GoogleIt Mail IT Print IT PermaLinkThe Truth About The Cost Of Leaving Notes
12:09:50 AM

A lot has been said about the cost of leaving Notes lately. We've had claims that it is trivial, which were quickly met with rebuttal, and said rebuttal quickly met with the rejoinder that the problem with Notes is really the lock-in due to the high expense of leaving.

Let's look for some truth in this dizzying back-and-forth.

Can it be expensive to leave Notes and Domino? Sure it can. Of course it can. Why is that?

Getting data and structure out of Notes and Domino is pretty trivial. All the programming can be extracted, too. Doing this is not as trivial as some may have you believe, but all the tools are there and any experienced Lotus Notes developer who keeps reasonably current on the available feature set offered by IBM can figure out how and do the job. It's not hard. Almost everything of any value in Lotus Notes and Domino can be represented as XML, so not only is this job reasonably easy.... it can be done using (oooooh!) standards (aaaaaah!).

Once you've gotten everything of value out of Notes, you have officially left Notes. All that's left to do is turn off the servers, right?

No, of course not. Not unless you're only using Notes for mail and as a repository for static text data. If that's all the value you're getting from Notes, you're basically done. Leaving Notes is cheap. Otherwise, you've just taken the first step.

The next step is restoring all the value that Notes and Domino was bringing to you. This is where the high cost comes in. IBM has made it very, very easy to extract everything you could possibly want and need out of Notes. Nobody else has made it easy to put the data, structure and code back together into a functioning system.

This bears repeating: Leaving Notes is cheap. Restoring the value that you used to have in Notes is expensive.

There's only one reason why this is true: nobody has invested enough to build the tools to do the job. I wonder why? I know it can be done. I think there's an opportunity there for someone who does it. Why hasn't it happened?

Why do I know it can be done? Simple! IBM has, over a period of about ten years, shown that it is possible to re-create almost all the pieces of the Notes puzzle, and recreating the functionality from scratch is not significantly different -- from either a technologic or economic point of view -- than translating the functionality to a different target platform. When they built Domino's HTTP server, they essentially wrote a new client for Notes applications. It wasn't by any means a clone, and even today there are behaviors of the Notes client of ten years ago that still don't translate onto the web -- but could it be done more completely? Of course it can. Damien's rewrite of the formula engine is another demonstration of a piece of the puzzle that has been re-created and even made far better than it was before. Another demonstration of how much of Notes can be recreated is the new Lotus Component Designer, and the DB2 storage option in ND7 is another huge example. And very much relevant to the question of restoring the value in all the custom applications that have been built on Notes and Domino, the C++ API is another example, IMHO, because while it is no clone of the LotusScript/Java object model that is the key piece of so much of the custom programming out there, it does duplicate a great deal of the functionality in a very similar object model -- and my understanding is that the two code bases overlap very little, apart from the underlying C API that is at the core of all of Domino, of course.

And what of that C API? The fact that it hasn't been cloned, rewritten from scratch (to my knowledge) or emulated (as far as I know) doesn't bother me, because if one is leaving Notes, one will be layering on top of a new API or set of APIs.

This isn't "case closed", but it's just code. There are a lot of people who understand the interfaces and behaviors that need to be re-created, and there are lot of very talented developers in the world. I say it can be done.

So, what's the opportunity out there for someone who does it? Is there a market for a tool that you could point at all the data, metadata and programming logic that can be extracted from Notes and Domino into XML and have it build a new system on new technologies that recreates all the business value that Notes and Domino was providing? If one believes all the voices that are out there clamoring against Notes, of course there must be a market! I think I've heard it said that there are 40,000 Notes and Domino customers out there, representing 120,000,000 users -- an average of 3000 users per site. There's got to be a healthy amount of money out there, willing to pay for such a tool.

Let's imagine that half of those 40,000 organizations, representing half of the 120,000,000 users would pay to leave Notes if they could get the same value from another system. And let's imagine that they would be willing to pay $20 per user to do it. The average organization of 3,000 would pay just a reasonable $60,000 at that rate -- which I believe is a good bit less than they would pay for a year of annual maintenance from IBM. Total it up. That's $1,200,000,000 in revenue, sitting out there waiting for someone to develop, sell and support the tool. Of course I could be way over in assuming that half of the organzations using Notes would jump at the chance to give it up. Maybe it's a lot less. And $20 per user to do it seems like not a lot to ask, so I could be way under on that, but I'll stick with that $1.2 Billion for now. Maybe erroneous assumptions offset. Anyhow, it's as good a number as any.

