BoysTown achieves the Lotus position — without Exchange


When Australian youth charity BoysTown was looking at the future of its Lotus Notes/Domino collaboration platform late in 2009, ICT manager Julius Bergh (pictured) knew that the group had to make a decision.

“We have seen in the press, that a number of organisations have changed over to Exchange,” he says in an interview this week. “We thought to ourselves that we had better investigate this thing thoroughly.”

There have been quite a few revelations of Australian migrations off the Lotus Notes/Domino over the past few months — with one high-profile move being that of Qantas, whose shift was revealed in February. Centrelink is also likely to end its long-running relationship with Notes as part of the welfare agency’s integration with the new, broader Department of Human Services.

And analyst firms such as Longhaus have questioned Notes’ future in the face of Exchange’s dominance and competing cloud-based services such as Google’s Gmail, which are speedily encroaching on Notes’ traditional turf.

So Bergh sent a few members from his team over to a conference in Brisbane on how to move to Exchange 2010 to scope out the Microsoft platform — check out the lay of the land and see what would be involved in a migration of Boystown’s 480 staff. What they found disappointed him.

“They came back and explained to me that it’s quite a lengthy procedure … a rollout that will take months and things like that,” he says. In addition, the featureset of Microsoft’s latest collaboration opus didn’t impress Bergh that much. He noted that there were new additions to Exchange 2010 that “Domino has had for two or three years already”.

In comparison, Bergh says the eventual upgrade of his company’s Notes environment — which took place last December to version 8.5.1 of the software — took just 15 minutes one morning when only a few staff were using their collaboration platform.

“One of our blokes came in early one morning at 7AM, alerted users and did the upgrade,” he says. “At 7:15AM the system was up. He walked around and people hadn’t even noticed that it had happened.”

There were some clear advantages if Boystown did choose the Exchange platform, Bergh admits.

For example, the organisation is a charity — which Bergh says translates to some “nice discounts” from Microsoft. In addition, users are generally more familiar with Exchange’s user interface because they often use the software on their personal PCs, or have used it at other workplaces. “We did take it quite seriously,” he says.

However, ultimately what swung Bergh to upgrade the software was one aspect of Notes that its userbase in Australia often cites as one of it’s main strengths — the extensibility of the platform compared with its rivals. Bergh points out that Notes is much more than just an email server. For example, he says, Boystown does not use a content management system in its intranet. Instead, it simply uses Notes’ document management facilities — which are web-enabled.

“What I said to the board of Boystown is, ‘we will deliver you an intranet which will not need any propellorheads or intranet people [to maintain it]’,” says Bergh. “Intranet, for example, is just a stock standard part of the Domino server.”

Another aspect of the platform which Boystown uses is its in-built database templates. “One which we use which we find quite useful is forums,” he says. “If we are going to tender for a particular contract, 10 people can prepare the tender — share documents and information.” The ICT manager notes that this functionality, too, is a stock standard part of the Domino server. It can also be extended to allow external parties — in Boystown’s case, a university and hospital that it was collaborating with — to work together on documents.

If Boystown was to use a rival collaboration offering, Bergh says, he would need to buy quite a few more corporate applications just to match the functionality that Notes already offers.

Google’s software as a service Docs platform allows similar functionality, and Bergh notes that he is a personal user of the search giant’s offering.

But when it comes to his own company, the executive says Google Docs isn’t as powerful for corporate use — especially when it comes to features and the ability to format documents. “I’m just not convinced for Google Docs on spreadsheets,” he says, noting the platform is OK for light use, but that accounting specialists in the company like to do “a bit of fancy footwork” in spreadsheets that Google Docs wouldn’t support.

The ICT manager adds that when he investigated Gmail “quite thoroughly” as an alternative to Notes, he found through using Google’s own calculator that the service would be quite pricey. “There is a little calculator and it will tell you how much it will cost you – it’s not cheap at all,” he says. Google prices access to Gmail and its Apps suite at US$50 per user per year.

Some of the advantages of the upgraded version of Notes which Boystown is now using includes better support for devices with small screens like mobile phones – Bergh is seeing increased uptake of iPhones in the organisation. He also likes the granularity that Notes offers, praising the ability of the software to retrieve employees’ whole mailboxes from a certain date – a feature that could be useful when tracking down internal information or communication from the past.

Asked what features he would like to see added into Notes, Bergh says the situation with the software is similar to that with Microsoft Office 97 – for most people, the old releases are good enough, and 80 percent of people don’t use more than 20 percent of the functionality. “MS word has powerful, almost publishing-type features. But Most people just want to do paragraphs and bold things,” he says.

But ultimately when speaking about Notes, for Bergh it all comes back to the inherent flexibility of the platform — arguing that it’s so much more than an email platform.

