There has been huge discussion over the last week on the future of Domino and how to maximise the power of the platform in the eyes of senior IT executives. That XPages is and should be part of that future, I am convinced. But recent discussions I have had, comments I’ve seen on the blogs and recent blog posts about the role of XPages in the future also concern me. I’m not concerned that XPages is not known. I’m concerned that developers and especially senior IT executives don’t get the real power of XPages. More importantly, I’m concerned that it is seen as a replacement for classic Notes or even classic web development, that those skills are being denigrated, that a classic Notes or classic web Domino application is out-of-date, a legacy app on a legacy platform. I think there is a risk that developers see XPages as something that should be used to redevelop their existing apps or to build new apps. If CIOs think you need to redevelop an app for it to be relevant for Notes 8.x, the argument will be to redevelop outside of Domino.
For the last year I’ve been heavily involved in XPages development, I believe it is the future, not for what it is, but for the variety of implementations. Although it has great power for new applications (the ability to develop with a similar interface for client and web), I have recently started to look at XPages as more than a tool to develop an application, as a tool to develop an interface: widgets, live-text enablement, within composite apps, in the future for mobile enablement through tools like TeamStudio Unplugged for native delivery or just as web interfaces, and I believe they can also be used as components in mashups in Websphere Portal.
I’m not seeing XPages as a tool to redevelop existing apps – none of us have the time or money to do that for our whole suite. Instead, I’m starting to look at XPages as a tool to add additional business benefit to existing apps, allowing users to perform individual functions that comprise parts of an application quickly and easily from the appropriate interface – a mobile device, a sidebar plugin, live-text, a component in an intranet. It’s not about building the whole application in XPages. It’s about offering users information from one or multiple related databases in a single interface to allow them to complete a task efficiently and effectively.
That, I believe, is the true power of Domino and XPages. And I think there is a requirement for education on the this power – to developers, to CIOs, to end users. The problem is this power can’t be shown easily in off-the-shelf demos of Notes 8.5. You can show how good an XPages application looks. That’s great. But it doesn’t show ROI or business impact. What is required is for a collaborative effort by IBMers and developers/business partners (like myself) to create a powerful demo that shows CIOs not something that just looks good, not just widgets that show social collaboration, but widgets and tools that allow business professionals to quickly perform appropriate tasks, to save themselves time, and so save their company money. That’s the power of XPages and that is one of the things we’re working on. The best use of XPages is not necessarily to redevelop your application that is just an icon or collection of icons on your workspace. Rather that it can be used to add to that existing application by providing a live-text action to allow users to approve a document without leaving their email, a sidebar widget that allows remote users to create a request or gives your management appropriate live reports, an interface on their iPhone or Blackberry for PART of an application, or a user-specific focussed set of functions within a portal.
Is this an easy transition? No. It requires some time to understand what’s possible. It requires imagination to think outside the box, from developers, from project managers, from users. And it requires careful project management: with so much possible, not all can be done for all projects, there needs to be prioritisation of what is most important for the project in hand. As I said, it’s taken me quite some time to start stretching my wings in this direction. But if appropriate parties can highlight the power of XPages as an additional and not replacing element in the Domino toolkit, I do believe the power of Domino application development can effectively be demonstrated to stakeholders at all levels of the business.