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The ins and outs of outsourcing Notes/Domino apps

Are Domino apps easy or hard to outsource? Venkatesh Krishnamoorthy, the head of offshore outsourcer Maarga Systems, shares his thoughts on Notes/Domino outsourcing trends.

Maarga Systems is an outsourcing firm based in Chennai, India, that is focused on delivering application development, application maintenance and systems administration services around the Lotus Notes/Domino platform. The company was founded by Venkatesh "Venki" Krishnamoorthy.

SearchDomino associate editor Peter Bochner recently talked to him via e-mail about trends in the Notes/Domino outsourcing market.

SearchDomino: Are there fewer offshore companies to outsource Notes and Domino-related software development to than there were five years ago?

Krishnamoorthy: For most offshore outsourcing companies that started off with a pure Notes/Domino focus, the growth of offshoring as a trend is a bigger story than the dynamics in the Lotus Notes/Domino marketplace. Some of these companies have moved on to other growth engines -- some close cousins to Domino development, such as Java development, and others that are as far out as independent testing and outsourced customer support. The number of Notes/Domino-focused offshore shops has come down, but the number of Notes/Domino professionals in offshore outsourcing companies has gone up, indicating some degree of consolidation in the market, and indicating also that in big outsourcing deals, Notes/Domino outsourcing is one small part in a bigger relationship.

SearchDomino: Where are clients for Maarga's development and maintenance of services based, geographically? And these days, what types of development projects most commonly come your way when it comes to Notes and Domino?

Krishnamoorthy: Our market has been predominantly U.S. (more than 80 percent), though we are making significant inroads into East Asia (Japan, Singapore, etc.) of late. The U.S. is by far the biggest market in terms of size, growth, billing rate differential etc. and also in terms of acceptance of offshore outsourcing from cultural, linguistic and regulatory perspectives. We expect to make further inroads into the U.S., Germany and other key markets with the help of local partnerships.

For development projects, we typically get projects around operational automation/workflow, Web enablement and portalization/integration.


As for development projects, we typically get projects around operational automation/workflow, Web enablement and portalization/integration.

SearchDomino: The companies that are outsourcing the creation of their Notes and Domino applications -- are they doing it just to save money? Are there other reasons, and if so, have the reasons for outsourcing changed over the past five years?

Krishnamoorthy: The reasons have remained mostly the same -- specialized skills, cost advantages and a variable cost structure that does not add to permanent headcount. As companies utilize offshore outsourcing, they chance upon accidental benefits like a more rigorous process introduced by the offshore model and outsourcing companies, better quality, etc. As we say in our reviews, "Customers come because of price, but stay because of quality." While the reasons have remained the same over time, the risk perception of offshoring has considerably diminished simply because more people have seen that outsourcing delivers results.

SearchDomino: What impact has WebSphere had on your Notes and Domino development work?

Krishnamoorthy: We see enterprise-level applications moving towards WebSphere, while departmental/workgroup level applications and application enhancement continues on Notes/Domino platform. A

We do not see any let-down in the amount of maintenance work around Notes and Domino, implying people are not retiring those applications, but are looking at WebSphere for future initiatives.

big part of our work is also application maintenance, and we do not see any let-down in the amount of maintenance work around Notes and Domino, implying people are not retiring Notes and Domino applications, but are looking at WebSphere for future initiatives. We see an increased demand for portalization and skills on WebSphere Portal Server.

SearchDomino: Can you briefly explain how the outsourcing process works? How does a customer find you? Once that happens, do they submit a RFP that you bid on? How often do you visit a potential customer in person? Once the customer gives you the go-ahead, is everything done online, or does the process require more face-to-face interaction?

Krishnamoorthy: The process typically starts with either the executive management pushing the IS department to probe the outsourcing angle, or some backlogged work that is piling up because of want of time and budget. We actively call our target market with the outsourcing message, and when a connect happens between our message and the customer situation, it typically results in an RFP. Our response to the RFP is in considerable detail and is a key element in credentializing us with the prospect. Our response clearly conveys to the customer that our proposed solution is thought through professionally, keeping their situation in mind. Face-to-face meetings typically happen for larger relationships, but with video conferencing and constant availability over phone and instant messaging, the need for site visits has come down substantially, after the initial familiarization trip(s).

We also seek to work with other Lotus partners who have the necessary understanding of the customer situation, but who lack the technical talent and the price points that we can bring to the table. In such cases, the on-site business partner handles customer interaction and we provide the back-end technical depth. When the project starts, it is typically managed through some kind of an online workspace, a shared project environment, regular phone calls and IM conversations. Depending on the customer's need for deployment support, we visit the customer site during deployment/roll-out time.

SearchDomino: How applicable are Notes- and Domino applications to being outsourced? Do they pose any specific challenges from a coding or any other standpoint?

Krishnamoorthy: There are three factors that make Notes/Domino applications more difficult to outsource.

  • The size of the typical application is small, making it difficult to justify the upfront communication overhead involved in an outsourcing relationship.
  • The association of Notes as a RAD tool implies that customers expect super-quick deliveries, which is all the more difficult when done offshore.
  • Most Domino applications (as are most software applications in general) are not well-documented, making the task of a new team taking over an application that much tougher.

Having said that, there are three factors that make the outsourcing of Notes/Domino applications easier.

  • Notes was designed with remote collaboration in mind. So the remote team is easily integrated into the Domino infrastructure.
  • Fine-grained security and auditing capabilities in Domino Administrator makes for easy access control for remote teams.
  • Notes being network-aware -- in every sense of the word -- makes the distance vanish when developing Notes-based applications remotely.

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