How to replace a IBM Lotus Domino Notes App with a SharePoint App

Replace your IBM Lotus Domino Notes Apps

Over the past decade we have been involved in multiple IBM Lotus Domino IBM Notes application decommission projects. The key challenge in these projects is always to replace IBM Lotus Notes applications that are still actively used with similar functionality on a different platform. Especially when our clients move to SharePoint Online they encounter challenges since SharePoint is not as functionally rich as IBM Notes. However, we discovered Shareflex, a business application development platform that allows you to replace your Notes applications with 100% SharePoint applications.

In a recent project for a large USA based client, we replaced 10 actively used Notes apps with alternative SharePoint applications using Shareflex. The client decided not to migrate the database content of these applications to the new SharePoint solution. Instead the IBM Lotus Database content was archived to the same SharePoint Online site where the new SharePoint application resides. This allows the users to still quickly gain access to the “old” Lotus database content for reference purpose both in SharePoint as well as in Teams. In this project Lialis archived around 160 Notes apps to SharePoint Online. Please visit this page if you want to read more on how to archive Lotus Notes databases to SharePoint Online, Google Drive, or even to a (Azure) file server.

Notes app challenges

One of  the Lotus Notes apps we replaced in the project was titled: “Special Services Requests”. this Domino IBM Notes app contains 3 different forms used to carry out a certain request with an approval workflow attached. The request initiator enters the required information and submits the request for a multi stage approval. In the Notes app the approver can return a new request back to the initiator for more information after which the updated request can be resubmitted. Loops like this are possible at multiple stages of the workflow.

In this particular application the Notes forms have additional complex features like hiding and showing fields based on certain user inputs. Notes is great in delivering ‘hide-when’ functionalities.

The forms are illustrated in the images below.

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    export data from lotus notes database


The Lialis Notes application decommissioning replace process

1. Design phase

So how do we approach a Notes application replacement? We follow the following proven process:

  • Examine the Notes app: we try to understand the overall use of the app, though we are not going to check each Notes design element in detail. It’s a waste of time to write down the entire design because there is no way to convert it to something else.
  • We conduct a first short interview with the Notes app owner and to verify what is really used and what functions the new app should contain. We often find that Notes apps have functions users don’t care about at all.
  • We write an initial design document without direct involvement of the end user based on our first interview. The going in position here is to make the replacement app as simple as possible because this saves lots of money and time.
  • We design the first form in a Word document. In this particular case we had to design 3 forms, but we start with the first one. Below image shows an example of how we do this:

  • We conduct a second short interview with the owner to discuss and adjust the form where applicable with new functions that support the users in their daily operations. The owner will review the form design with other key users. In reality we have multiple short calls with the owners to get buy-in and to ensure they will support us in the testing of the app later on.

Never conduct long workshops! Keep calls with end users short and effective

  • In a new call the workflow is discussed. The user explains how the workflow should function. This will help us design the workflow in a table in the same Word document. We do not use flow charts in our development process since they leave too much room for interpretation. The image below displays how we design the workflow

  • Now we spent time on the App security and user roles. Below tables give a good picture of the required permissions setup. We always stress the end user to consider the security carefully because the security design impacts the App development.

  • Remaining functions. When the forms and workflow are designed we focus on other less crucial topics that need attention, like; attachments, general description of the app, required views and the overall look and feel of the app.

Note; Its important at this stage to challenge the end users and not to try and develop a Rolls Royce with fancy features while a simple car will do. This is a thin blue line and requires client stakeholder involvement. Also, some features that were originally available in the Notes app might not be in the replacement platform. This needs to be managed.

If you want to have a look at how a design is written, feel free to download an expample from this page.

2. Development Phase

In the development phase the design document will be leading. The end users and/or owners do not communicate directly with the developers in this phase. The developers are supported by the app designer who conducted the interviews since they have a good understanding of how the app should function. They ensure that the app is developed exactly as intended.

After completion of the development the designer will carry out a full test of the application (without end user involvement). He or she will use multiple accounts to simulate the different roles of future users. The developers will adjust any malfunction in this phase.

After a full final test and a detailed description of the test results in the design document, the app is ready to be handed over for end user testing.

3. Test Phase

In this phase the owner and the end users are going to test the app. With the test script and results the end user will be able to quickly see if the app meets the requirements. They can also check how it behaves in all test scenarios by zipping thru the test results in the word document.

The app designer will be the main point of contact in this test phase since he/she has a 360 degree overview of the design, development and test process. There will always be stuff popping up during the test phase that needs to be adjusted. The main reason is that reading an app design in a Word document is not the same as actually clicking through the app. In the end its important that the added value your end users experience is greater than the perceived change when working with the app. Our experience is that thanks to phase 1 and 2 we don’t see too many change requests. When there are change requests try to put them on a development roadmap for future enhancement. If they are crucial from the start you should include them.

4. Conclusion

Replacing Notes apps that are still actively used is a daunting task. The approach described in this post will make the development of new applications a lot smoother. The process has been developed and tested over the past 5 years in multiple decommission projects. Honestly speaking, initially we received quite some kick-back from our clients who thought that involving the users would be a too heavy burden.

The alternative is to simply build a replacement app based on the original Notes database without end user involvement. However, in this approach the development will take much more time because the Notes functions have to be documented and redesigned in the replacement platform. Also you will very likely build functions that are no longer needed. Simply ignoring end users will lead to a failed project.

Please contact us here if you are interested to see how we can assist you in your Lotus Domino Notes decommissioning project.

We are specialists in converting any Lotus Notes Database to SharePoint and with export data from a Lotus Notes Database.