Many corporations spend millions of dollars, purchasing and implementing new technologies, hoping to become more productive, while their current systems remain largely underutilized. When organizations deny themselves the productive benefits of technology that they already own, they are wasting their investment and their employees' time. For organizations that use Lotus Notes, there is no excuse. Much of what they need to be productive is already built-in or can be easily customized.

The inspiration for this post came from yesterday's rant in the David Allen Getting Things Done Forum, entitled: Corporations, technology and ROI, they just don't get it!

I provide eProductivity consulting and seminars to companies who want to get more from their investment in technology. Many of these companies already happen to use Lotus Notes, which in my opinion, is currently one of the most powerful tools for information management available. Some of these companies equip their people with the tools and training to use Notes productively, and they achieve a significant return on their investment. Others use Notes for little more than e-mail and perhaps a calendar. It is to this latter group that this essay is addressed.

There is a big difference between companies that really use technology to achieve productive results and those that just talk about it.
That difference is a willingness to invest in training and services to help them fully utilize their technology investment.

For those companies that currently use Lotus Notes, two powerful capabilities (among many) that they already have are the ability to customize Notes and the ability to replicate changes across an entire workgroup or organization with ease.

An organization can customize their databases to better support their needs by adding custom fields, workflow, agents, and a host of other capabilities. Over the years, I have helped many companies increase their productivity by showing them how to customize Lotus Notes for their needs. I have packaged many of the things that I have learned about productivity into my eProductivity template for Lotus Notes. For those of you who are familiar with the GTD methodology, here's a link to the steps that I use to implement GTD in Lotus Notes.

For my work, I took the standard Notes mail template and added several powerful enhancements to support the way that I manage my information, communications, and actions. Using my eProductivity template and methods for Lotus Notes, it is possible for anyone to easily save five, fifteen, or even up to sixty minutes each day. (Now that's ROI!) This template does not actually change any of the underlying data, only the way that the information is presented and managed. This way, compatibity is maintained with the other Notes applications that I use, including wireless e-mail on my Palm. The neat thing is that these templates can be quickly and automatically deployed, whether to a workgroup of 10 or an organization of 200,000. In a similar manner, templates can be replaced or updated just as easily. The great part about all of this is that the driving technology -- Lotus Notes -- is already sitting on millions of desktops.

The undoing of Lotus Notes usually happens from within.

Sadly, a problem that I frequently encounter is sabotage; many of the same organizations that had the vision and foresight to invest in Lotus Notes to help their people become productive, sabotage its potential productive benefits. They do this, either by poor implementation, lack of training, or refusal to consider use or deploy custom templates. Many organizations do not even train their people to use the built-in features of Lotus Notes effectively. As a result, many people never venture beyond the obvious features, using Notes for little else than e-mail and calendar.

(This problem, by the way, is not unique to companies that use Notes; I encounter the same problems with organizations that have deployed Microsoft Outlook or other productivity applications. They sabotage their deployments in the same way and the potential benefits are limited.)

Now, I understand the reason that some organizations lock down their systems: they want to prevent users from making changes and creating an extra burden for IT support. At the same time, the decision to prevent users from customizing their desktops should not translate into a policy of refusing to consider any customization or template changes that have the potential to bring significant value to the company.

Refusal to equip or allow employees to fully use Lotus Notes is not much different than prohibiting employees from creating their own spreadsheets in Excel or using macros in Word. In either case, the productive potential is wasted.

The battle for increased productivity is often lost at the desktop.

I recently consulted for a large organization that had an established policy of archiving everything in employee mail databases after 60 days. The problem I have with the way that they had implemented this is that tasks and appointments disappear after 60 days. (This is not a problem with Notes - just the way they chose to implement it.) As you can imagine, the employees do not trust their systems. The result: many do not use Notes for anything but email, and the potential for productive gain and significant ROI is lost.

If I could convince companies of one thing as a result of reading this post, it would be this: Lotus Notes is a powerful productivity tool, and there are many simple things that can be done to equip people to effectively use Lotus Notes to manage their information, communication, and action.

An organization's investment in Lotus Notes is often considerable, yet many achieve a return many times their investment. The difference between those companies that realize a significant return on their Lotus Notes investment and those that do not is usually how they use it.

I started writing this essay because I was frustrated by the large number of people that tell me that they want to become more productive in the way that they use Lotus Notes, yet their organizations will not provide training, approve the use of any third-party templates, or even allow them to customize their Notes preferences.

It seems contradictory to to me, for an organization to invest in a powerful information tool like Lotus Notes and then tie the hands of the people who stand to benefit the most.

If this sounds like your organization, please be sure to forward this essay to the people who make these decisions --  I'd like to get their reaction. Meanwhile, if you have a viewpoint, I would like to hear from you. Click on Add/Read comments (below) to share your thoughts.

