• United States



by Shruti Yadav

Messaging War Enters a Brief Stalemate

May 10, 20046 mins
CSO and CISOData and Information Security

When it comes to groupware, companies are hesitant to change the status quo; none of the Lotus Notes and Microsoft Exchange customers Nucleus interviewed had any plans for migration. But there are several indications that for some companies, the status quo may mean forgoing significant cost-saving opportunities.

Nucleus recently conducted interviews with 41 Lotus Notes and Microsoft Exchange administrators about current and planned usage of their groupware tools and found the following:

  • None of the companies plan to change their existing groupware solution in the next 24 months.
  • One-fourth of companies are using both Lotus Notes and Microsoft Exchange in different areas of the organization, and they plan to continue doing so.
  • Whereas 33 percent of companies that were standardized on Lotus Notes reported that the majority used the application purely for e-mail, all the Microsoft Exchange customers reported that at least 75 percent of users accessed the tools for both e-mail and basic collaboration tasks.

These results are largely in keeping with Nucleus’s January 2004 study on IT spending patterns, wherein 70 percent of Fortune 500 companies interviewed noted that their spending limit would contract or remain flat in the coming year. Incremental spending will be focused on CRM, portals, wireless networking, and satisfying customer mandates such as radio frequency identification (RFID). Faced with these constraints, companies are in no apparent hurry to write off large investments in existing groupware tools, choosing instead to live with their current infrastructures.

Status quo to prevail through

None of the Lotus Notes or Microsoft Exchange administrators that Nucleus interviewed reported any plans to change their groupware application within the next two years. Even when a migration promised clear returns, companies were constrained by tight budgets, concerns about destabilizing mail-dependent databases and applications, and the potential risks of disrupting business during a migration.

None of the Lotus Notes and Microsoft Exchange customers Nucleus interviewed were planning a migration on any scale.

For example, Nucleus spoke to a Notes administrator at a large software company that had used the tool for nearly eight years. The company hopes to switch to Exchange because it offers greater ease of use and better integration with third-party tools. Despite this, the company won’t migrate in the next two years, partly because of budget constraints. According to the Notes administrator, “[We have been] using Notes for eight years, and everyone wants to move to Exchange now. But the challenge is that many databases are running on Notes, and they have higher user priorities (like CRM).”

Lotus Notes: A costly way to provide e-mail?

Nucleus found a key difference among companies’ usage of their groupware tools. All the Microsoft Exchange customers interviewed said at least 75 percent of users accessed both e-mail and the out-of-the-box collaboration features. By contrast, 33 percent of Lotus Notes administrators reported that a majority of the users were using the application purely for e-mail, making minimal use of any collaborative, workflow, or other features that can be developed with Notes.

One-third of Lotus Notes customers reported that the application was being used primarily for e-mail; by contrast, at least 75 percent of all the Microsoft Exchange customers’ user populations regularly access both the messaging and collaborative features of the platform.

In such cases, companies are likely footing an inordinately high bill to support what is essentially an e-mail system for the majority of users – depressing their ROI by hosting a higher-footprint tool for lower-level functionality.

Can you improve ROI with a hybrid strategy?

Understandably, the prospect of completely retiring a critical and valuable Notes-based application may involve too much risk for some companies. But if only a small set of users is exploiting that functionality, those companies may realize a better ROI from moving to a more hybrid environment – one that includes an easier-to-support tool for messaging but retains the instances of the heavier-footprint tool needed for specific applications.

In fact, 25 percent of companies interviewed were using both Lotus Notes and Microsoft Exchange and plan to continue doing so in the foreseeable future:

  • A large state university reported that the majority of its employees used Microsoft Exchange for messaging and basic collaboration tasks, but a pocket of users had been using a customized tool based on Lotus Notes. The university administration eventually intends to retire the Notes instances but will let the tools coexist while it attends to other IT priorities.
  • One organization built a Web project management tool on Lotus Notes for members of a specific department but used Exchange as its main e-mail tool. Because the returns from this Notes-based application are significant, the company considered it worthwhile to put some development effort into making it function simultaneously with other tools.

One-fourth of companies reported that they were using both Lotus Notes and Microsoft Exchange in different areas. For some customers, maintaining a hybrid strategy may be a more attractive – and feasible – alternative to a complete, large-scale migration.

Cashing in on the competition

Given the quickly intensifying contest for leadership in the messaging and collaboration market, the time is ripe for customers to leverage their buying power and take a number of steps to control the initial and ongoing costs of a migration project. Lotus Notes customers that are using the platform mainly for e-mail should evaluate options for a partial or complete migration to Exchange and do the following:

  • Evaluate some of the coexisting tools on the market. Microsoft partners like HunterBridge and Casahl Technology offer tools and services enabling customers to retain Notes as the basis for customized applications while letting users keep Exchange as their mail client.
  • Avail themselves of free assessments. To lure customers into seriously considering Exchange, Microsoft recently launched the “Lotus Notes Coexistence and Migration Program” for Notes shops in Asia, offering free assessments of companies’ environments to devise a migration and coexistence strategy. The program will eventually be extended to Europe and the United States.
  • Negotiate heavily with Microsoft in the areas of licenses, license maintenance, or even subsidized or fixed-price consulting support for the migration itself.


In the short term, there will be no tidal waves of migration in the Lotus Notes and Microsoft Exchange installed bases. But considering that as many as a third of Notes shops reported that the platform doesn’t have a utility beyond e-mail for most users, there are indications that many customers would do well to reconsider their groupware strategies.

In the early days of groupware, Microsoft Exchange was just a messaging system and Lotus Notes was a more sophisticated platform that bundled e-mail with development tools for collaboration and workflow. However, Exchange has evolved greatly over time, incorporating significant out-of-the-box support for shared calendaring, task management, and other key collaborative tasks. Many Notes customers, for their part, have been constrained by the need for additional development and found that they were paying to maintain the entire platform but profiting from only the core messaging features.

If companies find that the sophisticated collaborative and workflow capabilities in Notes platforms are completely underutilized or accessed by only a small set of users, it may time for them to reconsider the merits of the existing groupware environment. A partial or phased migration to a lighter-footprint application like Exchange could well be the key to a drastically improved ROI.