NZ health ministry purges Lotus

Published on the 01/11/2023 | Written by Heather Wright

NZ health ministry's Lotus Notes purge continues

Yes, Lotus Notes still lives on. A short history…

New Zealand’s Ministry of Health, Manatū Hauora, is slowly ridding itself of its nearly 30-year old Lotus Notes platform and applications – but despite the project ‘continuing at pace’ it still has 1,200 Notes licenses to contend with.

That’s down from 2,342 in 2021/22, the organisation says in its annual report for the year ending June 30, 2023.

“This has significantly simplified our environment.”

Once a pioneering and celebrated platform, Lotus Notes has been cast out from most organisations. Australia purged much of its public sector of the offering years ago.

For the Ministry of Health, the project to remove Lotus Notes from its environment is proving slow.

The Ministry says last financial year saw it decommission 20 applications built on the Lotus Notes platform. It’s now utilising the Microsoft platform to redevelop six of the applications.

“We removed out dependency on Lotus Notes for our email, including several business applications that use this platform for automated email notifications. This has significantly simplified our environment and allowed us to decommission old services.”

A Microsoft SharePoint-based enterprise content management environment, dubbed Pātengi, has been adopted and work to migrate more than 80 million documents from Notes into the new system and decommission the old application, is underway.  

A September 2022 report into the Ministry of Health’s practices for compliance with the Official Information Act noted several comments from staff around Lotus Notes age and lack of user friendliness, with one noting the system ‘is a pig, very difficult to find records, very bad when trying to search, there are units with MoH that therefore do not use it and have other storage options’.

Comments like that prompted the chief ombudsman to note that the ministry ‘appeared to have acted contrary to law’ in relation to requirements that information be stored in an accessible form, and to recommend that the Ministry update, amend or ‘otherwise improve’ its systems.

Two-thirds of respondents to a survey of staff found the Ministry’s information management systems ‘very’ or ‘somewhat’ difficult to use.

That complexity was a common refrain from public sector organisations as they eyed up moving off Notes, but the tight integration of the legacy document and communications systems with custom application and databases have provided the ‘stickiness’ vendors clamour for.

Nonetheless, Notes has largely faded from popular IT lexicon – even though it hasn’t actually been completely killed off, with HCL announcing a major upgrade to its latest version of Domino, the server component and latest iteration of Notes, earlier this year.

The software dates back to the 1980s – enterprise software before enterprise software was a huge market, or cool, its features such as email and collaboration workspaces were pioneering. The software came with plenty of complexity and a steep learning curve, however.    

IBM acquired Lotus back in 1995 for US$3.5 billion – the biggest software acquisition ever at that time. It was a time when the enterprise email market was exploding and Lotus Notes’ future looked bright. At its peak Notes and Domino were critical business platforms and ruled the market. Then came Microsoft Exchange.

In 2018 IBM offloaded the final components of the acquisition to India’s HCL in an effort to transition to emerging technologies, saying it was time to divest itself of the assets which were increasingly delivered as stand-alone products.

Victoria’s Office of Public Prosecutions switched to Microsoft Office 365 in 2018, aligning itself more closely with private sector compatriots, with Victoria’s Department of Health and Human Services ­– one of the largest, and last holdouts – beginning its migration from Lotus Notes to Office 365 earlier that year.

The state had been regarded as the last great bastion of public sector Lotus Notes users.

For the Ministry of Health, however, the journey continues.

It says it has stood up a team to enhance its Microsoft collaboration tools, in particular Teams and has implemented systems to improve governance around platforms, and ensure security processes are in place and that it can manage the automation behind teams such as managing guest users from external organisations.

All Microsoft applications designed to work within teams have been rolled out to staff, with 34 applications now available and the Teams Shared Channels feature has been implemented to enhance collaboration with Te Whatu Ora.

In 2021, it contracted Spark Health for a new single national contract with Microsoft worth $45 million a year, covering the Ministry, Health New Zealand, the Māori Health Authority and district health boards and their shared service agencies. 

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