Empowered Notes users

by Volker Weber

There is an interesting thread on Ed's about the applications people use stand-alone on their Notes clients. Read the comments. "I wrote this little application", "Journal can be easily customized" and so on. Do you see the pattern? It seems that all Notes users who love the platform are empowered. They can customize their experience to their personal needs. They can write their own application, how small they may be. The most vocal fans are fully empowered. They can write the most elaborate applications themselves, they have their own servers to deploy them on.

And they are a very, very small minority of the Notes users out there.


I believe you are right on target, Volker. Unfortunately, these "empowerment" things that got discovered by a few are easily squelched by the IT department (I'm on both sides of the fence in this one) which plays to the reality that few people know about the empowerment. It's Lotus' loss and the end user's loss, sorrowfully.

Thinking standalone, is it possible that a free client with designer would drive "tradeups" to a client server environment, making it a gainer where Lotus' money really comes from (I assume)?

John Rowland, 2009-06-26

If I recall correctly that empowerment was the high ideal of the original 'all-in-one' dev/admin/client

Ian Scott, 2009-06-26

Is it inevitable that the empowered are a small minority? In big corporations, the answer will be "yes," because audit and business control requirements will not allow anyone to deploy a production application at a whim. In small companies, though? In education? Is there an opportunity to create a "feeder program" by empowering more people?

Rob McDonagh, 2009-06-26

A long time ago when I was an Admin I seem to remember there was a very fine line between the users that customised things and the users that broke things.

Chris Coates, 2009-06-27

Certainly. But lots of users love Excel and despise Notes. This might be a reason. There are Excel Services, there is Palo, there are forms in Google Spreadsheets. Many options for a user to build something useful.

Volker Weber, 2009-06-27

Perhaps the matter of support for the application is a big consideration here.

If I fall under a bus then corporate IT has to recruit a replacement for me since it has all these Notes applications to support.

If a business user builds something on their own and then falls under a bus the business has to recruit a replacement for the core business job that person performed but the person recruited also has to have the skills to support the application built by their predecessor. I think that represents a risk to the company or organisation.

I believe that if the IT department cannot deliver applications required by the business - either because it doesn't have the resources or doesn't know about the requirement - then IT is failing its in-house customers.

I'm not 100% sure what Rob meant by "feeder program" but if he meant a means by which an individual user can be permitted - even encouraged - to devise and build things for themselves but have their endeavours sanctioned or catalogued by IT so that it feeds into the corporate IT picture such that IT can take these things into account when planning then I would describe it as an opportunity to improve matters.

I'd love to see some of the development capabilities reintroduced into the Notes client.

Ian Scott, 2009-06-27

Yes, I think its a small minority that creates their own Notes applications. One reason could also be the price of the Domino Designer and the fact that it's an extra license. The Designer is not part of the standard Notes client, so of course only the IT department is able to create new applications.

Karsten Lehmann, 2009-06-27

In many instances I´ve seen and experienced, the lack of empowerment of users starts with the simplest of all things: Mailbox size strangulation. And that´s just a starting point to leave the users (which, in real life, may be seasoned and experienced staff, used to have their will) at the sheer mercy of the IT department. These are, in fact, the business users, that in turn decide to use an OTS or open source software for, say, CRM, instead of making use of their brilliant IT staff to develop these things on their own, in full knowledge of all necessary interfaces (say, SAP).

The result are agressive business users, a lot of money spent -maybe- unwise and a constant move away from Lotus.

Adressing the Ex-Admin that spoke up a few posts above I´d like to mention, that the fine line between making and breaking things is called "help and support". Breaking things is an essential element on the learning curve. And whatever survives, is management- and fool-proof.

I f someone, who is not a developer starts making an app, he voices a business need. Face it, somebody should be listening and help him get the results he needs for his business instead of bitching about the biggest bug sitting in front of the screen.

Armin Roth, 2009-06-27

I certainly think there's a strong point to be made that the power of customization adds a huge value to the application space. The more a user can customize, the more potential power is added. Building your own applications is power indeed.

It is also certainly true that those users who are doing it are the ones most supportive of the platform and that they represent a tiny subset of notes users today.

As the client has gotten more and more complex, and the world in which we build applications has also gotten more and more rich, the days when someone could toss together a couple of forms and a few views and really be happy with his application are probably long gone.

So, the missing element to Vowe's provocative posting is that those few empowered people are also among the fairly small percentage of users who could actually make use of the development environment. The days when someone without real programming skills could really make a business class application worthy of the platform ended with version 4.0 and the introduction of Lotuscript.

I wish this weren't the case. Ken Lownie, and early supporter of the platform, once made the case (in the r4.x timeframe) that the peak benefit for the dollar with the Notes platform probably was version 3, and that Lotuscript added cost primarily resulting in more attractive applications that didn't really add any more business value. With the move to web based everything, you could make the case that this time has been pushed back somewhat, but overall his general point still has some ring of truth to it.

Andrew Pollack, 2009-06-28

In my mind R3 was the zenith. I could do nearly anything with it.

I script nearly everything these days and so my previously demonic skills with the formula language have atrophied. But if there was no Lotuscript I'd still be a demon (and could be again)......ahh, the form and view events since R4 are important too.

