Its good to stop and look back at your projects and see your creative side

Back in 2000 I went from being an industrial Engineer to running my own small company providing Notes / Domino solutions to other Engineers. I was very lucky and found something that I was good at, enjoyed a lot and which people wanted to pay for.

Over the last nine years I ( and my colleagues ) have gone from exciting project to exciting project without paying too much attention to business development or for that matter taking enough time to look back at the things we have achieved and the applications that we have written.

With the economic slow down I have had to put some ( much overdue ) structured effort into this business development thing and part of that has been to produce some case studies and get quotes from customers. This has been quite refreshing.

When you actually sit sown and write about what you have done, the impact that it has had on customers and then add their quotes you can’t help but feel uplifted about your work.

I would not have considered myself a creative person in an artistic sense ( apart from my spelling ) but when you look at what we developers do it is very creative. We typically take existing paper systems and mould them into something which works much better – not an electronic version of a paper system but something engineered from the ground up that takes the best of the paper system, the best of what IT brings and the chance to improve over the previous iterations using the experience of the users and our knowledge as consultants.

Looking back also reminds me of what a fantastic platform Notes / Domino is and how far it has come in 9 years. I still remember the WOW factor when I fist saw the same content on a Notes form and Internet Explorer at the same time. I still remember the first time I used an outline and an embedded view. I still have conversations with developers of other platforms where they are amazed at the simplicity of the Notes “Hide When” property or the security model.

That’s not to say that Notes is perfect, I still would like to see version control of code, easier dubugging of  Xpages ( I know its getting better all the time ), dxl round tripping etc.. but when you look at what you can achieve with it in terms of solid business systems it is a very powerful platform for the right types of applications.

My favourite case study

Some Quotes


How I got started with Lotus Notes

The Critical Machine Incidents Black Book

Quite a few people have been blogging about how they got started with Notes so I thought that might be a good place to start this blog.

I am a Manufacturing Engineer by background but in my Engineering roles I always struggled to make my information and work processes as efficient as I wanted them to be – given that Information and Work Processes are the main part of an Engineers job this was always a bit frustrating – then I came across Notes and a whole new way of working ( and ultimately a new career ) opened up.

I first came across Notes in 1995. At the time I was working for a multinational chemical company and I needed to find a way to improve our Critical Machines Incidents Black Book process. The company took safety very very seriously and the Black Book contained reports on all of the life threatening failures of mechanical equipment in the company – each of these had been written up and reviewed by senior specialists before being distributed to the Chief Engineers of each of the business units ( 50 + people ) who in turn cascaded these reports to 5000 + Engineers. The catalyst to establishing the system had been a particularly nasty accident in which some people died. The investigation had shown that the particular failure mechanism in that particular model of machine was previously known about in one division ( where corrective measures had been put in place ) but not in the division where the fatal accident happened.

While this was a good process for its time the main problem was that the “Black Book” was in reality only a book in one physical place as each of the new incident reports were sent out in memos and the completeness of this valuable collection of knowledge was very limited. I ( as usual ) was frustrated by this paper process and set about trying to put this information in a database so that it could be searched and distributed as a whole. When I asked the head of IT for the Engineering Division ( a quite progressive chap ) what I could use he said he had just the thing – a new system called Lotus Notes

He gave me a new database shell, a design licence ( I presume ) and set me off. After much fiddling and dissecting of the mail template I developed a system which allowed new serious machines incidents to be reported, written up, reviewed and then published. The system was perfectly suited to Notes, there was total security for the draft documents until they had been trough the review process, interested parties were informed by email as soon as a new report was published, reports could be sorted by type, process fluid etc.. and the whole archive could be searched.

I don’t want to sound overly zealous about Notes but the transformation from a well intentioned paper black book to an effective searchable knowledge base with work flow and security just blew me away and opened up a whole new way of working – and I still haven’t seen another platform that can do this so well.

To cut a long and rambling story short I ultimately got to the point where although I loved being an Engineer ( and hoped I was a good one ) I became known as the guy who used databases all the time so in 2000 I started FoCul Ltd ( I’m Cull and my wife’s maiden name is Foster* ). FoCul has now delivered over 200 applications like this one ( although they are much better constructed now ! )

A nice thing was that although the company no longer exists its Engineering Division was sold on and in January of this year ( 2008 ) I came across that first database on a customers workspace – the work flow process is no longer in use but the knowledge lives on !

* I should point ( for her employers peace of mind ) out that my wife has never worked for FoCul but was obviously hugely supportive as I set it up.