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The Engage 2019 show is over. This year, many meetings with great people, intelligent, interesting and passionate about what they do.

Thanks to them for all the extremely positive comments about PickaForm! This gives a lot of energy to continue to improve the platform and add new cool features.

This year was also very special since it was the last year Domino was an “IBM” product, so we were expecting a lot of things from the Domino 11 conferences.

On this point, the feelings are mixed: there were announcements and / or interesting demonstrations, but also some questions about the future of the platform. Let me explain.

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Cool stuff 

– The strategy announced by HCL is clearly to refocus Domino as an application platform with an email component, rather than a messaging platform that can also create apps. Although it was obvious to the developers, it was still important to clarify this.

– For web development, and after many years of living in a closed ecosystem, Domino development has resolutely turned to the future by opting for an integration with Node.js / npm and all standard javascript frameworks. This is an important step forward that could help bring new developers to the platform (through the back door, though)

– There is now an iPhone / iPad client for legacy Notes apps, and, cherry on the cake, local replication works! This removes a painful thornbone to the many customers who were wondering how to “mobilize” some of their critical apps without spending a fortune on a long-standing app modernization project.

– The upcoming integration of a new standard formula – OpenFormula – to create applications without departing from the known standards of the market. Beyond the interest of aligning with a standard, this new code can also be executed on the Notes client, the web client … or the server! For PickaForm, it basically means that customers will be able to use Excel-like formulas in their computed fields, rather than javascript (which is made for developers, not business users).

– Some nice little additions to LotusScript – especially the HttpRequest object – that extend the language without revolutionizing it.

– Domino’s “dockerization” makes it possible for fast deployments, not only for the server, but also for applications like PickaForm that live on it! It’s really the perfect way to use Domino as a simple application container (thank you Thomas Hampell and Daniel Nashed for working on this! 😉

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Worrying stuff

The global success of Notes / Domino was built entirely thanks to the simplicity of creating applications without being an IT developer. Be aware of the feat: a non-developer could create a business application without knowing anything about the databases, and this application could also replicate on multiple sites and run offline without any additional effort. All in an ultra-secure way.

Problem 1: the low-code is not at the rendezvous

The opening of Domino development with Node.js is a great thing, but it seems to be the only strategy that has really moved forward, to the detriment of other options. Let me explain :

  • @Formula => little change
  • LotusScript => little change
  • XPages => nothing planned at the moment
  • Javascript wihin Notes => no change (and still unusable)
  • OpenFormula => maybe in 1 year?

In a nutshell, all the elements that make Notes / Domino a low-code platform have not moved an inch, and a customer with a version 9 will have no reason to go on a version 10 or on a version 11 for the low-code aspect.

Worse: by explicitly focusing on Node.js developments and its complex stacks (Express, Passport, React/Angular/Vue, Redux, etc …), this clearly scared all the non-developer participants with whom I was able to discuss. The message was more or less: “train yourself in new technologies, you will have everything to gain!”

Yes, no doubt if you are a professional IT developer, but we know it, many of our current customers are not developers, but just super-users who love to tinker a few simple formulas and copy / paste some scripts.

In my opinion, all these customers will be left behind and nothing is currently in place to retain them.

In parallel, the presentation of the HCL Leap product has somewhat confused the tracks as to the future of the low-code on Domino. Indeed, the announcements made last year by Richard Jeft and Jason Gary positioned the low-code as a priority for Domino 11 since they wanted to put it in the Gartner’s Magic Quadrant of low-code in the next 5 years. But a year later, not only is there nothing new for Domino, but in addition HCL Leap is presented as the low-code solution of HCL. It is therefore difficult to see clearly the low-code strategy for Domino in the future.

Problem 2: how to attract new customers?

If the low-code is not strengthened, and if Domino is no more than a NoSql database in a Node.js stack, then what would be the advantage for a new customer to opt for Domino rather than for MongoDb or CouchDb (which also supports replication)?

Personally, I see only one: the security of the database. But this argument is unfortunately not enough, because if the other NoSql databases do not actually have security integrated directly, it simply means that security is operated a layer above.

So, between a free NoSql database and a relatively expensive Domino database, the calculation will be done very quickly for a new customer who does not have Domino yet.