Anyone want a piece of that $1.2 Billion? Find a VC. Show them the evidence of the want-to-leave-Notes market. Show them a specification and schedule for your implementation, and show them the math. Also, show them a plan for continuing to earn revenue from the customers after they've successfully left Notes. That's going to be a key component, because the VCs are going to want you to go public and you can't do that selling a tool whose market goes away after you exhaust the supply of Notes and Domino customers, but given that 60,000,000 seats of converted Notes users represents a very substantial market for ongoing product and services revenue, I'm sure you can come up with a business model that will give you a nice ongoing income stream. For the investment, you're going to need to fund a lot of talented engineers, undoubtedly for a couple of years, but I figure around $50 Million ought to get you there if you're really smart about it. And when you turn over half of that $1.2 Billion to your investors they'll get a 12:1 return on their investment, and the rest will be left for you and your employees.

Good deal, huh!?

Pipe dream? Maybe. But here's the point: IBM has invested tremendous amounts of money building tremendous value potential into Lotus Notes and Domino, and customers invest significantly in taking advantage of that potential. If you are a customer and you are one of the customers who is really reaping value from all that investment, and you want to leave the product behind while preserving that value, someone is going to have to invest some more in order to make it happen. It's either going to be you, investing in a one-time solution tailored specifically for your needs, your applications, and your value, or it's going to be someone else, investing in a generalizable migration solution... and this is completely normal. It's not due to lock-in. It's due to the value that you are preserving, which simply can not be preserved on the cheap. TANSTAAFL..

Capitalism detests waste and unclaimed profit potential. If that $1.2 Billion is even close to being a fair estimate of the potential for a turnkey tool for leaving Notes, somebody should have gone after it by now. Some investor should have backed it by now. The fact that it hasn't happened makes me wonder whether there's really that much desire out there to leave Notes.

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Comments :v

1. Ian Randall10/12/2006 04:45:38 AM

Isn't that what IBM did with Workplace, spent years and gazillions of dollars to produce (arguably) 50% of what you could already do in Lotus Notes, then instead of using one or two people to install it and support it, you need a team of dozens of specialists just to install and maintain the software (on huge server farms), then spend a further gazillions dollars developing a market to sell/migrate your current Notes user base over to Workplace, then after many years of effort, and multiple attempts to aleniate your user and developer community finally admitting that Notes has some merit after all, then plowed back some of that wonderfull Web 2.0 development technology into making Notes more open.

I guess it's the same reason that Coca-Cola doesn't buy Pepsi, who needs to spend gazillions to increase your market share from 90% to 95%.

2. Scott Gentzen10/12/2006 06:39:42 AM

Thanks for writing this.

I've had the same idea knocking around in my head for a blog post - that the discussion seems to be mising the point of why it's expensive to leave Notes...that it's expensive to replicate the value of a well-implemented Notes/Domino infrastructure in another company's product line, not that implementing Notes/Domino causes expensive lock-in that's hard to get your data out of which seems to be what's been implied lately. I don't think my version of this idea would have come out so well.

"The Schwartz writes good so I don't have to."

3. Mikkel Heisterberg10/12/2006 07:22:06 AM

Well put and I think that the following statement sums it up nicely: "Leaving Notes is cheap. Restoring the value that you used to have in Notes is expensive."

Good post.

4. andy b10/12/2006 08:06:39 AM

Excellent post Richard,

TANSTAAFL brought back pleasant memories from my high school econ class.

5. Bruce Perry10/12/2006 08:44:36 AM

Using Boothby logic, one could conclude that machinists are dangerously locked in to computerized milling machine technology.

Of course, Boothby logic doesn't explain why spending lots of money shifting to something less effective would be a good idea.

6. Danny Lawrence10/12/2006 11:27:56 AM

Great post. It highlights the number one thing that most people "don't get" about Notes. It isn't that it is the best, fastest, or cheapest e-mail server, Web server, LDAP server, PKI server or whatever, it is that the degree of integration of those (and other) items makes it difficult to recreate the value the Notes/Domino selivers for any amount of time and money. People who only ever see one aspect of of a Notes installation don't understand the value of the synergy, and think that by recreating the one aspect that they deem to be the "Critical" part that they have solved the Notes Migration issue. That just ins't the case.

