All Systems Go | Library Systems Landscape 2016

The year saw an evolving process of innovation, integration, and iteration, as companies and products morph into next-level services.

The year saw an evolving process of innovation, integration, and iteration, as companies and products morph into next-level services

Library consultant Rob McGee’s Presidents’ Seminars at the American Library Association’s (ALA) Midwinter Meetings tend to feature a large who’s who panel of high-level executives discussing the latest issues regarding integrated library systems (ILS), library services platforms (LSP), and digital content. During his 26th annual seminar at the Boston conference in January, McGee asked Annette Murphy, CEO of The Library Corporation (TLC), what were the advantages of operating a family-run company during a time of acquisitions and consolidation in the library field.

“Software development is a very tedious and slow process, but I think innovation still comes from individuals,” Murphy said. “Not from large companies or small companies—it truly comes from individuals with ideas who are able to bring them forward and make something of them.” The ability of a company to provide the right environment for that innovation is a strength, she added.

The context of the question was, of course, another recent round of vendor consolidation. ProQuest had finalized its acquisition of Ex Libris less than a month earlier. And that blockbuster deal came following a year in which founder-run companies Polaris and VTLS were acquired by Innovative Interfaces Inc., whose own founder, Jerry Kline, had sold his remaining Innovative shares to investors in 2013. The library systems landscape was once defined by leaders such as Murphy, who cofounded TLC in 1974. But during the past decade, private equity investment and mergers have reshaped the market considerably. Libraries considering a move to a new ILS or LSP must consider not only a platform’s features but often its future.

More big news

The shifts in the systems landscape aren’t slowing down. Most recently, EBSCO told LJ of the plan to announce a major collaboration with the Kuali Open Library Environment (OLE) partners, library software developer Index Data, and other libraries and organizations to develop an open source LSP that “builds on the original OLE vision of developing a modular LSP designed by and for academic and research libraries,” according to a joint statement by EBSCO executive VP Sam Brooks, Index Data president Sebastian Hammer, and Mike Winkler, managing director of Kuali OLE.

Since its Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grant–funded inception in 2004, OLE has been developed as a component of the Kuali suite of community-sourced academic enterprise software by a group of research libraries that currently includes Cornell, Duke, Indiana, Lehigh, North Carolina State, North Rhine–Westphalian Library Service Center (Cologne, Germany), the Common Library Network (Göttingen, Germany), Texas A&M, the University of Chicago, the University of London Library Systems Association (Bloomsbury), the University of Maryland, the University of Pennsylvania, and Villanova.

Components of the Kuali suite—such as Kuali Student, Kuali Financials, and Kuali Coeus for grants—have been adopted by about 150 institutions, and proponents have long hoped that the comprehensive suite could provide an alternative to expensive commercial enterprise software used by universities. But a common critique in recent years had been that the adoption of OLE would remain limited to academic institutions with the IT infrastructure and funding needed to support and contribute to the development of the project.

“The issue that I’ve always had with [OLE], is that they’ve written a system that appeals to the really large university libraries,” Carl Grant, associate dean of knowledge services and CTO of the University of Oklahoma Libraries, independent consultant, and former president of Ex Libris North America, said weeks prior to LJ learning of the collaboration. “That’s a really small marketplace,” and open source projects tend to work best with a large number of contributors, Grant pointed out.

This new collaboration seems likely to alter those dynamics for OLE, with EBSCO providing development funding to build the system and expand its appeal to a broader base of libraries.

“Index Data will provide technical design, development, and expertise [for the platform]. The work by Index Data is being funded by EBSCO,” the joint statement explains. “­EBSCO is owned by a family that has a proven history of philanthropy and support for libraries. This project brings together those two elements and allows the Stephens family to help fund a project that will impact libraries for years to come. We expect this to be tens of millions of dollars.”

Ultimately, EBSCO plans to provide hosting and support services for the platform, making “open source available to institutions that don’t think they are staffed to leverage open source.”

EBSCO has been a commercial affiliate of the Kuali Foundation since 2013, and the company funded the integration of its EBSCO Discovery Service (EDS) with OLE the same year. This collaboration will expand EBSCO’s role in the academic ILS/LSP market, even as the company’s longtime competitor, ProQuest, enters via its acquisition of the Ex Libris Group from Golden Gate Capital.

Long time coming

According to CEO Kurt Sanford, ProQuest identified Ex Libris as a potential acquisition target in 2011, and “in 2012, it was still a good idea, in 2013, it was still a good idea, and in 2014, it was an even better idea,” he says.

ProQuest owner Cambridge Information Group (CIG) is privately held and includes companies such as Bowker and CIG Education Group and now Ex Libris.

“We’re a family-owned company, and [CIG] invests for the long term,” Sanford says, citing ProQuest’s recent track record with ebook platforms ebrary and EBL, which the company bought in 2011 and 2013, respectively. “We’ve invested more money [in both companies] at the cost of our margins,” ultimately combining the strengths of the two properties into the Ebook Central platform, which launched in March.

