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How to replace Notes applications – and the typical pitfalls

Introduction

When we are hired to assist in the decommissioning of Notes application environments it’s not unusual that we encounter some resistance in our advised approach. Typically, a Notes migration is a one-off exercise and companies need time to understand how to best do it. However, once we show and explain the added value of our approach, we observe a different attitude.

The key purpose of this blog is to make companies, that are envisioning a Notes decommissioning, aware of our approach so they can benefit from it.

High level overview of our Notes decommissioning approach 

Every Notes decommissioning project starts with an ‘as-is situation’. To get this we scan and analyze your existing Domino environment to gain more insight and scope the magnitude of your decommissioning project. To do this we have developed our own Notes Domino server scanner which is described in the following page Lialis Domino server application scanner. The key differentiator compared to other scan tools in the market is that it does a usage – AND content scan where other tools typically only look at the usage of Notes Databases. Only looking at the Notes database usage will move you in the wrong direction.

The output of the scan (so-called ‘Mastersheet’) is analyzed by us and all Notes applications are classified in decommissioning targets as described below. A scan and analysis of your environment is the first step in the process. The next step is to start closing Notes Databases that are no longer in use (and content not modified) and to start communicating with Notes application owners (we will help find them for you) to check your target assumptions. To do this we have developed an enhanced version of the Lialis Domino server application scanner called ‘NDDM’. NDDM contains features such as a tool to close Notes application ACLs in batch and a workflow (e-mail) tool to communicate with all relevant Notes application users.

At a certain moment the scope of your project will become clear. Sometimes we enter into a project where our clients have already reached this stage without our scanning tools and services so we can skip this work which is great.

In general, there are 3 typical targets for Notes applications:

Target I – Remove. Many Notes databases are not used, and the content is not required anymore. NDDM can be used to ‘close’ these Notes databases in batch in a few mouse clicks. This action can also simply be reversed if needed. When access is closed, we advise to leave the Notes databases on the Domino server till the servers are stopped and the files are copied to a backup file location just in case.

Target II – Read only archive. In all our projects we encounter Notes databases where the content is not modified but only read. These Notes databases typically need to be archived to a platform like SharePoint Online (‘SPO’). We have developed an efficient/automated solution to archive Notes databases on SPO while keeping the original Notes structure (Rich Text, Response structure, Metadata, Attachments, etc).

Target III – Replace. Certain Notes databases are still heavily used by our clients and need to be replaced by another application platform. This is the trickiest part of a Notes decommissioning program.

Our unconventional approach to replace Notes applications.

Notes applications are very annoying to replace with another solution because of the flexibility to program almost anything, anywhere in a Notes application. We do come across some very sophisticated, functionally rich Notes applications that simply cannot be converted 1:1 to something else by simply using a tool. This is effectively why many Notes decommissioning projects fail or at least consume tons of hours and shiploads of money.

This is exactly why we like to avoid the word ‘MIGRATE’. Even replacing a simple Notes document library might be more difficult than you expect because a platform like SPO does not support the great Notes rich text features.

It’s not useful to scan Notes application functionality because assigning a complexity factor to the Notes design elements does not say much on how difficult it is (how much effort is needed) to replace a Notes application with something else. For example. A Notes document management system typically has many design elements because you need a lot of coding to realize versioning in Notes. Scanning this type of Notes databases will tell you on the surface it’s very complex, while replacing it with a SPO Library is very easy because SPO offers a lot of document management capabilities out of the box. So, our advice is to ignore Notes database design scanning. Another reason for this is that most Notes applications have been developed over a period of decades and are typically not well-maintained or documented so you don’t know what functionality is really used in the Notes application.

Assign an owner to each Notes application, somebody who knows in detail how the application is used to support his/her daily business. Interview this owner and ask the simple question “what do you really need”? Reason behind this is that in our experience not all Notes functions, buttons, agents and so on in the Notes database are needed or need to be changed. Design how the replacement application should function on the target platform and simplify! That’s why it’s important that this call with the application owner is driven by a person that not only understands Notes but also the target platform to avoid a design that is not feasible or is simply too expensive to build. Find alternative approaches with the owner for typical Notes features that are difficult to replace by alternative platforms like SPO (e.g. scheduled agents, mail in features and so on). The starting point is always to give the user a bike instead of a car. Simplification is the key word here.

At the end, when you have interviewed all owners, you have a good idea on how much functionality you really need to build each Notes application to replace it with a viable alternative for the users. Don’t underestimate the importance of this phase. We have seen too many projects fail since clients ended up in endless development projects.

When the design scope is 100% clear the next step is to decide on the target platforms. We encounter different options:

  • Standard solutions from the market like visitor registration or holiday request applications. The easiest way is to buy some ‘off-the-shelve’ solution in the market which is always better and cheaper compared with custom development projects.
  • Existing applications in your company. The interviews you have conducted with the owners on how the replacement applications should function will help you to get certain Notes applications moved to existing company platforms (e.g. CRM; ERP; HR).
  • Other platforms. Some complex Notes applications become a nightmare to replace because no existing replacement application can be found. Building a new custom solution can take a lot of time, effort and money. That’s why we advise to have these applications on your radar in the early phases of the project. In our experience these applications will be replaced the last before the Domino environment can be shut down.

Most of our clients have decided to move to the Microsoft (cloud) platform and hence for this last category ‘other platforms’ we often see that companies want to move Notes applications to SPO. Even though, as explained earlier, SPO does not offer similar functionality compared with Domino/Notes, there are business application platforms on the market (on top of SPO) that offer more out of the box functions to replace typical Notes functions. Examples are Nintex, Shareflex and K2. In our replacement projects we have decided to work with Shareflex since it offers great Notes replacement capabilities, has an attractive pricing model and greatly reduces Time to Market. We already successfully used Shareflex in several of our Notes decommissioning projects so we can show you how it works.

Choosing the right business application platform has a massive impact on how much time and money is needed to build the replacement solutions in SPO. Our advice is to test one of these solutions in a Proof of Concept phase to get insight in feasibility and cost. Run this PoC with the application owner and base it on the agreed, simplified application design.

So far, we talked about replacing or designing a new application but what about the existing Notes database content? Well, here’s what we advise; give the Notes application owners a new replacement solution in SPO (e.g. with Shareflex) and do NOT migrate the Notes content because this task is difficult and can be very costly. An alternative approach is to archive the existing Notes content to the SPO site where the replacement solution is rolled out. This way the users can view the original Notes database content in read-only in a SPO library and they can create new content in the new empty replacement solution. Usually owners are quite happy with this approach.

However, in some cases you can’t avoid the Notes content to be migrated to the new SPO replacement solution. We use the QUEST Notes Migrator for SharePoint (‘NMSP’) tool to do this. Over the course of time we have developed many Quest NMSP migration scripts giving you a jump start should you desire a content migration to SPO.

Conduct a PoC for the replacement applications! We always give our new clients the opportunity to see how our replacement approach works out in real life. Typically, we choose 3 Notes applications that need to be replaced in SPO. In multiple short calls with the application owner we train your staff on how to conduct these design calls and how to create simplified application design documents. We also provide sample design documents and guide you along the way.

Once the PoC application designs are created we will rebuild these applications on a Lialis SPO/Shareflex platform, and we will share the results with you so you can review. To make a good comparison (‘a choice out of one is none’) we advise you to also review other SPO business application platforms or other solutions not related to SharePoint.

Please contact sales@lialis.com if you are interested in more information about this topic or if you want to use our Notes decommissioning services & tools.