Some Domino developers go with the Flow

Some big-name shops are taking advantage of FlowBuilder XML, a development environment and conversion tool for legacy Notes workflow apps.

IBM Lotus is promising to support its customers' Notes/NSF-to-WebSphere/DB2 migrations with new tools, but some of its biggest customers are already starting to use XML, a markup language that they say can do the job for them today.

Notes shops like Daimler Chrysler and J. Walter Thompson have been steadily moving their outsized NSF applications and databases into XML, a flexible data format they can access with any number of collaborative and knowledge management applications -- not only those on the IBM WebSphere/J2EE platform.

The companies have been making their migrations with software from Trilog Group Inc., a Woburn, Mass.-based company that has been trotting out its blue chip customers at sales meetings and conferences for the past six years.

This week, Trilog presented case studies and lab demos from users of its flagship product, FlowBuilder XML, at the company's XSP Summit 2003.

Many developers looking for the next big thing in Domino -- and for ways to remain employable in a seemingly dying marketplace -- see possibilities here. FlowBuilder XML is a workflow application with Domino-like constructs, which works as both a development environment and a conversion tool for legacy Notes workflow applications. Its proponents say FlowBuilder gives Domino developers the chance to use their existing skills to make themselves useful in a business tilting heavily toward open standards.

"[FlowBuilder] very clearly has potential," said Holly Campbell, director of the New England Domino and Notes Special Interest Group, a user organization. "It covers similar ground to Domino as a tool, even as it extends the platform into the Java and XML world."

Daimler Chrysler, which has tens of thousands of Notes apps running at its headquarters in Auburn Hills, Mich., and Stuttgart, Germany, plans to move Notes apps in several of its divisions to XML.

The workflow applications in these divisions grew too big to be managed within Domino, said Bruce Rettig, manager of collaborative technology applications at Daimler Chrysler. Trilog is offering the automaker the very rapid application development, scalability, and vendor support that IBM has not yet provided, he said. "[Trilog] is providing the tools today that IBM has been promising to deliver," Rettig said.

Trilog's products are built on component-based extensible server pages (XSP), the language used to create dynamic XML content. The company's CEO says Trilog is a direct threat to IBM's plans to push Domino users into using WebSphere. "IBM is in a panic because we don't have a conflict of interest; we're not an infrastructure vendor," said Trilog CEO Alex El Homsi. "We don't want you to be bound to anything."

But IBM marketing manager Art Fontaine says Lotus, too, has been supporting XML exports from Domino since ND5. And he believes that many Domino users are more interested "in exporting Domino code straight to WebSphere/J2EE, rather than to an intermediary XML format."

Domino shops can use XML as a way to add Web services, without committing themselves only to a WebSphere/J2EE environment. "It makes sense to keep your messaging infrastructure, while doing away with its proprietary nature," said Michael Osterman, president of Osterman Research Inc., an IT consultancy based in Black Diamond, Wash. "And the Web and Web services are moving toward XML."

Some Notes consultants, especially those who aren't retiring within the next year, are finding Trilog's case for XML compelling.

"It's a first step to getting outside your comfort zone," said Jorge Romo, CEO of Monterrey, Mexico-based consultancy Global Tools, "which, in case you haven't noticed, is becoming a lot more uncomfortable lately."

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