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Strategies to Replace Lotus Domino/Notes

Open dialog article,
By Bob Tisdall, Director, Dialog Information Technology


Many organisations have made extensive use of IBM Lotus Notes/Domino to create a portfolio of ‘collaboration’ applications. The number and range of these applications can be very large. The development of IT practice over the last 5 years has seen the Domino platform reduce in popularity. It is beyond the scope of this paper to analyse this trend, but IT departments are faced with what is perceived as an “out-dated” product and are facing pressures to develop strategies to replace these systems.

This paper explores possible strategies and recommends a set of options to address the issue.

Given today’s technical landscape it is not appropriate to simply convert all applications from one development platform to another. The optimum outcome will be achieved by selecting an appropriate tactic for each application. Many of the comments in this paper will apply beyond simply Domino/Notes.


Lotus Notes/Domino has been installed in many sites around the world. Broadly speaking, the platform has been used to process email and to provide a mechanism for application development. These applications have covered almost every problem domain, some more effectively than others.

Notes/Domino is based on a document centric database. This document centric approach pre dated the ideas incorporated in XML data stores, but in many ways is similar. Unlike relational databases where data is decomposed into inter-related flat tables, Notes/Domino represented real world data (often paper based) in a form that is more directly mapped to the real world object. This document centric data structure meant that each Notes/Domino record was essentially self-contained. This data structure made Notes/Domino data easy to replicate across central and local copies of data. This replication feature is an important distinguishing feature of Notes/Domino applications.

More recently with the roll out of reasonably fast and reliable ‘always on’ communication options, such as Wi-Fi hotspots and 3G/4G mobile technologies, the importance of replication and remote working has diminished to be replaced by direct access to applications via the web.

Most organisations that have a history with Notes/Domino have developed many applications of varying quality. Developers of these applications ranged from teams well versed in IT development to a user with a curious mind who wanted to automate a local process. The use of familiar functions and scripting elements meant that users with experience in spreadsheets could directly apply that knowledge to developing Notes/Domino applications.

Many organisations now consider the Notes/Domino platform to be moribund and wish to replace the product.

Having made the decision not to undertake further development with the platform there comes the issue of what to do about the applications that already exist. There can be many thousands of applications in a large organisation that need to be addressed. For the reason given above these can vary in scope, quality, sophistication and importance to a huge degree.

Develop a Policy for Small Apps

If an organisation is to invest in a replacement for Lotus/Domino it will probably be faced with many small applications to convert to new platforms. Many of these small applications may be useful, many will not. All will have cost time and money to develop and will cost more to refactor onto a new environment. It is recommended that organisations develop and apply a clear policy to mitigate against this situation for the future. This policy should be designed to control the profusion of applications that can occur, and further seek to limit the inappropriate and risk prone applications that can grow organically and spread into use across a wide audience.

Often the provision of a powerful tool accessible to users untrained in the protocols of IT, can lead to the development of solutions that are inappropriate, fail to meet standards for accessibility and security and are not rigorously tested. In many cases, where the application is simple and has a small audience these short comings are not an issue. However given the propensity of such applications to grow in both complexity and audience, there is a requirement to have a clear policy that operates to moderate the negative effects of inappropriate developments.

Of particular concern is the development of web applications that become accessible via the internet. Such applications unless well designed and tested, can be the vector for cyber-attacks. A policy to limit the scope and audience of applications unless they are properly designed and tested needs to be in place. Applications that are local and small in reach should be treated with caution.

Strategies to Replace Notes/Domino

The issue left unresolved is the array of applications that have been created over an extensive period. It is tempting to simply replace one development environment with another and then convert/rewrite each Notes/Domino application to operate in the new environment.

However, the portfolio of Lotus/Domino applications is not homogeneous and a better result can be achieved by applying a number of strategies to the disparate range of applications.
Examples of possible treatments are:

  • Retire the application as it has little or no value.
  • Replace the application with a commercial off the shelf (COTS) product (e.g. Microsoft Dynamics CRM). This may be particularly true for applications that are of a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) nature.
  • For applications that have grown in complexity and scale, that are worthwhile and have a significant audience, they should be redeveloped at a professional standard using established IT protocols and platforms.
  • Certain applications that have remained simple but are useful can be converted to one or more new platforms such as Ruby on Rails, SharePoint, OutSystems and other candidates.
  • Select a platform that allows end users to develop useful applications in a manner similar in nature to Notes/Domino. The policy for small apps outlined previously becomes important to control this process.

