a/d trends - Lotus Notes: AD Extraordinaire

What is Lotus Notes?

Have you asked that question? Have you seen some of the explanations? Now that itís ìnativeî on the AS/400, I think we should know.

Iíve seen it stated that Lotus Notes defies description. Whatís that mean? Iím supposed to buy something you canít explain to me?

Iíve seen it stated that itís like a Swiss army knife. I have some of those. To me, they are curiosities and not especially useful. I get them as promotional gifts and they sit in my lower drawer. Once, having just discovered my corkscrew was broken, I used one to open a wine bottle. But you couldnít build a house with one, or even assemble a barbecue.

Iíve seen statements about Lotus messaging, workflow, security, replication, database and application delivery systems. Does any of this mean anything to you?

This seems to be an acute problem. Iíve asked many very seasoned Lotus certified experts to explain it. Mostly, they give me sighs and shrugs. One Lotus professional told me it was similar to what Microsoft is defining as the ìDigital Nervous System.î Microsoft must see this as an opportunity.

Have you seen those ads talking about a digital nervous system? I thought it was a description about how nervous you get when trusting your business data to an NT system from a certain (now defunct) hardware vendor.

So when do you use Notes? Donít even dare buy or sell it for its e-mail capabilities alone. There are free or cheaper products out there that do simple mail better.

Do you use it to build a Web site? Sure you do, but thatís certainly not all! Do you use it for its database? Sure, but not to compete with high-volume, high-performance transaction oriented relational databases.

So when do I use it? What kind of data isnít relational?

Well actually in real life, most data is not relational -- itís related. Lotus Notes works with a unique type of database which allows the combination of structured (relational) and unstructured (documents, forms) data. Think of it as a data railway of sorts.

Railway cars of different size gauge, shapes and weight can be used in any configuration to transport a diverse set of goods from coal to iron ore to livestock, frozen foods, and people in coach and first class -- all in an organized fashion.

Similarly, Lotus Notes creates a transportation system for data. This loosely-coupled association of data equates to how the human mind processes knowledge. Images, logic, senses, emotion, rules, memorization, and associations all interact as the mind processes data. Many of those data categories are also utilized by computers, such as words, numbers, forms, rules, visual images and memory. Therefore, we can refer to applications which associate loosely connected structured and unstructured data as ìknowledge-based applications.î

How do you create a ìknowledge-based application?î Start with a database that links structured and unstructured data. But the knowledge can come from many containers in many locations/computer systems. Here is where synchronization and replication become important.

Lotus databases are synchronized across multiple heterogeneous systems on the basis of their automated replication. However, a database alone does not an application make. Another component of Lotus ensures that applications taking advantage of the coupled knowledge structures can be quickly and efficiently developed.

Lotus Notes and Java links are far and away the most productive development tools to develop these knowledge-based applications. Forget RPG, COBOL and C++ for this!

It turns out that Lotus script is to Domino as RPG was to the AS/400 -- the fastest means for remarketers to deliver full-function application solutions that exploit the system.

The business result is also the same: the main reason people buy Lotus is the same reason they buy AS/400s -- the applications portfolio. There are currently 12,000 Lotus BPs and 8,000 AS/400 BPs saying so.

Strap on portability, security and Web serving, and I offer you the definition of Domino as ìInfrastructure for distributed, knowledge-based applications.î

Bottom Line: Itís about development. And it provides an all-in-one development environment for the types of applications everyone needs but doesnít have yet: knowledge-based applications that extend to multiple clients and servers and span multiple types of related information.

Sort of like a digital nervous system, I guess.

--Mark Buchner is president and founder of Astech Solutions Inc. (Aurora, Ontario), which applies technology to the practical needs of the AS/400 market. mbuchner@astech.com.