Roll out Notes Apps Faster with IT Factory

SAN MATEO (04/26/2000) - Most developers of Lotus Notes and Domino will concur that virtually any messaging or collaboration task can be accomplished by exploiting the platform's capabilities.

But the unstructured development environment of Notes limits the reusability of code, often requiring that solutions be built from scratch or resulting in similar Notes applications built on multiple databases scattered throughout the enterprise. Performing maintenance or deploying updates on this hodgepodge of applications can be an administrative nightmare.

IT Factory (ITF) successfully amends Notes application development capabilities with the release of ITF 5.0, a suite of software development tools and plug-and-play line-of-business applications built on a common, reusable component-based architecture.

ITFs object-oriented structure allows you to recycle code, database structures, and design objects, making it faster and easier to construct consistent, Web-enabled enterprise applications for Lotus Notes and Domino.

This solution also packs a Business Suite of ready-made applications and templates to provide plug-in solutions for e-commerce, CRM (customer relationship management), and sales force automation, all of which are deployable on your existing Notes platform. These applications can be used as they are or can be customized easily to springboard new applications.

Furthermore, through centralized application management and efficient push technology, ITF streamlines deployment of updates and reduces functionality overlaps, which will help corral maintenance costs.

Although this toolset is straightforward enough to be used by anyone with Notes programming experience, ITF recommends that customers take its training course.

Given the breadth of the product, sparse documentation, and lack of tutorials, I would have to concur.

Despite its comprehensiveness, ITF is modestly priced. And because all of the ITF components can be purchased a la carte, it provides cost-effective flexibility if you find you need to upgrade to meet future business needs. ITF earned a Very Good score in our evaluation and makes an excellent choice for improving the long-term return on your Notes and Domino investments.

Building a framework

ITF capitalizes on improvements made in Notes and Domino R5, such as enhanced browser-based support and frame sets, but thankfully remains backward-compatible to earlier versions. R5 benefits -- such as SameTime for collaboration and online meetings, and Workspace, which offers automated policy-based business processes such as automated document routing -- can be added easily to any of your ITF applications.

Although ITF installs server-side to any Domino server platform, including Windows, Unix, Linux, AS/400, and OS/2, the ITF client-side components require a Windows-based Notes client for deployment.

I found the setup of ITF to be time-consuming but not difficult. Including all databases and the eight Business Suite modules, installation to a local Domino server took 22 minutes, as opposed to the LAN-based remote server installation that took the better part of an hour.

At the heart of ITF lies its reusable architecture and SDK (software development kit), providing the design repositories, common databases, script libraries, and form templates used as the basic building blocks of any application. Using the SDK, I was able to build a framework of application functionality, design elements, and views for a new Notes database in minutes.

Pushing application updates out to databases was equally easy, facilitated by great configuration management features, such as version control, and the ability to manage update options, such as overwrite protection, with fine granularity. This reduces the risk of database corruption or lost functionality.

For example, an object with common ties to several databases could have its updates pushed out to all, or only select, databases. This is the most comprehensive and time-saving means I have seen for migrating changes to Notes databases.

Business Suite

In addition to the e-commerce and CRM modules listed above, the Business Suite includes applications for project management, human resources, office automation, help desk support, and marketing management.

These modules are pre-built and publishable, ready to be populated with your Notes documents. The modules can be broken apart and used to seed development of custom database models as well.

A solid set of templates and code snippets provided quick functionality for hurdling common repetitive tasks, such as input validation or payment processing, and delivered noticeable time-savings during my development.

All of the Business Suite modules can be Web-enabled for use by both remote Notes users and Web browsers, ensuring data availability beyond the enterprise.

I found the e-commerce module most impressive. It automates Web-based processes, such as delivery tracking and targeted pricing, and it improves payment handling and catalog development, helping to shorten time to market.

Portal accessibility

The ITF user interface now incorporates IT Factory's portal components, which can be used to help developers build Notes-based corporate portals. The portal components, new to Version 5, come in reusable pieces that can extend your own Notes applications.

Users can customize their portals with typical Notes functionality, such as a calendar and inbox, and also can easily access all of the ITF development tools and perks, such as a ticker tape of news updates.

Although I experienced some minor interaction difficulties, particularly during screen scrolls, the portal interface offered the convenience of direct access to ITF applications and components. Also, when deployed in my applications, I was able to enforce control over what items a user could customize within their own portal, restricting access and preventing accidental deletion of key items.

ITF packs in some additional tools of great benefit, such as a code migration tool which simplifies moving applications to R5, and a code analyzer. The code analyzer enhanced my productivity by automating code inspection to locate dependencies within application code, databases, and design elements.

I successfully ran several databases through the analyzer to help assess the impact of a format change on a field. The test encompassed any R5-compliant language, such as LotusScript or JavaScript, and it allowed changes to be effected from directly within the interface, which helped reduce the risk of missing needed changes.

Although IT Factory possesses a number of facilities to jump-start your development efforts, this is a heavy-weight product that will definitely require some exploration and training before you can fully reap its rewards.

The upside is that the breadth of features and advanced capability will add longevity to this products utility.

ITF 5.0 will enhance your present and future Notes environment with faster application deployment, centralized management, and the ability to more cost-effectively realize the benefits of the Lotus Notes/ Domino platform.

James R. Borck (james.borck@industrialart.com) is director of IS at Industrial Art & Science, in Connecticut.

THE BOTTOM LINE: VERY GOOD

IT Factory 5.0

Business Case: Lotus Notes and Domino sites will see an immediate ROI thanks to simplified application development, deployment, and maintenance. For a modest price, it can help you recapture your original Notes investment.

Technology Case: Centralized management and "pushable" updates provide greater control and flexibility over ongoing maintenance. Reusable components deliver speed and uniformity in app development. It's a steep learning curve, but worth the time invested.

Pros:

+ Affordable

+ Pre-formed enterprise-ready modules

+ Centralized administration

+ Easy push of updates

Cons:

- Steep learning curve

- Limited client platform support

- No XML support

- Minimal documentation and no tutorialsCost: $499 per seat; Business Suite is $3,600 per module and $145 per user; training is $500 per dayPlatform(s): Server: Windows NT, AS/400, Unix, Linux, OS/2; Client: Windows 95/98/NTIT Factory, Cambridge, Massachusetts; (877) 483-2286; www.itfactory.com

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