Show-N-Tell Thursday - Revolutionizing Business Process with Notes & Domino Technology

February 23 2006

ShowAndTell.jpg So Ed was talking smack about how too much of the Show-N-Tell stuff last week was technical. So I decided to take him up on his challenge and talk about a client that lives and breathes Notes.

College Bowl Company, Inc. produces and manages the content used by various programs dubbed "The Varsity Sport of the Mind." Think Jeopardy for high school and college students. College Bowl was started in 1953, and since then, they have branched out to multiple brands. The staff at College Bowl is responsible for creating, editing and organizing all the content and the tournaments. College Bowl runs very lean - under 10 full time employees. They rely on volunteers to help run the tournaments and review the content.

The journey to move the content process from a typewriter, copy machine, and FedEx envelopes to a electronic content system has taken YEARS. We started out with an Ami Pro stylesheet to just create the content. So we replaced the typewriter there.

A first attempt to build an application to solve the process was done with Notes 4 and Lotus Word Pro. The application failed. A second attempt to build this application was done with Notes 5 and embedded Word objects. It failed. The third attempt was the charm.

The content application was built using Notes 6. All of the content is created in Notes using Rich Text. A special connector was designed to push the content in the Rich Text field as well as the formatting ... underlines, bold, italic, carriage returns, etc. It all moves to Word for the final output. We have the Question Creation database, where the content is authored and edited. We have a database for each Program that College Bowl manages, to organize the content. We also have archive databases to store old content. A Notes and a web interface ... you pick.




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The application was enhanced in 2005 with a "PreBook" feature. This organizes the questions in the packets automatically using a rules-based system. Each packet of content can have up to 200 rules. This process organizes questions in a fraction of the time that used to take a person to do so manually. Recently, a new feature was added that shows possible duplicate questions based on keyword searching in the content as the content is being edited. This prevents too many questions about the 2006 SuperBowl Champions for one year.

College Bowl has since bought into the whole Notes mindset. They moved to Notes 100%. They use it for email and calendaring. They used a popular Domino spam tool. They use domBulletin for discussions amongst students between competitions. A relationship management system handles bulk email and mailings. I spent the last week working on an another new feature to the content system. To sum up, College Bowl runs a large portion of their business on Notes and Domino.

What makes this story a personal one is that College Bowl was my first customer. They found me in 1993 on the Compuserve Ami Pro forums. I have worked with them thru 4 companies and lots of ups and downs. How many customers would build an application twice and scrap it only to keep trying? The end result is a customer that is very happy and a relationship that is going on 13 years. College Bowl is not just a client, they are family.

IBM liked this story so much they wrote a Case Study about it. You can read that here. My favorite part of the cast study is this quote:
"We did't find any competitive alternatives. There wasn't [any other solution] that was even remotely competitive from a price or functionality standpoint."

I can not wait to see where this relationship goes. Here is to 13 more years.