Notes inventor Ray Ozzie says the eternal tug-of-war between centralized IT and frontline business software users is entering a new stage. IBM says that plays just fine with its view of Workplace software, which had a major unveiling this week.
In the '90s, the tug-of-war between IT and business groups helped spawn Notes, and an era of somewhat ad hoc application development. But Notes itself became a tool of the IT department as time progressed. Today, said Ozzie, who heads Groove Networks, organizations are taking on the look of a 'mesh environment' rather than the vertical structure of the past, and the old 'edge' issues are returning.
Software such as Notes can play an important business role in this changing environment, he indicated. Ozzie comments came yesterday at IBM Lotusphere in Orlando, Fla. as he took part in an expert panel on the past and future of Notes. As IBM rolls out new Workplace software to join the Lotus Notes family, the company has indicated it is trying to fashion its new solutions to play well in business settings that are not tightly organized along vertical lines.
Shooting from the hip
Central to Notes at the outset was the concept of a semi-structured data base and an object software metaphor that centered on documents rather than transactions. "We built these forms-based things," said Ozzie, "I don't think we understood deeply the kind of applications people would build."
"We were shooting from the hip," Ozzie said of the early years of Notes development. The approach worked well where organization workflow was important, and was not necessarily embraced wholeheartedly by central IT.
"The fundamental belief we had was [in] the people who best know how to adapt software to their needs," Ozzie said, referring to the business workers "at the edge of the system."
In the early days, he said, Notes applications were largely created by "power users and line-of-business IT." Notes, of course, later became more and more of an environment for professional developers.
Today, still, you want people as much as possible to be involved in developing their own apps, Ozzie indicated. He added that this is a unique time in the history of business software as the personal computing needs of consumers and small businesses are greatly diverging from the needs of enterprise software users.
Yet, consumer products continue to influence business software, albeit with a few twists. Their presence can provide new challenges to IT directors. Lotus Notes user Mike Dituro, managing director, Deutsche Bank also took part in the Lotusphere panel and he noted the influence of instant messaging [IM] on the financial trading floor. Ditruro said his group has 1,200 Notes applications.
"Now a lot of transactions happen over Yahoo Messenger," he said.
"The challenge for us is how we build compliance and security around that," said Dituro.
In planning this year's Lotusphere conference, IBM Lotus made efforts to pay some special homage to its flagship Domino Notes messaging system – that after last year's conference was criticized by Notes faithful as a bit too heavy on the new J2EE-oriented Workplace product line that the company is eager to promote. This formed a backdrop to the roundtable discussion, featuring Ozzie, at which experts and end users discussed the value and history of Notes.
Lotusphere panelist Mike Rhodin, vice president of development and technical support, Lotus Software, said the company analyzed what made Notes successful as it went about creating Workplace. According to Rhodin, concepts IBM tried to carry forward were: The ability to quickly rollout applications; easy means to add new services to the platform; and, an architecture based around shared objects, worker roles, and business activities.
Other IBM representatives at Lotusphere echoed the dual themes of line-of-business user empowerment and Notes Domino homage. Said Dirk Nicol, program director, IBM Workplace Application Platform: "The real productivity happens at the edge. That's been the real power of Notes Domino – its reusable, and people can work iteratively."
Nicol said IBM Lotus hopes to incorporate those traits into Workplace Designer, the new tool IBM has released for teams, particularly line-of-business programmers, developing with its Workplace platform.
"Workplace is a template-driven model, Nicol said, "we have built these templates that are menu driven. They can publish [the application] and it is done. Once published, it can become another template that others can reuse and change." All these are traits familiar to the Lotus developer community, and few of them are particularly common in the Java tools field that has gained much attention in recent years.