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Why is Domino "Good at Workflow"?


I received this today from a reader who saw a post from earlier this year about workflow applications:

Dear Kevin,
  I'm a Lotus Notes newbie and I'm trying to understand why Domino is "good at workflow" as you assured in your post "[In a World Dazzled by Sharepoint, Where is Workflow.ntf?

Could you help me with this or give me some information?

I and probably many of my readers could write a masters thesis on this subject, but since I don't even have the time to write an executive summary on it I'm hoping one of you already has, or in any case can point to a good writeup that would address the question.

Can anyone help us out?


1 - Thanks to all! All the information you've written here it's very important for me.

I'll try to contribute to the lotus cummunity by writing my discoveries, if any.

Thanks again.

2 - @1 - Thanks Nathan - I think you've captured the essence of what distinguishes Domino as a workflow platform very well.

@2/3 - Mark good point about the fact that Notes has been doing many of the "cool new things" for a very long time. In fairness, getting people to recognize a functionality as cool is as much about communicating that fact as it is about building the functionality in the first place. IBM and Yahoo have both done things for years that MS and Google are hyping as new and cool, and getting away with it.

@4 - Jane, thanks for pointing us the "thesis" version. The fact that is over 10 years old (but still largely applicable even though we've seen 6 major release since) only reinforces Mark's point.

@5 - Sean - great synopsis of the key features that distinguish Notes.

3 - I can only add a smidgen to the above listed diatribe.

I like to explain that workflow is the natural consequence of the Notes security model and storage structure. I find these two aspects to be the most challenging to understand with technical staff that are familiar with "legacy" systems. In terms of the container architecture, Notes holds the data, the logic, and the presentation layer in a single file--making it easier to replicate and distribute. It goes with the workers.

For the security aspect, I explain how using nothing more than ACL entries and reader/author fields, a rudimentary workflow application can be constructed which allows (1) someone (or group) to create a document that they cannot edit, but (2) someone else (or group) can edit and (3) another person (or group) can edit or delete.

4 - In my mind, the reason that Notes/Domino is good a workflow have to do with the following:

1. Author/Reader fields - gives you the granular, portable security necessary to do real workflow. Without them, workflow on local replicas wouldn't be possible and we'd be working on Sharepoint.

2. Roles - allows developers to code to a role/job instead of coding to a person/group.

3. Digital Signatures - gives verification that the data that is being shown is accurate.

4. Built-in Mail Engine - I can't imagine building workflow where I have to manage the connection to a mail app.

5. Scheduled Agents - allows the system to gently remind people to do their jobs.

6. Replication - workflow across the office or across the world.

7. Document Centric DB - workflow is all about mimicing moving a sheet of paper around for signatures. Domino's structure is much better than relational databases for doing this.

That's the major points. The killer functionality for me is the security of the author/reader fields. Without them, workflow in Notes/Domino wouldn't be nearly as powerful.


5 - @5: I would add Doclinks to your collection: They are the connection between the mail notification and the workflow application, thus that the recipient can approve a workflow item in just 2 mouse clicks after he has opened (or previewed) the notification. That's efficient! Emoticon

{ Link }

6 - I think you could answer this question with detail (ie write a thesis) or talk about where it all came from in the context of comparing the Microsoft Vs Lotus heredity.

SO lets 'strike the root'.

The original version of Notes included on-line discussion, email, phone books, and document databases. This was 84. Where was the internet then? Where was Microsoft then. And when did Microsoft apps become collaborative? Lotus Notes is the proverbial 'old money' when it comes to collaboration.

It is mature is the simple answer.

7 - The article "Structured Workflow Management with Lotus Notes Release 4" at { Link }
gives a good overview of what workflow is and the built in Notes features that support a structured workflow.

8 - Sure...

There's a couple of simple goals that most people have with workflow:

1) Control who is authorized to move stuff from one state to the next.

2) Ensure that only the person authorized to make changes in the current state can make those changes.

3) Automatically notify someone when things move from one state to the next.

All of these things are pretty easy with Domino. Item 1 is accomplished with security roles & groups. Item 2 is accomplished with Author fields. And item 3 is accomplished with @MailSend. So in each case, we're talking about a single line of code to implement huge sections of functionality.

9 - ... can I add also:

If Microsoft announced a brand new software that "does what SAP does", would that bring a wry smile to your face or what? hehe

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