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IBM Domino 10: Getting back on the radar—but which radar?

How well grounded is the new optimism brought by the recent IBM/HCL webinar on Domino 10 and beyond? When the #domino2025 campaign was announced, we asked the following: “The key question: What is it in IBM Domino 10 that will bring new customers?“. Our opinion in that article has been mainly described as skeptical. In short, we concluded that a software product that cannot attract new customers has no future. And we still think that such an opinion makes sense. So what have we learned since then that’s new, and do we have any reasons to change our opinion?

First, let us point out that the changes announced during the webinar are more than welcome. The shift to mainstream application technologies (Node.js, LoopBack, React, Elasticsearch) is a bold step in the right direction. It will lower the barrier for new developers to jump in, at places where Domino already exists. There are also a number of improvements that address TCO through many advanced integrations (Docker, Active Directory, Exchange, Office), as well as the long-awaited database improvements (self-repair, higher capacity).

Now, let’s put on our skeptic’s hat.

What did we hear about long-term positioning? Not much. We didn’t hear, loudly and clearly, how IBM and HCL are going to win new customers and who the ideal new user will be. We were, however, offered a new vision statement (“a big hairy audacious goal“) for Domino 10 and beyond:

“The application platform that business users tap to solve their collaboration intensive business problems—anyone, anywhere.”

This is the goal introduced by the product team to get Domino back on the radar. But we still have to wonder: which radar? In 2018 and beyond, which league will the new Domino be playing in? If it is the application platform stack based on Node.js, React, and a NoSQL database, we need to hear and understand why one should consider Domino over other mainstream options.

Similarly, if IBM/HCL is aiming to “go back to the genesis of the product,” then they will need to find the inspiration to reinvent Domino as a low-code, modern rapid application development (RAD) platform for IT professionals and citizen developers. That is something that Domino is not today and has not been for a while—and we still don’t even know if that is the goal for #domino2025. The webinar didn’t address that. So if anyone still believes that IBM Notes/Domino is a synonym for RAD, let’s check out the radar screen together. This is what the citizen developers’ radar screen looks like today. Meet the leaders and challengers.

Low-code platforms

The Forrester Wave™: Low-Code Development Platforms For AD&D Pros, Q4 2017
Gartner Magic Quadrant for Enterprise High-Productivity Application Platform as a Service, April 2017

The fact is that IBM Notes/Domino has never made a successful transition to Web and mobile. If it did, it would have been visible on the “radars” above as a RAD or low-code application platform. Unfortunately, it’s only Notes—not Domino XPages—what was considered and appreciated by citizen developers as RAD.

It should be noted that IBM didn’t lose its faith in low-code platforms. Quite the contrary. “Low-code, a fast-growing category of app development, addresses these obstacles [lack of agility, technical complexity, and a skills shortage] by bridging the gap between technology and business needs,” said IBM’s Don Boulia in a recent announcement of partnership between IBM and Mendix, a leader in low-code platforms (see the “radars” above). What’s more, IBM is also developing its own new low-code platform: LiveGrid.

Getting back to IBM Notes and Domino, what are the chances that HCL will be able to complete the transformation of the products that IBM started long ago? The first moves are promising: the product will be opened up to the mainstream technologies. Now, the product team will need to answer what they want the new Domino to become. Let’s try to guess a little (with some help from Geoffrey Moore’s positioning template):

For citizen developers and DevOps engineers
who must keep up with ever-changing requirements,
the new Domino is a low-code application platform
that provides rapid delivery of collaborative business applications.
Unlike other NoSQL stacks, we have <the key point of differentiation>.
Unlike other low-code platforms, we have <the key point of differentiation>.

The key points of competitive differentiation are still unknown. It seems to us that IBM/HCL still needs to decide what to do with Domino. To make it relevant again, they have to choose the league and then to point out what they bring to the game.

Yes, yellow used to be the new black. Can it be new once again?