“If you buy Lotus Domino because you like the email system, it’s like buying a porche because you like the ashtray,” he chuckles.

Image credit: Boystown/Julius Bergh


  1. How to increase your blood pressure – plan upgrades to the email platform at 7AM on a business day!
    Glad nothing went wrong :)

    • Yeah that did sound like a fairly risky endeavour to me … but then I’m not personally familiar with upgrading Notes/Domino, so maybe it’s like upgrading FreeBSD — painless ;)

  2. Immediate disclaimer: I was a pretty happy Outlook/Exchange user for many years.

    That said, I think that people often compare Outlook/Exchange only with earlier versions of Notes/Domino – with which I have also had less-than-satisfactory experience. This article presents a nice balance to the argument – the latest versions of Lotus kit are much more capable, and for those interested in Enterprise2.0 fit in nicely with things like Connections and Quickr – way better “social media for the enterprise” than the MS offerings. This post also points out that while MS CAN compete with these functions, you often have to buy a lot of extra expensive software (and associated hardware) to enable it to do so.

    • I’d agree with this. There is a perception out there that Notes today is the Notes of the 1990’s, which anyone who has worked in Government has had to use and has probably hated. The truth today is somewhat more complex. Yes, there is still cruft and problems with Notes, and it’s not an out of the box experience like Exchange can be. But the platform has evolved significantly to meet the needs of end users and many organisations — like BoysTown — find it a valuable solution to meet more than just their email needs.

      Having said that, I’m on record as being a fan of Gmail and cloud solutions for email. I don’t see why we still have to maintain a heavy server/desktop client paradigm in this day and age, when most people will find access through a web browser with AJAX more than sufficient.

  3. “and for those interested in Enterprise2.0 fit in nicely with things like Connections and Quickr – way better “social media for the enterprise” than the MS offerings.”

    Oh yes. Connections absolutely runs out of the box on Domino! You don’t need to buy websphere or DB2 or any other product. It’sa pure domino solution, and you can just deploy it in seconds. I’m sure all the IBM sales folks say the samething to the customer!!

    Quickr is also a free software, and it does a lot of powerful things that makes Sharepoint server totally redundant.

    Why don’t we stop this BS?

    Lotus was good at some point in the history. Now most of them have moved away or in the process of moving away. There will be notes free cities, states and countries very soon.

    And Boystown is a very small shop.. they can easily run the show with 487 folks, and I’m sure notes is dirt cheap for them…

    • Lol +1 for a solid reality check :) I will note, however that 487 people is not a small shop for Australia — it’s a sizable shop. But I would agree that Notes would be pretty cheap in this circumstance.

  4. @Me & Renai LeMay,

    I supposed you’re both trying to compare a Domino upgrade to an Exchange “Migration’ (because that’s what it really is, not an upgrade). That’s one of the many reasons one should consider Notes/Domino over outlook/Exchange.

  5. It really depends on what they’ve got built on it. It sounds like they have a reasonable investment in Notes databases to complete certain activities as well as a sound investment in other items. What Notes offers is an environment for developing networked databases – which perhaps in the Microsoft world would be akin to putting Access databases in Exchange with great replication. Likely looking at the migration pathway they’re looking at replacing the functionality they have in Notes already with new functionality that might not be available. Notes to Exchange isn’t a migration its a downgrade, Exchange doesn’t support anywhere near as much features as Notes does. If you’re using Notes for just mail then it makes sense because Notes is almost entirely overkill for a mail client (though they did realise somewhere around half a decade ago they needed to make the Notes client not so ugly and focus on making it friendlier) however Notes has so much more inside it. When a local government I was working for left Notes it cost them money to replace the custom phone directory databases they had, the secure passwords databases they used to use and even a help desk ticketing system. Each of these systems ended up being shifted to a web based system (except the passwords database which was put onto an SQL server) which also lost another useful feature: offline access. Each Notes database can function offline with cached data and even add/edit/delete data within it – something the organisation lost which is particularly useful in the server password database situation. To be honest I shared the same observations about Exchange, the “new” features Microsoft keeps announcing are years old Notes features.

  6. @Renai, using a rich client is by far, a best user experience than using a web browser. I’ve been using Lotus Notes apps for more than 10 years, and it’s quite faster and easier to use them from the “ugly” Lotus Notes client than using them from a Web Server.

    @Shawn, you’re right neither Connections nor Quickr are free. But although Connections, a J2EE app is complex to deploy, Quickr for Domino isn’t and is a product that integrates with desktop apps, even Microsoft’s like no other and should get the credit it deserves.

    Upgrading, instead of migrating, is the option in Domino environments to keep up to date. The process in mail only environments is not painful at all, and the risks involved in doing it first time in the morning are more than acceptable.

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