My SP24 session – Life After IBM Lotus Notes – How To Successfully Transition To A SharePoint World


Link to the conference room/recording:

Link to the Slideshare post:
First off, thank you to the organizers of SP24 for pulling off an incredible event (and for allowing me to speak at it!) The  platform and combination of technologies used to bring this together was impressive, and I know you all went a long way past “above and beyond” to make this happen. Thank you.

I presented a session titled Life After IBM Lotus Notes – How To Successfully Transition To A SharePoint World. It was a story of what I went through with our company’s migration from IBM Lotus Notes and Domino to Microsoft SharePoint. It was meant to help those facing the same type of situation (and there are a number that have/are doing just that), and to share some of the things I learned in hopes of saving people a few scrapes and bruises (or worse) along the way.

I was thrilled to see how many people were in the session, as well as the lively interaction in the chat area. Granted, I know a lot of the people who were there, and the banter was both technical and humorous. But it also confirmed to me that my story wasn’t some one-off outlier, and that my suggestions weren’t things from way out in left field. Again, thanks to everyone that was there and
helped contribute to the overall session.

It was WAY past my bedtime when I finished, and I was having problems trying to manage the chat window to answer questions than came up or that I didn’t touch on during the presentation. I copied the contents the next day, and this post is a follow-up to some of the themes and questions that didn’t get answered. Feel free to follow up with more questions, and I can either answer them here, create new blog posts, or maybe even do some one-off “presentation videos” that I could post to YouTube to cover topics. That’s stuff I’ve said I was going to do for a couple of years now, and this might be the motivation that gets me going down that road. 🙂

In the following paragraphs, I’m going to use the word “Notes” to mean “IBM Lotus Notes and IBM Lotus Domino” (or whatever the latest legal branding name  happens to be). If you see the word “Notes”, assume I mean all the stuff associated with Notes/Domino.

The main topics brought up in the chat in no particular order…

Letting Go Of The Emotions About Notes

This probably affected me more than any other single item in the transition from Notes to SharePoint, and none of it was based on technical factors…

In 1997, I attended my first Lotusphere after having worked with the software for less than six months. I sat in the opening general session with a “deer in the headlights” look, what with the music, lasers, smoke machines, and so forth. I came away from that event with a decision and vow that Notes was going to be the thing I became really good at. No more just “touching the surface” of what things like Cobol and Eztrieve could do.

Fast forward to now, and I look back and say I probably got to that point for myself and what I hoped for. I was never the sharpest technical tool in  the drawer, but I could share, help others, talk on stage, write articles and books, and make customers happy with applications we wrote for them. I was a “Notes Evangelist” in the truest sense of the word, and was emotionally “all in” when it came to the “Notes Is Good, Microsoft Is Evil” arguments. Given all that, you could reasonably expect that when it came time to start implementing Microsoft technology to replace Lotus in our company, I was devastated.

It’s taken me a number of years since 2009 (*way* too many) to finally switch my mindset and dump the baggage accumulated over the last 20 years. I’ll set aside the argument about “is Notes dead?” for some other time. What I *will* say is that technology is a tool to solve business issues. You don’t buy a wrench and practice wrench-fu to say you can fix anything and build everything with a wrench. You have a wrench to use as a tool to build something useful. You will have your favorite wrench, and some wrenches might be better to use in certain situations. But when you get done, you don’t look at a house or a car and say “wow, that was some master guru level wrench work there.” Instead, you hop in the car or go in the house and USE IT.

Now I can (better) look at Notes and SharePoint as tools to build business solutions. Each one has things they do better and worse than the other, and it may be that your particular situation dictates that you will use mostly wrenches instead of that nail gun that you think might be better or faster. Regardless, learn how to use the tools that make sense for your project, become good at them, and don’t get all caught up in arguing about tools. While you’re arguing over bradawls and stitching awls, someone will come by with a power drill and finish the job while you weren’t looking.

Community… It’s A REALLY Big Deal For Me

The Notes community was (and still is) one of the most incredible tech communities I’ve ever been part of. I have friends all over the world that I’ve worked with, spoken with, wrote with, debugged with, and gotten various levels of shattered with. You may only see each other once a year at a conference, but it’s as if you never left when you pick up where you left off. I’ve spent hours in a hotel buffet-type restaurant, listening to and crying with a friend going through a hard time in their life. Technology is secondary in those situations, and in fact will probably go away at some point. But those moments are the ones that remain forever, and that make all the difference in the world.

Moving away from Notes scared me, as I thought I would lose all that. We all thought that the “Yellow Bubble” was something that no other technology user community could experience.


The SharePoint community is just as vibrant and strong (and perhaps even more so) than the Notes community, and it feels EXACTLY THE SAME! The SharePoint conferences hosted by Microsoft have the feel and vibrancy of Lotusphere events of 1998 – 2001. The SharePoint community rock stars are people just like in the Notes community. They’re just as nice, just as proud of
their work, just as accessible to others, and have just as much fun when you put them together at some event.