R4 gave us the ability to build applications that are not 'clunky' and which don't have to have agent progress bars zipping across the screen.

It is a provocative posting and I think it is partly because it ignores wider issues. I suspect that's intentional but that's okay :-)

Google and Excel apps are not a panacea.

I followed and read the link above to microsoft dot com but I didn't really see how what was described there is able to offer more than can be achieved by a password protected spreadsheet on a file server - despite the spin there is no clear statement there of multi user concurrent access to the spreadsheet and I'm left to infer that some granularity over read access (via Sharepoint) is all that's about.

Once an application is required to scale beyond a single user I think the focus needs to be on databases. Performance matters too.

In my experience the empowered Excel user doesn't, for example, build validation into cell entries or do anything to ensure that all cell entries are complete for a given circumstance and so, eventually, the spreadsheet ends up with lots of dyslexic or empty or wrong case entries in a given column - ie bad or unreliable data that needs subsequent (manual) manipulation to turn into simplified reports. The empowered Excel user typically doesn't address this but corporate IT would, even if it is just to deliver a bespoke Excel spreadsheet.

I'm all for encouraging and supporting and helping the business user but no matter what they do on the IT front I don't think they should give up the day job unless it's a long term decision (and they are hired and bring their new Google skills, say, into corporate IT). I wouldn't dare tell a business user how to do their job and they likewise shouldn't tell me how to do mine even if they do have a degree in computer science and wish they weren't working in the call centre.

What matters to me is engaging those users and identifying where corporate IT is letting them down so that we can address it. It is easy to build an application for one or twenty people but once that application catches on and two thousand people start to use it the requirements inevitably become more more diverse, complicated and granular. Without corporate IT, the empowered single user will find that they and/or their application will break down when they try to scale it.

One size rarely fits all and especially so if it is conceived from the point of view of a single user.

Ian Scott, 2009-06-28

In my old organisation we always had users who wanted to do really simple things like this—invite people to corporate dos, monitor responses, that sort of thing. Sure, there were Notes templates out there which had the capability, but nothing beats just letting them do it, especially with traditional application deployment taking so long.

There is most definitely a place for the sort of thing that Lotus Notes used to offer, that Google Apps offers now. And if IT departments continue to ignore it, then they’ll be the ones whingeing when users end up going down their own path.

Ben Poole, 2009-06-28

Interesting. I did not intend this post to be provocative. Some people strongly dislike Notes while others love it. And it just occurred to me, that there is an interesting pattern. It seems that the majority of people who love Notes are the empowered ones.

Volker Weber, 2009-06-28

The comment on business value having passed it´s peak is down to the mark. In todays world, the business value is hidden in very few core featuers, everything else is nice to have, and adds to the "feature per dollar" calculation ratio, but does not add to the felt value of a given piece of software.

Most people get along well with some 20 features of Excel or use Word because it simply renders the text better and supports reading the poetry better on screen.

So if it is true, that approximately 20% of the features make up for 80% of the business value in average, and empowered users tend to be more satisfied with a given piece of code, the development path for Notes would be pretty well laid out, if IBM would think of it twice: look at the human user interface, get rid of the bloated stuff, keep it simple and stupid and give those, who demand more ability to create stuff easily with a simplified approach (drag and drop, scripting) to do it for their environment without having to ask people who feel intimidated when somebody asks them about getting a solution for their business problem or having to convince somebody and justify buying a development license.

Addressing the product to the IT department will not satisfy any more business users, who ultimately are the ones to take the buying decision. The guy who today works in the Call Center, hiding his degree in CS under his desk may be the CIO of the company a couple of years later.

IT is a support function in most cases, not the core competence of most enterprises.

Armin Roth, 2009-06-28

@vowe: excellent observation.

Armin Roth, 2009-06-28

I'm probably lucky at the moment as I work in a very professional IT environment. The senior managers are computer scientists but they also have MBA's.

UDI is not on our business user's radar and the business sees it as IT's job to deliver or facilitate the delivery of the solutions they need. The business wants us to do it.

I think it is probably true that the majority of Notes users who love it are the empowered ones but I think it is reasonable to extend that to also include users who have been empowered by Notes - by an IT department which has built things for them in Notes.

Ian Scott, 2009-06-28

@vowe - if I find it provocative I must be touchy about something :-)

Ian Scott, 2009-06-28

@Armin, the issue with the users only use 20 features of Excel analogy, is that different users use a different 20 features. So the 20 features you use may not be the 20 features I use. Different users have different needs, and to address the many the feature list grows.

Carl Tyler, 2009-06-28

Ian, looks like you have a good place to work. I have seen other places where Notes users cannot use full text search and have IT police breathing down their necks at 200 MB mailbox size.

Volker Weber, 2009-06-29

I like Ian's comment - we have many users who love Notes because of what we've written for them. We empower them to do their jobs, and deliver strong ROI for the company's investment in Notes. Companies that have Notes but do not have Notes developers are missing out.

You are spot on Volker, and it IS an interesting observation - in my case I love Notes because I'm empowered. Interacting with Notes certainly would not be as much fun (if at all) if I was doing something else at my company and had no rights to develop applications.

John Vaughan, 2009-06-30

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