7. Duffbert10/12/2006 11:54:06 AM

Looks like we were pondering the same subjects last night...

8. Philip Storry10/12/2006 12:28:40 PM

An excellent entry, Richard. One of the best on this whole little saga...

9. Ken Yee10/13/2006 06:07:27 PM

yep...Boothby really should talk to people who've actually tried to port a significant Lotus Notes app to another platform to find out what's involved.
Personally, I find it takes roughly 3-4x the manpower and 3-4x the time to do port an application that uses the Notes infrastructure...

10. Chris Reckling10/13/2006 07:51:14 PM

Nice one - I had to point to this from Inside Lotus. I have certainly looked at this exact problem in determining whether we build our own tools. It's extremely difficult to recreate the Notes programming model and if you don't have that, you have no place to migrate to. The closest that we've come to it is Component Designer, as you point out, although you still need to piece together the normal J2EE pieces - db, app server, ldap, http.

Good post!

11. Adeleida10/14/2006 03:56:14 AM

Great post. The bit that I still don't get is why clients would like to migrate off Lotus Notes and then get something "else" that does exactly what Lotus Notes did before. DOH! I mean, then, uh, just KEEP Lotus Notes, or am I missing something here? If the previous app on Notes had user interface issues and bugs, the new one will have it too, yes? Unless you fix those things... but then just damnit fix them in Notes?

12. Stephan H. Wissel10/15/2006 01:16:56 PM

Great post!

What does TANSTAAFL stand for?

13. Richard Schwartz10/15/2006 01:43:42 PM

"There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch"

14. T Doner10/16/2006 05:08:23 PM

Well written. Reminescent of what one of my bodies once told me. "Its easy to stop smoking. I've done it hundreds of times. Its not starting again that's hard!"

My company has a desire to more away from Notes based applications. "Adeleida" asked why? On our case, we would point to three main reasons. 1) We are much better at managing other environments than we are at Notes, so we'd rather pay a little more to develop the application so we can run it more cheaply; 2) In the past we have had a track record of developing succesful Notes application that grew to a scale that they broke; and 3) looking forward to all of the restructuring IBM was going to do to the Notes infrastructure, we thought we'd be better to migrate away from Notes once, rather than going through multiple version s that would each represent major uphevals in their code base.

15. Nathan T. Freeman10/16/2006 08:05:11 PM

@14 - Your item 3 is just a remnant of the disaster that we Lotus-fans call "the dark years." There's no problem with IBM's plan for the Domino server platform NOW.

16. Henning Heinz10/18/2006 07:50:57 AM

What you describe is not a typical Notes migration. You do not switch off Notes (this normally does not work) and there is no reason to do so. You just keep it as it is. That is what a lot of companies do. They keep their Notes infrastructure frozen. Those companies still use Notes in some way but they do not generate revenues. They do not buy much consulting, software development or new licenses. You do not see them at Lotussphere or other events. Those customers may not even appear in the famous "More than 90% percent have already migrated to version X" studies.
Heck there might not be a valid business reason to migrate but companies do. There are little business reasons to buy a Porsche or Hummer either but people do.
You now work for HP. HP does not use Notes. I hoped that you tell something about how HP does their business. I would find this interesting because if you remain inside the Notes world one could think that other companies still use pneumatic post for collaboration.
Notes still is a great tool. I use it every day but it is just not true that in every case staying with Notes is the best use case (as there are companies where Notes would tremendously boost productivity).
The Notes blogroll rarely talk about the fact that it got harder to find competent Notes people, that the Business Partner network got smaller in some way although the overall partner count might be steady or growing (I do not know), that the licensing schema is at least improvable.
The best way to keep companies using Notes is to improve the product not to raise migration hurdles or to declare those who try or think about it as silly in some way.
Just my humble opinion.

17. Klas Mellbourn05/28/2009 05:55:38 PM

Since you find leaving Notes is so easy, could you please point me to a free tool that will export my Notes mail to a form importable to Outlook or GMail?
Thank you,
Klas Mellbourn

18. Richard Schwartz05/28/2009 07:43:55 PM

Well, for a single Notes mailbox what I'd try is setting up that mail file for POP3 access on the Domino server. Then I'd just configure some mail client (maybe Outlook) to connect via PO3 to Domino and download the data. Presuming that mail client will store the data in a PST file for Outlook or in a format that is uploadable to GMail, problem solved.

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