Granted, you don’t get to go from “rock star” status in one community to “rock star” status in the other just because you got there once before. You don’t get to be a “name” when it comes to speaking until you work your way back up to that level and prove yourself once again. But if you come into the SharePoint community with the same mindset that you did for your Notes community involvement (I’m assuming you weren’t a jerk in the Notes community), you’ll find it’s just a matter of time before you don’t even notice the difference.

Leaving Notes is not the end of your world (unless you want it to be). It’s the people, not the technology. Starting SharePoint is the beginning of a whole new world, and I’ll venture to say that from a community perspective, you’ll feel very much at home.

60% – 20% – Everything Else

Back when Microsoft and vendors were pushing people hard to migrate from Notes, the common set of statistics about Notes apps were: 60% of your applications are unused, 20% are pure template-based applications, and the rest are custom applications that need to be analyzed for migration. I *hated* that set of stats, as I *knew* my environment better than that, and I *knew* we used most all our applications! Except that when we finished the analysis, we fell pretty much into that same pattern.

The main point to remember is that “I think” is trumped by “the analysis of our environment shows”. This is especially true if your application environment is large, it’s been in place for a long time, and you didn’t touch everything from day one. Your numbers might be the same, or they may be entirely different. But just make sure you take the time to do the impartial analysis to separate emotion/perception from reality.

The “G” Word

My experience says that people like to talk about governance of Notes or SharePoint environments, but no one wants to spend the time, effort, or resources to keep it going day in and day out. We didn’t have good governance in place for Notes for many reasons, one of which was the decentralized nature of Notes application development.

Expect that you’re going to find some really bizarre stuff in your Notes environment when you start to analyze it. Don’t beat yourself or others up for the lack of documentation or controls. That was life, it’s done, and now you move forward.

The best use of your time is figuring out what lessons you can learn from that, and then work on putting something better in place for your SharePoint controls. It’s still not going to be fun or easy, but you have the chance to start with a relatively clean page again.

Lots Of Silos In Them There Fields

Been there, done that… Many, many unused sites that were “HAVE TO HAVE IT NOW!” requests, as well as sites that recreated things that were already done somewhere else. Every Notes environment has that, and it’s incredibly easy to do exactly the same thing in SharePoint. I’ll leave the “how to apply governance to SharePoint” discussions and detail to speakers in the SharePoint community who specialize in that. Suffice it to say that you can recreate “Notes” in SharePoint (and not in a good way) with no problem at all. 🙂

Creating Rational Numbers From Your Migration Analysis

When we got the application analysis back from the vendor, the numbers were even more overwhelming than what they ended up being. 10000+ applications, hundreds of gigabytes of data, etc. This is where your knowledge of the environment comes into play, however.

If you have a hub and spoke Domino server environment, one application may show up as five in the analysis if you’re not careful (one hub replica and four spoke replicas). If you’re being quoted costs or efforts on the higher number, it’s
*completely* overstated. We rationalized our application down to 2200+ unique databases, and that’s the list we used to manage the effort over the next five years.

It’s still a lot of databases, but you’re not being charged for or having discussions about inflated work totals.

How Long Will This Take?

One of the chat comments about the amount of time it takes to migrate an application was “3x as long as it would take if I’d do it in Notes, and then hope to really deliver it 1.5 – 2x longer than notes, but still before I said it would be done.”  I find this painfully true. There are migration horror stories of companies spending millions to move a Notes application to something else, and 12 to 24 months later it’s still on Notes with no idea of when it will be moved.

If you’re paying vendors, it will take time and cost money. If you’re doing it all in-house, it may “cost less” but it will probably take a lot longer. If SharePoint is a brand-new platform, the learning curve will make it even longer on top of
that. It’s unfair to compare the amount of time it might take to develop an application in Notes and SharePoint unless you have expert developers in both. It’s likely your SharePoint developers are not yet experts, so don’t expect miracles.

Do I Need Migration Software?

Back when we looked at migration software, the main vendors were Casahl, Quest, and Binary Tree. They would offer a tool to analyze your environment (relatively inexpensive), and then they’d hope to use that information to help you migrate.

As I mentioned in the presentation, there is no silver bullet when it comes to migrating applications. If it’s a Notes database based on a standard template, the migration software works well. If it’s a Notes application with custom code,
you’ll have some level of manual effort to migrate… there’s no other way around it.

I *strongly* suggest you use one of the analysis tools to look at your environment from a non-emotional perspective. Once you have those numbers, you can figure out the best way to move forward based on your budget and needs. But don’t accept any “we can have your environment migrated in just a few months” statements. It doesn’t work that way.

Hello? Who’s Here?

I lived on the database access logs to find out who was using what. Still, some databases didn’t have that turned on, and others didn’t go back very far. Once that usage data is gone, there’s no good way to recreate it or generate equivalent

My recommendation in those cases is to set up some hidden views to look at all documents by created or modified date. In some cases, it may well be a “take your best guess” to figure out how much/little the site is being used. My archiving/obsoleting/”ask forgiveness vs. permission” technique helped me pull that off in nearly all cases.

