My recent column about saving money in a recession (Money’s too tight to mention) seemed to cause a bit of a stir in the Lotus Notes community.

Back then I wrote: “The problems caused by the state of the economy will be exacerbated by the fact that in the UK there are a lot of companies warming up for large infrastructure upgrades. The cost of running Lotus Notes is killing a lot of companies.”

This was not music to the ears of the visitors to Ed Brill’s blog (www.edbrill.com) who took umbrage with my view and defended Notes on various grounds. With this in mind, and with Notes turning 20 next year, I thought it might be worthwhile to set out in slightly longer format my thoughts about the program.

In the early days of Notes I thought it was amazing technology, way ahead of its time. When people were talking about knowledge management and collaboration it was the platform to use. But Lotus never built a robust messaging engine. It bought cc:Mail and planned to include it in Notes but never did. In fact, both cc:Mail and Network Courier’s mail program that was acquired by Microsoft got rewritten, but all the mail programs of that time were written for single server mailboxes or multiple mailboxes within a corporation. Nobody thought about the impact the internet would have on worldwide communications.

Although a bit clunky, Microsoft Exchange let companies roll out a global messaging system and one directory from day one, and it became very successful. Today, SharePoint is not the best portal on the market and never has been, but SharePoint has caught on because it’s easy enough for departments to set up and get to work on. As a result, people love it. Notes was a great product but I’m not making it up when I say that many firms are moving off Notes. When I go around clients, most Notes users say they find it expensive and hard to operate and want to move off it.

The future collaboration platform is the web and the social network. People don’t want to have cold objects in a database with lots of metadata to fill in because people are crap at filling in boxes. It’s counter-intuitive.

Look at the extraordinary success of MySpace, Bebo and Facebook. Successful software today is all about having a very simple interface and highly discoverable content. That’s why many businesses are looking to social networks that offer up their APIs, like Facebook, LinkedIn and Plaxo. These are the new communications systems and the future is not a big, heavy email client sitting on your laptop. These old client/server email and groupware programs will morph into the cloud and email, IM, voice and other forms of communication will all fall into one medium with an interface that is very pictorial, perhaps with a sort of mind-map of messages that will be sorted by frequency of use.

This could hurt Microsoft if it is not successful in morphing Exchange to its Live cloud services, but it understands this. After all, Microsoft bought Groove Networks to get access to Ray Ozzie as the successor to Bill Gates. Ozzie and his brother Jack are having a profound effect on the way software is developed at Microsoft and they are not people who love big, stove-piped applications.

On a separate note, I think 2009 is looking pretty straightforward. Almost all CIOs I meet have a PowerPoint deck of five or six slides that outline their strategies. One of these is to focus on business transformation. The next part is getting IT and business alignment better managed so governance processes ensure that project ownership is shared rather than having the situation of one blaming the other. Every client has some sort of cost reduction strategy and you know the IT budget is going to get hit so it’s very easy for the CIO to batten down the hatches for the next six months. You definitely need to look at your people and, where there is fat, cut it out. But now is also the time to optimise infrastructures you can take advantage when the economy revives.

Another thing: master data management really is the future. There is a backlash against data warehousing because people are reluctant to have reservoirs of data when what they really need is one version of the truth that really is the customer record, so the Mike Altendorf record is the same throughout. Once you’ve got that in place it’s easy to publish that data as a service rather than have a mess of different versions of data.

And finally, a tip for next year. Look out for ‘fabric computing’, a sort of service oriented architecture for hardware where servers can be adapted to have different configurations and bandwidth on the fly. Think of it as a grown-up version of the capacity-on-demand or utility computing trends of a few years ago.

What is your opinion on collaboration technology and Lotus Notes? Read our CIO Debate article on collaboration in 2009. Research carried out by MWD and CIO UK highlilghts some interesting trends. CIO UK would welcome your input and comments on this research, let us know your thoughts at our LinkedIn community or by emailing Mark Chillingworth.

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