The important factor is to consider a range of techniques, platforms and solutions to apply to the portfolio of Notes/Domino applications. The applications may not have been appropriate to Notes/Domino or may not have been built to an appropriate standard by properly trained people. It is unlikely that it will be appropriate to implement all of these applications with a similar approach on a similar platform.

Significant analytical effort will be necessary to enable a decision to be made on the range of tools required to replace the Notes/Domino application. A catalogue of such applications should be developed with the nature of each application noted. You should consider:

  • Is the application a simple form/report type?
  • Is the application widely/locally used?
  • Is the application exposed to the WWW?
  • Has the application gone beyond the automatic functions provided by the platform to include scripting/programing elements?
  • Is the target audience skilled or unskilled in the subject matter of the application?
  • Is the application available as a COTS product?
  • How is any solution to be deployed?
  • How is any solution to be maintained?

Using the data collected it will be possible to identify a number of tools and platforms that can address the replacement of those applications that are to be preserved.

Tools and Platforms

Given the development in recent years of products to leverage the mobile market, it may be attractive to move the application onto a mobile platform. The strong support for HTML5 is starting to make this a practical and attractive option.

Finally a new generation of Content Management Systems combined with HTML5 and reactive design patterns may be attractive for the more straightforward form data capture applications. Of the remainder that qualify for redevelopment there are many options available.

Redevelopment Platforms

Before considering what may be available it is necessary to understand that these development environments fall into three broad categories.

  • Environments that allow professional developers to create applications quickly (i.e. Ruby, PHP)
  • Environments that allow less qualified people to develop straight forward applications without professional IT help (i.e. Notes/Domino functions and script)
  • Environments that do both (i.e. SharePoint)

Although it seems axiomatic that the third category of solution is optimal, this is rarely true. Often the limitations of a simple to use interface clashes with the requirements of a programmer. The effort required to work around these limitations can adversely affect the productivity of such platforms.

The range of candidate platforms is truly very wide. However a few platforms do stand out as being widely used and supported. Of particular interest are:

  • Ruby on Rails – an open source platform which allows the rapid development of web based systems by experienced programmers.
  • Python with Django – similar in scope to Ruby on rails
  • SharePoint – as an end user tool
  • Alfresco – an open source alternative to SharePoint
  • OutSystems - a proprietary development environment that produces C# and Java based applications

Mobile Centric Solutions

Domino/Notes applications were often used to build mobile applications for devices that were intermittently connected. With the advent of mobile solutions there has been an explosion in the number of apps available. However, an IT department with restricted budget cannot afford to develop applications five or more times (e.g. Blackberry, Apple, Windows, Windows Mobile and Android). Recent developments with browsers and HTML5 have started to address the issue and the possibility of delivering applications built once and deployed on a variety of platforms is emerging.

The term Mobile Enterprise Application Platform (MEAP) has been coined to label solutions to the mobile platform development issue.

OpenMEAP™ is an enterprise-grade open source HTML5 mobile enterprise application platform. It represents a good example of an emerging trend. OpenMEAP is a complete end-to-end solution using Secure Socket Layer (SSL) for connectivity and supports the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) for the secure transfer of data via a variety of mobile networks.

It should be noted that MEAP environments tend to concentrate on the distribution of apps to mobile devices, an important function, but they may not offer a RAD development environment.

Sometimes a Suitcase is Enough

A new class of products often described as Microsoft ‘suitcase on steroids’ are now available. These products simply replicate (and track) files across systems. This is a very useful function that enables a simple collaboration model to be built.

Some of these product offer data encryption, access control, and other security features beyond a straightforward for replication model. Some examples include Dropbox, SkyDrive, Google Drive, and Amazon Cloud Drive.

An important and useful feature of such products is that they can work cross platform delivering a file from a device on operating system to a second device on a different O/S.


The replacement of Notes/Domino as an application platform is complicated by the range and variety of applications developed. These applications can reach large numbers over time. The recommendation is to carefully consider the nature and viability of the applications before deciding on their fate.

There are a number of strategies that could be invoked to address the replacement of applications of this nature and it is probable that a number of these will be used to achieve the best result of any conversion exercise.

A policy should be created that addresses the problem of the inappropriate proliferation of small applications.

Dialog Information Technology can assist with this important program of work.

Reference this article: Bob Tisdall, Strategies to Replace Lotus Domino/Notes (2013-06-27) Open Dialog - Dialog Information Technology <>

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