Migrating For Mobile First

Migrating Notes applications to SharePoint with a mind towards mobile access wasn’t a “thing” when we were doing this starting in 2009. I’m going to contend that a Notes migration to SharePoint doesn’t, in and of itself, have anything to do with mobile.

OK, light the torches and hand out the pitchforks…

Here’s my point… If you’re going to try and make the case that it’s easy to mobilize Notes applications with vendor tools or XPages, you are probably still fighting to keep your company from moving away  from Notes (or you’re trying to sell a tool to mobilize Notes applications). I’m working from the point in time where the decision has been made that you *will* be moving away from Notes. If you can convince your company otherwise, rock on!

The other argument is that your new SharePoint applications should be mobile-ready vs. the old Notes application. *THAT* is correct. However, that’s a decision you’ll need to make on an application-by-application basis, not at the level of “we’re moving away from Notes”.

Most all of your SharePoint applications are going to run in a web browser, so that’s already one-up on Notes client applications. How well they work on (or even *if* they need to work on) mobile devices is a decision you should make as part of your application analysis when you’re moving a Notes database to a SharePoint site.

SharePoint Out-of-the-box Functionality 

One question that came up was about how functional and easy it is to get “out of the box” functionality in SharePoint. At least the way I read the question, it sounded like it was from a viewpoint of what it took to develop a SharePoint application (probably as compared to a Notes application).

My statement about having an abundance of out-of-the-box functionality was based more on the ability to create quick no-code solutions without having an IT geek on hand. In addition, there’s a lot of things that you can do between Office applications (like export a SharePoint list to Excel) with simple menu options.

Most of those features are truly “out of the box” for the business. It does take work to set other features up, like some business intelligence features, data connectors, etc. But that would take time and effort to set up in either environment.

Can We Shut Down Notes Now?

This might have been my biggest frustration… It was (and still is to a much smaller degree) extremely difficult to get people to understand the difference between “the migration is done” and “we’re turning off the Notes servers”.

I ended up taking the approach of telling people that migration meant “ending active use of all Notes applications. Turning off all Domino servers could only happen once all data retention requirements had been addressed and accomplished.”

I figured that continuing to answer “we’re turning off Notes” with “no, you’re not” wasn’t getting me anywhere. 🙂

Migration Or Site Templates To Beg/Borrow/Steal? 

I would suggest going to, which is Microsoft’s open-source software site for community contributions. That’s where you’ll find some great things that others have shared.

Don’t Neglect Training…

Training is important, and the larger the company the harder it is. Part of the reason people “hate Notes” seems to be because they don’t know how to use it at an optimal level. If you don’t train people on how to use SharePoint, you’ll hear the same complaint.

The problem is that everyone learns differently. Some people are visual learners, some need to be hands-on. Some need a classroom environment, others are OK with a book or web page. And we need to face it… some people just don’t care and won’t learn regardless of what you do.

Bottom line… factor in training to your migration to help mitigate the “I hate…” syndrome.

What’s Cheaper: Notes Or SharePoint?

There were some questions about whether Notes or SharePoint is more expensive. It’s a bit like asking “What’s better? A boat or a car?” It all depends on your situation…

I don’t know or participate in licensing talks or decisions. I’m perfectly happy with that, as I’m primarily a developer. Where I have options about costs is when you’re winding down your Notes environment. To the best of my knowledge (as in every IBMer I’ve asked has told me the same thing), the checks you write to IBM for Notes/Domino have to do with maintenance. You
can continue to use the Notes/Domino software at the level you’re at for as long as you want for no cost… if you choose not to renew your maintenance agreement. You can’t upgrade, you can’t call in for support, etc. But you can use it forever as-is. I know people who are still using version 5 of Notes/Domino.

In that situation, it costs you “nothing” to run a Notes/Domino environment if you’re not doing much with it. If you’re only running a single Domino server to allow people to see archived content if needed, then you really don’t need maintenance (in my opinion).

If your company is very risk-adverse, they may choose to pay the maintenance costs (and I’m sure IBM will thank you). But if you want to assume some level of risk (and I’ll maintain it can be pretty low), the price becomes pretty cheap.

I know there are costs associated with running servers, having people manage IDs, etc. But towards the end of your Notes/Domino lifespan, those tasks are likely just “on occasion” things, and there’s little dedicated things in place that
ONLY focus on Notes/Domino.


4 responses to “My SP24 session – Life After IBM Lotus Notes – How To Successfully Transition To A SharePoint World

  1. Pingback: My SP24 session – Life After IBM Lotus Notes – How To Successfully Transition To A SharePoint World | SharePoint Duffbert

  2. Tom,
    Well said and very well thought out. You are the rock star and now they know it there too.

  3. Shirley Schmidt

    I am not sure whether Lotus is expensive or not but I am using free SharePoint hosting solution that too the new 2013 version with no problems from

  4. Nice writeup and wrap-up on the session, Tom. You did a great job with it. Glad to have been involved in the chat. It was fun.

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