Domino contributes to Capitol calendaring improvements

Domino contributes to Capitol calendaring improvements

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Ngozi Pole has found one of the few places where Notes and Domino is considered radical, even dangerous: the nation's Capitol.

Pole said he only wants to replace the Senate's current e-mail dinosaur, Lotus cc:Mail, with Notes and Domino and third-party, Web-based applications that can tie-in with a Domino backend.

Pole, the IT director for Massachusetts Senator Edward Kennedy's office, said a junta of ubernerds within the Office of the Sergeant at Arms -- it oversees the Senate's technology assets -- has accused him of foiling their plans for a vanilla, Microsoft-only upper branch.

"I'm looking for ways to save money, and one way to do that is by making our applications platform-independent," Pole said. "But now some people at the Office of the Sergeant at Arms [SAA] are making me out to be a troublemaker."

A plan for reform

The SAA grants each senator an IT budget of $250,000 per six-year term. It had expected Pole to spend his IT budget replacing Macs with Windows PCs and maintaining the senator's current "constituent management system," Quorum Power, from Falls Church, Va.-based Intelligent Solutions, Inc.

Instead, Pole is upgrading his Macs and replacing Quorum with Notes and Domino R5, two applications written for the Domino platform.

One of the applications, a Web-based scheduling "dashboard" from Santa Monica, Calif.-based developer CreativEngine Corp., will use Java servlets to exchange data between its own, slick Macromedia Flash interface and InterTrac, a Notes and Domino-based constituent management system from Albany, NY-based ComputerWorks.

CreativEngine will use two Domino system-level functions, ReadViewEntries and generateXML, to extract XML from the Domino/InterTrac database. So it should be easy to bridge the dashboard with InterTrac.

"We should only have to write an XSL stylesheet to translate the data between our Flash app and InterTrac," said CreativEngine's president Brian Holmes. "ComputerWorks shouldn't have to write a bunch of code to integrate this into their system."

Ngozi Pole said InterTrac and CreativEngine's scheduling dashboard will create a single point of contact for collaboration across Senator Kennedy's Boston and Washington offices, streamline workflow, reduce paperwork and increase productivity.

Policy in practice

Once completed, Senator Kennedy's full-time scheduling person will use the CreativEngine dashboard to approve and reject meeting requests in the InterTrac database, and update the Senator's calendar in real time.

Pole plans to show the SAA that his Domino-based scheme will save money. InterTrac should reduce paperwork by replacing the "scheduling memo" that is currently used to request appointments with an intranet-driven request application.

InterTrac also has an imaging system for digitizing and routing correspondence via e-mail.

Pole said Domino's replication features will become central to his office's "continuity," or disaster recovery, plan.

"[With Notes and Domino replication], a staff member can replicate the InterTrac databases to a laptop and take it with him," Pole said. " So, if any of the buildings get shut down again due to anthrax or an attack, we will be able to 'work off line.' None of the current systems available to offices on the Hill allows staff to do this."

At Senator Kennedy's Washington and Boston offices, InterTrac traces all incoming and outgoing correspondence -- including up to 1,000 incoming messages daily -- and sends mailings, faxes and e-mail messages to constituents. It also creates associations between contacts, meeting places and briefing documents.

Pole has been using Notes and Domino and InterTrac for several months, and CreativEngine's dashboard should be online by early spring.

Despite Pole's positive experience to date, the SAA seems poised to reject Notes and Domino as a Senate-wide replacement for cc:Mail, and as a platform for third-party applications.

In a recent e-mail to Pole, a SAA functionary makes his case for Microsoft Exchange:

"We shouldn't pick [Domino] just because it runs some specific third-party application,? the functionary writes. "As a matter of fact, the features of [Domino and Exchange] are almost identical. And if we are going to tie our e-mail decision to a CMS vendor, then Exchange would win, hands-down."

Mark Baard is a contributing writer based in Milton, Mass.

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