Railway contractor stays on track with Lotus Notes

When railway contractor Holland Company converted its collaboration software from Microsoft Exchange to IBM Lotus Notes, the company knew its current applications could stay on track without getting derailed by future upgrades.

And even as Armonk, NY-based IBM Corp. launched Lotus Notes 7, Big Blue’s newest version of the Lotus Notes collaboration platform, Holland Company was confident it could upgrade to the new version without ever worrying about rewriting its existing applications, said Jim Tieri, IT director for the railway contracting company based in Crete, Illinois.

“Having had experience with Notes in the past, I knew that if an application [were] developed for early versions of Notes, it would still run on [current versions of] Notes. And that if we were going to develop applications today, they would continue to run in the future,” said Tieri.

He said the biggest challenge for Holland Company’s IT department was maintaining connectivity among its more than 300 users, most of whom are field operators.

Holland Company’s aging Microsoft Exchange (v.5.5) server was running on Windows NT, which was nearing the end of its lifecycle. So the firm sought out IBM partner PSC Group, based in Schaumburg, Illinois and embarked on a six-month journey to move to a Lotus Notes platform.

“We were planning on creating applications utilizing the new platform, and didn’t want to have to rewrite the apps every two years while keeping current with upgrades. Lotus Notes keeps us out of the ‘rip and replace’ mentality,” said Tieri.

With Lotus Notes 7, IBM also launched Domino 7, which provides new and enhanced tools for application developers. Together, there are more than 175 new capabilities in the Notes and Domino 7 upgrade, according to Ken Bisconti, vice-president, workplace, portal and collaboration, IBM.

Bisconti said Notes and Domino 7 focus on multiple users within the organization – end-users, IT administrators, application developers and CFOs.

Notes 7 was developed with the idea of improving end-user productivity, said Bisconti. “We know from our own study that end-users are deluged with inbound e-mails, meeting requests, news items, new documents, and they are continuing to look for new ways to improve [their] ability to prioritize and get work done.”

Notes 7 features several improvements including: new methods for organizing and flagging messages with visual indicators; differentiating between group e-mails and messages targeted for specific users; expanded presence awareness with the integration of instant messaging and Web conferencing; and new memory functions with auto save that will allow a user to return to open documents and applications upon shut down and re-start.

Bisconti said IBM’s focus is on increasing integration with customers’ existing investments – whether open or proprietary. “The Office portfolio continues to be an important one for our customers and we have made very specific efforts to increase integration with Office 2003.”

For application developers and IT administrators, Domino 7 provides a complete Linux offering that does not require Windows or other operating systems for administration, he said.

Autonomic proactive monitoring feature was also enhanced with Domino 7, allowing administrators to get alerts for potential performance issues even before they occur, said Bisconti.

IBM has also upgraded Lotus Domino 7 toolset to expand the reach of Domino applications, while protecting customer investments in Lotus Domino-based applications.

“The addition of Web services support to Domino 7 is also a very important capability that will allow our customers to increase their application integration and will give them even further use of their Domino application investments no matter how they choose to use them across their portfolio,” said Bisconti.

Lotus Notes and Domino 7 also provide developers with the option of using IBM DB2 as foundation for new and existing applications. This provides an alternative for developers to use open standard SQL (structured query language) and choose the technology that fits their skills and business needs, according to IBM.

IBM Lotus Domino server software starts at US$ 1,431 per CPU and Lotus Notes software starts at US$ 101 per client.