Since I published my article Reading The IBM Tea Leaves just over a month ago we have been involved in a lot of discussions with customers and business partners about what happens next with Notes applications. There have also been significant discussion within the community following MWLUG, an event at which IBM allowed itself to get behind the story. IBM are likely to make some sort of public statement later this month about its commitment to supporting Notes moving forward, although it does appear most of this information is now already in the public domain. There will not be a Notes 9.0.2 any time soon (if ever) with IBM instead moving to make enhancements available via Fix Packs/Feature Packs. IBM will support Notes 9.0.x until at least 2021. IBM Verse On Premise is on track to be made available around the end of this year and the first shippable version of Project Toscana is also likely to appear in a similar time frame. But what does this really mean for the many people who still have a large number of Notes/Xpages applications?

Notes Client Applications

At ATLUG’s Day Of Champions event back in April 2014 I gave a presentation Lotus Notes Live Long And Prosper. In this presentation I offered a view that even if IBM were to immediately drop support for Notes it is likely that a great many Notes applications would continue to exist for another 10 years (or more). The rationale is quite simple. There are a lot of Notes applications, most of them still work well, and it costs a lot of money to replace them.

We now know that IBM have stopped investing in the Notes client as an application development platform. We have customers who still continue to invest in their Notes applications. These are typically smaller companies who simply cannot afford to move away from the high speed, low cost Rapid Application Development platform. There are not many alternatives for them that do not require a significant investment in new development skills and/or a significant increase in the cost to develop solutions in an alternative platform. So until they find an alternative path we have suggested to them not to rush their decision until they are comfortable with an alternative solution.

XPages Applications

At Engage in March 2015 I gave a presentation Beyond XPages. In it I suggested that XPages, at best, was a transitional technology that bought Notes applications a little bit of time for companies who were able to master the technology and urgently needed Web front-ends for existing Notes applications. I suggested the Road Map for XPages would be non-existent by 2020 for several reasons. It is already based on outdated technologies, many of the technologies such as Domino Designer, SSJS etc are proprietary, and IBM are unlikely to invest at a level that would keep the platform current. 18 months later I would suggest the Roadmap for XPages is already non-existent.

Red Pill Now stopped using XPages for its own products two years ago and we now refuse to provide XPages services for customers. We urge all our customers who have not yet moved to XPages to bypass it and move to some form of JavaScript framework and/or Web Components. For customers (and developers) who have started building XPages solutions we urge them to quickly move on to something else as it is almost certain most XPages applications will be migrated to something else. Our preference is Polymer, but we recognize that other Javascript frameworks such as Angular, Ember, React, and Backbone all have appeal.

Application Modernization

Red Pill Now started using the term Application Modernization back in 2012. To us it meant providing a modern context for existing Notes applications. We have now moved away from using the term after a growing number of people started to use it in differing ways, confusing our own messaging. IBM have recently inserted the term into their own ICS Roadmaps (in place of Notes Next) without providing any insight as to what they mean by the term. We think it should be more than just providing a way to add Web and/or mobile interfaces to tired Notes applications. Instead Red Pill Now believes we live in an era in which it should no longer matter on which platform an application is built as long as that platform supports modern Web architectures based around open standards such as REST services. Modern applications need to be social. By that I mean they need to talk to each other regardless of where the underlying data is stored, or the programming language in which the business logic has been developed. I alluded this to a degree at last year’s MWLUG in a presentation A World Without Applications. But it would be fair to say our thinking has evolved significantly over the past 18 months.

In the social space products such as Hipchat and Slack have gotten a lot of attention recently. These products have become very successful even though they are not tied to traditional development platforms such those offered by Microsoft, Oracle, IBM, Google, or Salesforce. Instead what these products have are easy to use APIs that allow a vast range of 3rd party integrations to external data sources and services (examples for Hipchat and Slack). We are also seeing the emergence of products such as Cloudpipes and Zapier that provide integration between a wide range of products and data sources. What I believe we are seeing is the end of the large proprietary stack approach of IBM and Microsoft in favor of open standards for integration between a wider range of products. This change may very well prove to be part of what allows Notes databases to live on as a viable database choice.

