IT users praise upcoming Lotus features

A host of new features and updates to the Lotus family of collaboration applications could bring useful benefits to users and IT support workers, according to a sampling of Notes and Domino administrators here on the opening day of the Lotusphere 2004 user conference.

Among the new features unveiled Monday for the next versions of Lotus applications are plans to offer consistent release dates, languages, platforms and updates to make it easier to manage the applications.

"The integration of the entire product line is key," said Lisa Elieff, a senior systems administrator for 50,000 users in the Minnesota Department of Administration in St. Paul. About half of the department's users are running Lotus Notes 5, while the rest use the Learning Space and Quickplace e-learning applications.

"It was kind of hard to keep up with the releases and have them talk to each other," Elieff said.

Sylvia Kessel, manager of desktop productivity and applications at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, said she's intrigued by another upcoming feature -- the deeper integration of e-mail, Web conferencing, calendaring and e-learning applications within Lotus Workplace. Giving users one place to log in and access all of the applications could make it easier for workers to use the software tools at their disposal, Kessel said.

"I think it will help users access things they might not use," she said.

Another benefit, Kessel said, is that a more intuitive log-in process for users could reduce help desk calls. "I think it will reduce the number of support calls," she said.

Alan Davis, a Domino developer at The Children's Place, a Secaucus, N.J.-based children's clothing retailer, agreed.

"Our users for the most part are not computer-savvy," he said. "To have them have to only go into one place (to access applications) will make it easier for them and allow them to use the products more effectively. When users have a hard time getting into something or using it, they tend not to use it as much."

The tighter integration between Lotus Workplace and the Notes and Domino applications in the upcoming releases also won praise from Davis. "When we move to (Version) 6.5 (from a mix of Notes 5 and 6 and Domino 6), that will make my life easier."

Jeff Van Gundy, an appraisal administration worker at World Savings in Oakland, Calif., said he looks forward to deeper Web services features promised in Version 7 of Notes and Domino. That will allow the financial services company to enhance the portals it's creating for customers, using IBM Corp.'s DB2 database application to replace the native Notes database. World Savings has about 1,000 Notes client users and another 5,000 workers who use Web-based Notes.

Despite the positive reaction to today's announcements, some IT staffers remained skeptical.

Ken Kolb, information systems manager at Southern Farm Bureau Casualty Insurance Co. in Jackson, Miss., said he'll continue to evaluate the new offerings for his 1,200 Notes users. While some of the new features are convenient and would be nice to have, they may not be necessary for his users.

"I'm not sure it wouldn't add a cluttered work space" for some, Kolb said. "It remains to be seen. It's definitely something we're going to look into and evaluate it more."