The World Wide Web and Internet explosion has led many analysts to speculate just how long it will be before Lotus Notes is no longer a viable technology solution. 'Intranets', which are private Web services, are becoming increasingly popular among large corporate and multinational users around the world where the Notes technology previously seemed the best solution only one year ago.
Many once loyal and devoted Notes apostles are now questioning whether Notes remains a viable solution for the reseller channel and its customers. My belief is absolutely yes: it will remain as such, but with a new flavour.
In mid January, Lotus launched its new version of Notes - Version 4 - at its annual Lotusphere jamboree for business partners in the US. It is now beginning to arrive at both distributors and corporate resellers around the world. There is no doubt that this latest version of Notes is a great product for the channel with the ability to generate substantial additional sales and services for each pound sterling invested in the original product purchase.
But what do you do with Notes? By itself, it is almost useless. When I think back to the days when former Lotus chief executive officer Jim Manzi touted 'groupware', I am still confused about the overly complex verbiage he liked to spout at the world during his time at the company. What I think Manzi was really trying to say is that Notes is a fabulous backbone from which to hang other applications. In some respects, its potential is exponentially greater than the strong dBase developer environment that held sway in the mid to late 80s.
For resellers, Notes is the opportunity to sell services like consultancy, programming and training, as well as hardware add-ons. But on the other side of the coin resellers have to be technologically skilled to succeed with Notes and to exploit its potential revenue-generating capacity with each product sale.
Unlike the Internet and World Wide Web where it is difficult for anyone to make money at the moment (although Netscape is a possible exception), Notes resellers must be Lotus certified, a certification which acts as a mark of excellence for their technology skills. There are, of course, no such certification requirements for Internet service providers and Web developers.
The main drawback of Lotus Notes is its intensive need for hardware on the server; solutions for the Internet are relatively minimal in their demands compared with most Notes servers. And for corporate information technology directors who continue to experience ever-shrinking budgets, but who are nevertheless expected to generate greater results with their technology investments, the Internet has to be a strong draw.
There is no doubt that setting up a secure intranet Web site can be less expensive. The reality is that there are few third-party applications and solutions today - not to mention bug-free ones.
For most resellers and their customers, the Internet poses three interesting questions. First, what do you really do with the Internet? Second, where do the applications really reside? Third, can you make your network secure if it is on the Internet?
Lotus Notes does have a relatively high cost per seat, but today its main advantage may be that it has proven to be secure with many applications. And for companies which want to keep their telecommunications costs low, a limit to the amount of surfing that employees can do on the Internet can reduce these costs.
Channel partners have a big opportunity to develop solutions for their customers that combine the best aspects of Notes while still tapping into the economies that can be realised through the Internet. Over the next few years, I expect many Notes users will begin to embed Internet features into their existing applications.
The chances are very good that we will all spend the rest of our lives crossing the World Wide Web. And as more software developers and hardware manufacturers start to offer Internet products, I believe that leveraging the benefits of the cyberworld with proven technology is bound to be a winning combination.
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