What Customers Should Do

We continue to advise customers not to be too eager to migrate Notes applications to alternative platforms such as Sharepoint, SQL, or MongoDB. Migrations seem to introduce a lot of costs ($20,000 per application) and risks without solving the fundamental problem of making sure we don’t then repeat the process again at a later stage when that “new” platform then becomes out-dated. We also advise customers to take control of their own destiny and not become too dependent on vendors to solve their problems. To seek solutions that make them more vendor agnostic than vendor dependent. This means exploring technologies that are supported by widely adopted open standards such as REST Services, HTML 5, CSS3, JavaScript, and Web Components.

  1. Start thinking about what comes next. But don’t be in a rush to replace your existing Notes client applications unless you have a strong business case to do so. Notes will be supported by IBM until at LEAST 2021.
  2. Seriously challenge your use of XPages for building Web front ends moving forward. It’s a dead end!
  3. Where possible start training Notes developers in Web development skills that focus on JavaScript in the front end and Java in the back end. Look closely at available JavaScript frameworks and especially those that support Web Components.
  4. Build REST APIs around your Notes data abstracting away the Notes data source. This will allow modern Web interfaces to co-exist with existing Notes client and XPages applications and allow an easier transition path to non-NSF data sources at a later time. It is not yet clear how long IBM may chose to invest in the Domino server and the NSF container.

What IBM Should Do

Toscana Integration: In my opinion the biggest mistake IBM made in failing to protecting the future of Notes data was the absence of any real integration of Notes applications with Connections. This was in contrast to Microsoft’s approach where they were able to integrate SharePoint into Office 365. (IMHO) Connections has struggled to gain widespread adoption in many organizations without this ability to access data held within existing Notes applications. I suspect in the long term Project Toscana will replace Connections as IBM’s Social platform of choice. A greater focus on APIs should allow Toscana to succeed in areas in which Connections has failed – the ability to generate interest outside of the existing IBM customer base. Toscana/Notes integration would shore up the market of its existing customers, giving customers a reason to remain invested in the Notes  Storage Facility (NSF).

Broader Integration: The availability of Notes data in Toscana is but a small step to protect the long term viability of Notes as a data store. It is yet to be seen if Toscana will capture a significant level of market share as it goes up against Slack and Skype Teams. IBM should therefore ensure Notes data can be easily consumed from other social platforms that include Hipchat, Slack, Jive, O365, API automation tools such as DreamFactory and data bridges such as Cloudpipes and Zapier. This should include the ability to access the content of Notes documents and views, subscribe to events such as the creation and updating of documents, and the ability to conduct searches against Notes application data. It would be ideal if IBM could mirror what Microsoft has done with the Office Graph, making it possible to access personal mail, calendar, files, and Notes data via a single consistent Graph-based API.

Object Models: Another area in which IBM could generate enormous value for Notes customers would be to define data models for the commonly used business objects found in many Notes databases. Applications such as travel requests, expense reports, policies and procedures, CRM, and standard workflow patterns could be defined via common data schemas allowing for the generation of consistent JSON from REST services. From this JSON IBM could then build a set of Web Components for those business objects that implement IBM Design allowing developers to quickly build new modern web interfaces for their Notes data. This would deliver the Rapid Application Development environment that first made Lotus Notes such a force. As Web Components they could be consumed by any JavaScript framework avoiding the need to pick winners in a crowded and rapidly changing market. These components would also provide a much needed way to surface content inside of products such as Toscana and Slack.

What IBM Will Do

IBM are expected to make an announcement in Q4 about “Application Modernization”. The timelines suggest to me that IBM are probably going to make more of a tactical play than a strategic play. If that is the case then I would think IBM is most likely to settle for providing a set of analytics to better understand the content of existing Notes applications not unlike their acquisition of a global license of Panagenda’s iDNA to provide their Doublecheck service. If that is the case then I think a lot of people are going to be disappointed.

ICS GM Inhi Cho Suh is known to be bold and acquire companies and she has had most of this year to work some of her magic. So the surprise announcement might involve an alliance with one or more major players to work together to challenge Microsoft’s Office 365. Let’s wait and see.

For further assistance or advice on developing a strategy for the future of your Notes data contact Red Pill Now.