Discussion/Comments (5):

Eric Mack ( 09/07/2004 12:20:19
Great point, stephen

I like your metaphor of tracking vs trailing.

Thanks for the perspective!


suitti ( 09/07/2004 10:35:21
Nothing new

On two occasions I have been asked [by

members of Parliament!], 'Pray, Mr. Babbage,

if you put into the machine wrong figures,

will the right answers come out?' I am not able

rightly to apprehend the kind of confusion of

ideas that could provoke such a question.

- Charles Babbage

In my opinion, the issue is technology transfer.

In Boy scouts, they teach "tracking" and "trailing".

Tracking is easy. You follow the clues.

Trailing is attempting to get someone to follow

you. It's more difficult because you have to

guess what kinds of clues will be followed.

For this, you need to know something about

who is following you. This skill appears to

be rare.

Christopher Byrne ( 07/12/2004 11:01:51
Software often gets misued in this way too...

Unfortunately, companies often roll out new software to employees without a comprehensive training or communications plan. They do not talk about why it is being rolled out, how employees (and the company) will benefit from it, and the reason why controls on its configuration are in place (or are not).

This can be looked at from two perspectives when thinking about business controls, positive and negative.

First the positive:

1. The company has limited support dollars that are committed to other projects and cannot afford to divert the resources. In order to keep this under control, the make the best decision possible.

2. The company has a standard configuration for desktops and all software on the desktops, ostensibly for a business reason. If so, a good control practice.

3. The company has too long a track record of people making their individual "changes" and having to spend too much time helping or fixing things they have broken. Again, another positive control.

4. The company knows that the moment they change one line of code in a template, IBM (or any other company for that matter) will say that because the template has been customized, they will not provide support.

The negatives:

1. Employees get ticked off and frustrated that they cannot get the software to do what they want. However, if they had just received training, these issues (including support would go away). But the damage is done and they hate the software even though it is a failure of their management to provide adequate training.

2. Frustrated and ticked off, they start using unauthorized solutions or software on their desktop, introducing new vulnerabilities into the environment.

3. Frustrated and ticked off, they stop using the deployed, or any other software, period. Cold Turkey.

4. Frustrated and ticked off, they start making configuration changes that break their system, requiring additional support.

If the company deploying the software had planned up front, done a cost-benefit and risk analysis, they would have found that the cost of training would have kept a large number of the positives and reduced (you never eliminate) the negatives.

Bottom line: There is never a substitute for good communications and training when rolling out software and applications. And if you have just bought Notes for mail and nothing else, you have thrown away good money (some would say).

Rolf Winkler (a.k.a w_i_t_n_a) (): 07/14/2004 2:45:42
Whats one man´s ROI is anothers........

I actually had another thought about this issue that extends beyond the original post about technology,productivity and ROI.

This isnt complete but you'll get my drift...

New technology isnt cheap, ask anyone who has ever tried to implement, upgrade or otherwise change anything to do with computers.

The projects are very rarely scoped correctly and inevitably there are cost overruns and timeline blowouts.

The problem with cost overruns in IT projects is that the money has to come fom somewhere. I have just returned to line HR after worked on an IT project. I can see the cost pressures that line managers are under and I didnt see anywhere near the same disciplines applied to the project finances,the cost overruns were staggering ! But, for some reason it is almost an expected part of IT land that the cash will be found from somewhere and the project will continue.

My experience is that it usually comes from labour costs!!

So I can understand why managers struggling with flex and stretch targets around manpower costs look enviously at an IT project that seems to have a bottomless bucket of cash.

One final observation I'd make is that when the project dollars start to dry up, usually because of already substantial time and budget overruns, cuts are usually made to one thing that will make the technology sing.... end user training !!

Steve ( 07/09/2004 16:21:44
This really hits home with me!

In my blog I wrote a post titled "In pursuit of personal and team productivity", the link is here here is a snippit "There is a conflict between people and the companies they work for, (well probably lots, but I'm only going to talk about one of them). The bigger the enterprise a person works for the more focussed that company is likely to be in central server centric computing, central support, consolidation, BPM, single sources of information etc. All very important for sure, but these companies will probably not even consider team productivity and almost certainly personal productivity as worthy of investment. These companies are on a crusade to save money, real money, i.e. savings off the bottom line. 1 hours labour saving per month for a big company project would be amazing.

Individuals on the other hand, especially information/knowledge workers will happily spend hours a month honing their personal environments to suite their needs, aggregating, storing, and restructuring the data that they are researching, or creating. They often invest their own money on Home PC's, PDA's, Task management Software, List Management Software, PC search software, Laptop to server file synchronisation tools etc. In the pursuit of personal productivity they probably spend more than 1 hour per week."

I actually put in a research submission today on this very topic, if you are interested I could email it to you, I would very much value your comments.

Discussion for this entry is now closed.