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.