B.C. Biomedical becomes early adopter of Lotus migration tools

Suppose they set up an IT training program and nobody came?

That was almost the scenario faced recently by Nick Szirth, the chief information officer forBC Biomedical Laboratories Ltd.

Having decided to move the company’s 700 employees from Lotus Notes/Domino to Microsoft products, Szirth was expecting considerable interest from staff in the training sessions he was planning.

To his surprise, there was very little.

“Most of them didn’t sign up, because there was no point,” Szirth said in an interview. “They already knew the applications.”

Szirth had been advised that there would be problems during the changeover.

“It will take you months of training and support calls,” he was told.

But he has yet to get a single call.

Thanks to recently released migration tools provided free by Microsoft, switching from Lotus Notes/Domino to Exchange Server has just become a lot easier, Szirth said. The new tools, Szirth said, are invaluable.

“In a nutshell, they allowed us to easily migrate from a Lotus environment,” he said.

Working in stages, B.C. Biomedical started the changeover in December, to take advantage of the holiday downtime. It was completed by late January.

Employees are happy with the change, since they’re already familiar with Microsoft’s interface, Szirth said: “Everybody uses it at home.”

Using Lotus placed significant training burdens on the company, especially for new employees, he added.

“You had to sit down with them and walk them through the basics of Notes,” Szirth said. However, training wasn’t the only problem.

“Two years ago, if you had a Blackberry, you couldn’t use it with Notes,” he said, adding that the situation has changed since then. “This is what started precipitating us moving.”

Among the problems was e-mail.

“Sending e-mail back and forth between the two, you always have problems,” Szirth said. “The bottom line is if you took a pocket PC or scheduling system from off the street, you couldn’t use it.”

The changeover even gave Szirth the chance to start using old hardware.

“I pulled my iPaq from the drawer that has been sitting there for the last two years, plugged it in, and off it went,” he said. “It’s a simple little thing, but it just tells you the support for us was not really strong for the Notes environment.”

The only real outlay for B.C. Biomedical in making the switch was “a lot of homework,” Szirth said, as well as the cost of consultants to make sure things went smoothly.

Noting that there are also some third-party migration products available, Szirth said the free Microsoft tools performed well.

“We didn’t see too many issues,” he said, adding that the formatting change did lead to some initial problems with email. “Overall, it went very cleanly.”

Microsoft Canada’s Windows product manager, Hilary Wittmann, said that the new tools are aimed at further boosting the company’s market share. At present, Microsoft has 51 percent of the North American collaboration market, compared with 41 percent for IBM’s Lotus, she said in an interview.

(“Collaboration” refers to email, instant messaging, sharing documents, and similar activities.)

“We’re seeing a lot of customers, especially in Canada, migrating from the Lotus/Domino  environment to the Microsoft-based collaboration environment, Exchange for email, and SharePoint for collaboration,” Wittmann said. “Where customers required support was for the actual technical migration for both the application side, as well as the messaging-email side.”

With the new tools, Microsoft is responding to customer demand, Wittmann said.

The new tools are designed to provide a basic level of support: “Nine times out of 10, every customer that’s looking at moving off Lotus Notes to Exchange would want to look at these tools.”

The e-mail and calendar tools are available now, while the Application Analyzer and Data Migrator—both for Lotus Domino—will be ready in the coming months.

B.C. Biomedical, based in Surrey, B.C., is the largest community laboratory in the province that is owned by B.C. pathologists with more than 45 patient centres throughout the Lower Mainland. It conducts 430 different kinds of tests, and serves more than 1.5 million patients annually. Its clients include the Fraser Health Authority.

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