Monday, October 1, 2001

Reinventing Notes development


By Kevin Pettitt

Many of us often overlook the importance and value of tools, but we should remember that humans have achieved spectacular success in comparison to other species in large part because of our ability to use tools. History books reveal numerous examples of our ability to create progressively more advanced tools. Indeed, historians have often named various stages of human history after the tools used during that era, such as The Stone Age, The Bronze Age, and so on, through to The Computer Age. In the history books, we can read of civilizations rising and falling based on the effectiveness of their tools compared to those of the competition. In more recent times, "tools" has proved too simplistic a way to describe the advances that have taken place, so we instead use the term "technology." But the old truth remains: better technology equals competitive advantage.

The problem, however, is that rapid advancements in information technology have left many of us trying to catch our breath. Two or three generations ago, we could reasonably expect to learn a trade or profession of our choice and then apply that training (those "tools of the trade") over a lifetime of work, without much concern that something new would render those skills obsolete. As we all know, this is no longer true, and the IT industry is the best example of how much the pace of advancement has accelerated.

When I entered college not so long ago in the late 1980s, there was no Lotus Notes or World Wide Web around which any of us could build a career. By the time I had discovered a talent for creating databases in the mid '90s, the Notes industry had already gone through four major advances and was about to go through another with the rise of Internet standards. With each major advance, developers were given more and better tools with which to create progressively more powerful applications, in less time than before. This has been a mixed blessing.

Too much of a good thing

Unfortunately for many of us, especially those of us sitting on hundreds or even thousands of databases developed over the last few years, all the great tools we've used to create these powerful applications have revealed severe shortcomings in the tools we use to manage them. We're left in need of new tools to clean up the mess. This problem is further compounded by the typical lack of uniform design standards and the revolving door of developers, each with their own style, working on any given application. IT Factory (at calls this all-too-familiar situation "Popcorn Notes."