As things stand, Domino can not convince new customers who do not have Domino for:

  • a new web / Node.js project
  • a modern low-code platform

What are the new potential customers remaining?

Honestly, I do not see … except perhaps new customers looking for a simple and fast no-code platform like PickaForm and who don’t care about the back-end 😉

Problem 3: the look&feel

Since IBM has invested nothing in updating the Notes client look&feel for almost the last 15 years, it has become the dinosaur we know, offering customers – and the competition – the legitimate right to make fun of this look “soooo nineties”.

So we could have thought logically that the absolute priority should have been given to an extremely radical cosmetic surgery, especially since it is the second most popular request on #dominoforever (but unfortunately tagged “investigating” and not “planned”)

Alas, the presentation of Notes 11 showed a “new” version simply more … blue. Same buttons, same icons, same layout. To summarize: same problem! This is not only impossible to excite a new customer with this retro-clunky look, and also impossible to retain those who were on the departure.

Today, all users also have a smartphone with apps whose ergonomics are always more beautiful, inventive, polite, fast, efficient … and it seems difficult to show this new Notes 11 without a grinding of teeth.

Ironically, the technical exploit of having managed to bring the Notes applications on iPad / iPhone make the thing even more glaring when we see our good old “Notes workspace” on a beautiful ultra-design iPad! Anachronism?

Problem 4: the licencing model

HCL has outlined its future licensing model, announcing similar prices to current ones and declined in two approaches:

  • licensing per server, with unlimited users
  • licensing per user

Nevertheless, the room trembled when HCL mentioned a system that would block the authentication of a user if the quota of users was exceeded!

Fortunately, one of the people in the room intervened by warning HCL: controlling the licenses, yes, blocking an end-user … no! I hope HCL has heard the message clearly.

With the current regain of interest in Domino, it would be absolutely crazy to put all these efforts on the ground because of an aberrant control system.

It was also said that licensing for development environments would remain free, which anyway is the only possible way if HCL does not want to scare its community of developers.

Personally, I regret that HCL is not more incisive on the market, for example by offering the platform for VSB companies up to 10 or 20 people. This would generate massive marketing for the platform while retaining the revenue of larger accounts.

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In short:

– The low-code strategy for the Domino platform is not clear at all

Licences locking system might be a problem if it directly prevents end-users from authenticating (please, find another way!)

– The focus is always given to technology rather than design & ergonomy, which poses a serious problem in terms of product image.

– In the end, selling Domino to new customers still seems to be very complicated… except if it’s bundled with platforms that bring immediate business value like… PickaForm?

Nevertheless, personally, I remain completely optimistic for the future of Domino for several reasons:

– The HCL team shows great energy to renovate and push the platform forward and integrate it into a wider ecosystem with Connections, Verse, HCL Leap, etc … When we look at the offer in a transversal way and don’t just focus on Domino, HCL has a very nice product suite and extremely robust against the competition

– Richard Jeft and Jason Gary’s vision is clearly focused on standards and openness. If on the one hand old loyal customers will regret not seeing their favorite “low-code stuff” evolve (@Formula, LotusScript, XPages), we must also recognize that it’s also those non-standard languages ​​that have locked the platform and made it inaccessible for “non-Domino” developers. Turning Domino development to standards like Node.js and soon OpenFormula are therefore absolutely reasonable choices.

– Domino has never had as much energy and evolutions as since the deal with HCL, which is absolutely positive for the platform. As users, we always want things to go faster, but we must recognize that the work done in recent months has been incredibly dense. So, thank you and congratulations to HCL teams!

– Even though I criticized above the “clunky” look of Notes apps on the iPad, the criticism was easy and mean: you have to realize not only the technical feat, but also the utterly immense business value it brings in terms of mobility. And all this … at ZERO cost for customers. That’s huge!

– The IBM / HCL deal is still being finalized, and there are probably many things in the box that could not officially be announced at Engage.

As a conclusion, this Engage was extremely interesting, very rich, and the community really exceptional – although too small. Thank you to everyone I met there, it was a pleasure to share this moment with you.

Congratulations to Theo Heselmans for the impeccable organization of the event, the good mood, and the incredible venue (Autoworld) he managed to find for Engage, once again.

See you next year!