Article

Merger forces choice between Notes and Exchange

Meredith B. Derby, assistant news editor

There was much more to sort out than just a new name when Unum Corporation and the Provident Companies merged two years ago. While its new name was an obvious choice, its new e-mail system wasn't.

After the merger, the company was split nearly down the middle between two very different e-mail platforms. Unum ran Microsoft Exchange 5.5, while Provident ran Lotus Notes 4.5. So, the new company's IT staff had a significant decision to make -- which e-mail system would be best for the now 12,500 employee strong, newly-branded UnumProvident? Located in Chattanooga, Tenn., UnumProvident is an insurance product provider.

At first, the IT staff leaned toward Lotus Notes 5.0 because Provident had made a substantial investment in Lotus Notes applications and hardware, said Randy Robinson, UnumProvident's vice president of Information Technology. Provident had 125 Notes servers and had written and used over 700 Notes applications.

To make sure Lotus was the right choice, UnumProvident's newly appointed CIO formed a 12-member technology evaluation committee. The committee conducted three months of research, holding meetings with Microsoft and IBM, Corp.-owned Lotus and current Notes and Exchange 2000 customers, said Robinson, the committee co-chair.

Surprisingly, the committee determined a migration to Exchange 2000 Server would be a better fit for the company than a Notes migration. Exchange's interoperability and UnumProvident's IT knowledge

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of Microsoft scripting were two major deciding factors.

Exchange's top attraction was the interoperability it had with the rest of UnumProvident's IT infrastructure, said Robinson. UnumProvident runs Windows desktops, Internet Information Server (IIS), SQL Server, Microsoft Visual Studio, and already had 19 Exchange 5.5 servers in place.

Further, 45% of UnumProvident's IT staff was familiar with Visual Studio scripting. Only 1% of the staff knew Notes. "Our Visual Studio programmers can take advantage of Exchange tools to provide work-flow and Web-enabled programs," Robinson said.

Another significant factor was that Exchange's total cost of ownership was much less than Notes. No additional licensing fees were applicable. The client access licenses for Exchange were included in the Microsoft Back Office product licenses the company already had, Robinson explained.

When comparing speed, reliability and uptime, the committee found both Exchange and Notes had good records. However, Exchange performed better in UnumProvident's environment, said Robinson.

Lastly, Exchange is easier for users to master. "The training curve to use Outlook is minimal compared to teaching a user the Lotus Notes interface," according to Robinson.

In the end, UnumProvident's previous investments in Microsoft made "Exchange have a homogeneous fit with our environment," Robinson said. "The interaction Exchange provided far exceeded any interoperability that Notes did."

UnumProvident outsourced the Exchange 2000 migration to IBM Global Services. Eighteen Exchange 2000 servers have been identified and are in beta testing now, Robinson said. The first wave of 175 test users was migrated in mid-December 2001.

Robinson expects the existing 7,000 Notes users to be migrated by the end of January 2002. By the end of first quarter 2002, the existing 6,500 Exchange 5.5 users will be migrated, he said.

UnumProvident's Active Directory, also designed and implemented by IBM Global Services, went live in November, said Robinson.

Figuring out UnumProvident's new name was simply putting two pieces together to make one. Figuring out the new e-mail platform was slightly more complicated. Sometimes, said Robinson, the obvious choice isn't always the best one.

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