thing. Office automation. Orchestration, Communication. Coordination. Now we're seeing a trend to go back to the basics, by recognizing there's a difference between communication, which relates to the transmission of information -- email, IM, faxes, etc. – and collaboration, which refers to workspaces and tools that support purposeful joint activities, such as projects, processes, and document-oriented groupwork.

SearchDomino: On your blog site, you used the word "distorted" to describe some recent articles in the business press that took a look at the collaboration market. Have you had your fill of the metaphor of Microsoft and. IBM as two warriors slugging it out on the battlefield of collaboration?

O'Kelly: The subject's been consistently beaten to death, but it hasn't been covered well. The market dynamics are very complex. The business press usually ends up comparing apples and oranges. Lots of times they'll compare SharePoint to Notes, and the company they're talking to is using Version 4.6 of Notes and hasn't updated it since 1997.

SearchDomino: Speaking of the press, all I seem to read about is how companies are moving from Notes to Exchange. Does the opposite scenario happen often?

O'Kelly: There are many cases where companies have gone the other way, for varying reasons, but you'd have to be an investigative reporter with lots of time on your hands to do the complete story. From where I sit, when it comes to enterprise messaging, Exchange has surpassed Notes/Domino. But it hasn't vanquished it. Which is the impression you sometimes come away with from reading the mainstream business press.

SearchDomino: Many of our readers feel that IBM has never been able to crisply articulate the Notes/Domino value proposition. You previously worked in software product management and strategy for both Lotus and IBM. How should Notes have been marketed?

O'Kelly: In 1997, the Iris/Lotus developers killed themselves to finish Notes Release 4, which was a watershed release, only to find that no one cared because everyone was going gaga over Web apps.

An entire product category had gone spontaneously boring. People were saying, "Yeah, e-mail's dead, what can you do for Web apps?"

An entire product category had gone spontaneously boring. People were saying, "Yeah, e-mail's dead, what can you do for Web apps?" That led to the creation of Domino, a server version of Notes, and that schizophrenia still hasn't been resolved to this day.

The period from 1997 to 2000 was a wacky one. Publications were saying that AOL was dead, that Microsoft was obsolete, and that Netscape was the new Microsoft. None of them foresaw that today there would be more than 100 million people still using Notes. The paradox was that you had two products – Notes and Microsoft Exchange -- competing and pretty much every enterprise employee using one or the other, and yet the market segment was considered unglamorous. In hindsight, it's not clear that there was a way IBM could have changed that by doing more marketing. It wasn't so much Notes vs. Exchange, but IBM vs. Microsoft. Jim Manzi left 99 days after IBM acquired Lotus, and at that point, Lotus didn't have much of a marketing budget and its development group was more about containing costs.

SearchDomino: It must be frustrating for users loyal to a product to see so many strategic changes by whichever company's in charge.

O'Kelly: There have been dramatic changes at both Microsoft and IBM. When Microsoft announced Exchange Server 2000, they were calling it "our Notes killer," because it included workflow, collaborative conferencing and enterprise messaging. But all the parts of Exchange Server that were designated as collaboration components failed and were replaced with components like Live Communications Server and Live Meeting. If you were a customer who bought Exchange 2000 expecting to solve your collaboration problems, you've probably changed your tune.

Then look at IBM. Just three years ago, the implicit message from IBM itself was "Notes is dead, and you'd better get yourself to the Java side if you know what's good for you." We've seen a huge shift since Ambuj Goyal came on board. He has a deep research background, and he's passionate about customers. Under Goyal, IBM has redoubled its focus on Notes/Domino, and they have a more compelling picture with Workplace than they did three years ago, when it was a bunch of goals and aspirations.

SearchDomino: Your resume says you also worked with Groove Networks. What's your take on Microsoft's acquisition of Groove?

O'Kelly: There is a verifiable set of customer requirements where Groove is a better alternative. With Groove, there's no dependency on common infrastructure and users don't need permission from their IT department to start using Groove. It's immediately usable without strong IT support. But the vast majority of enterprises need the communications channels of a workplace. They need real-time Web conferencing. They need to take applications offline, and participate in those applications while they're offline. Both IBM and Microsoft can justifiably say they address those requirements now.

SearchDomino: If you had one piece of wisdom for a Notes/Domino developer regarding collaboration, what would it be?

O'Kelly: If you're using Notes productively, don't feel like you need to be in a rush to go anywhere else.

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