Out-of-the-box Lotus Workflow Solutions

December 2, 2011

By Steve Mezak

Lotus Notes set the standard for workflow management and collaboration when it first came on the scene in 1989, and is still used by many enterprises today. It has tremendous flexibility for building customized workflow applications. However, this legacy software has never offered out-of-the-box workflow solutions, instead requiring developers to code applications from the ground up. The versatility which was Lotus Notes’ strength has been outstripped by other approaches over time. Newer alternatives, such as SharePoint, provide a variety of workflows out-of-the box, making it easier to focus the development budget on more complex tasks.

Workflow in Lotus Notes

Workflow management has always been a core component of the Lotus Notesfeature set and marketing. The capabilities for creating workflow applications are built right into the software, and there’s also a standalone application development tool, IBM Lotus Workflow, which can be purchased to help you write the applications you will need.

Despite making its reputation in workflow management, Lotus Notes doesn’t have any basic workflow templates which can be built upon, so this is a task for experienced programmers. Even understanding which workflow a particular button is related to will take some understanding of how programming languages are constructed.

Many companies today are outsourcing their Lotus Notes development, so they can better leverage their IT dollars and preserve their training budgets. This makes sense considering the amount of raw programming needed to create and modify Lotus Notes applications in comparison to other, more user-oriented systems the company may be using.
The SharePoint Alternative

The creation of SharePoint can be seen as a reply to concerns about the evolution of Lotus Notes as a workflow management tool. While Lotus Notes made it possible to create workflow applications, SharePoint makes it easy to do so by including templates for that very purpose. In addition, the structure of SharePoint’s workflow management tools is understandable to non-programmers, making the entire process of customization less developer-dependent.

For an enterprise that’s just considering workflow management, SharePoint has the edge; there’s no need to reinvent the wheel when all you really want to do is put on some custom rims.
Migration as an Option

A cost-benefit analysis of developer hours needed to create and maintain new workflow applications in Lotus Notes vs. tweaking the out-of-the-box SharePoint solutions might easily show that a migration will pay for itself in short order. However, that assessment can vary widely depending on the experience of the development team you put in charge of the project. A Lotus Notes to SharePoint migration will take less time to implement, and have fewer bumps in the road, if the team you select has experience developing for Lotus Notes, not simply migrating out of it.

SharePoint and Lotus Notes have very different structures, and mapping a migration is not a case of merely matching one field to another. Developers who have written applications in both environments understand which data can be transferred automatically, and where more investigation is needed to put all the information where your employees will expect to find it. To that end, the best migration specialists will take the time to understand the underlying business processes, rather than regards your entire operation as a series of square and round pegs that just need to be put into the proper holes.

Outsourcing the migration process to offshore specialists can help cap the short-term costs at manageable levels, cutting the amount of time it takes to show a positive ROI. Expect that requirements will be gathered by an onsite team, and ask if a portion of that team will stay at your location to communicate with the programmers.

You don’t have to be stuck in the box that Lotus Notes has created for you; out-of-the-box workflow functionality can be an affordable option even factoring in migrating to a best of class solution like SharePoint.

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