In an interview with LJ at ALA’s Boston Midwinter Meeting, Sanford and Matti Shem Tov, president and CEO of Ex Libris, reiter-ated the company’s plansto continue supporting the product portfolios of both ProQuest and Ex Libris, including Ex Libris’s next-generation library management system Alma, its traditional ILS platforms Aleph and Voyager, the Primo web-scale discovery service, its digital asset preservation solution Rosetta, the usage analytics platform bX, the SFX OpenURL link resolver, the Leganto reading list solution, and the campusM mobile app solution.

In particular, Shem Tov noted that one of the principles of the integration with ProQuest has been not to interrupt the development or growth of Alma, which signed on 234 institutions in 2015.

One exception will be Intota, the next-generation LSP that ProQuest had been developing for the past several years. The company launched Intota Assessment, a collection analytics service designed to give libraries a holistic view of print and electronics collections, in November 2013. Originally, the company had planned to leverage ProQuest’s Summon discovery service, along with its acquisition, linking, and assessment tools to develop Intota into a comprehensive LSP. Now, ProQuest plans to discontinue Intota as a separate effort and integrate Intota Assessment into Alma within this calendar year.

However, the company does plan to continue the development and support of its two discovery services, Ex Libris Primo and ProQuest Summon, for “many, many years,” Shem Tov said, noting that each service is used by thousands of institutions worldwide. Over time, they plan to consolidate into one index based on Summon, merging data from Primo Central and leveraging the ProQuest Knowledgebase.


Change at the top

Kim Massana suddenly resigned from his position as Innovative’s CEO on August 27 after a little more than three years at the helm, leading some within the field to speculate that there was friction between the company’s private equity investors and Massana’s ambitions for the firm. During his brief tenure, Massana expanded the company significantly with the back-to-back acquisitions of Polaris and VTLS in spring 2014 and articulated a vision of greater collaboration with third-party vendors for Innovative’s Millennium ILS and Sierra Services Platform.

While noting that Massana’s resignation did come as a surprise to many at Innovative, Bill Shickling, principal architect of the Polaris ILS and current VP of sales and marketing for Innovative, says that Massana accomplished what he set out to do as CEO and that the company’s goals have not changed under new CEO James Tallman.

“Kim was in charge of the mergers, and he felt like he did his job,” Schickling says.

Innovative has continued working toward its goal of enhancing “best in class” solutions from the three combined companies and developing them into services that will work with all three platforms. Last spring, at the annual Innovative Users Group conference in Minneapolis, the company introduced the cloud-based Open Library Stack (OLS) architecture that will make these cross-platform tools and services possible and debuted a Mobile Worklists app using OLS.

Executive VP Leif Pedersen notes that Vital, a digital asset management solution originally developed by VTLS, is becoming a solution that will serve Sierra and Polaris as well. Similarly, the mobile, web-based staff client Leap, originally developed by Polaris, will become “the standard UI across all of Innovative,” Pedersen says. And in March, the company announced that the INN-Reach print and media resource sharing tool originally developed for Millennium and Sierra was in beta test phase by ­Polaris users via OLS.

Link to the future

Meanwhile, SirsiDynix has continued to expand its successful cloud-based BLUEcloud LSP, which was initially launched in 2013. BLUEcloud’s modular suite of solutions are available to libraries that use the company’s ­Horizon or Symphony ILS and include popular features such as the eResource Central electronic resource management (ERM) platform, Social Library social media tool, Enterprise discovery service, and the MobileCirc web-based staff client for tablets and mobile devices.

The company continued attracting new customers, with 77 new Symphony contracts, four new Horizon contracts, and 41 new contracts for its EOS.web ILS for corporate, legal, medical, and government libraries. As well, existing customers continued to sign up for BLUEcloud services. In particular, the BLUEcloud Cataloging module gained more than 300 new customers, and BLUEcloud Analytics added more than 225.

In partnership with Zepheira—the semantic web firm that the Library of Congress contracted to accelerate the development of ­BIBFRAME—Innovative and SirsiDynix have both separately announced new linked data services designed to help libraries enhance the visibility of collections and other information on the open web by converting MARC data into search engine–accessible resources. This catalog data is also paired with structured data regarding physical branch locations to enable geolocation, so that search engine results will point to a local library that is using BLUEcloud Visibility or Innovative Linked Data.

Eric Keith, VP of global marketing and business development for SirsiDynix, says that the company has long been focused on the issue of library relevance during a time when the public can get content from Amazon, iTunes, or Netflix and conveniently find information with Google. BLUEcloud Visibility is one way that the company is addressing this.

Forward thinking

Even as SirsiDynix and Innovative continue to introduce new cloud-based features and services to their thousands of customers, Grant for years has argued that multitenant architecture will be a necessity for library management systems going forward, particularly those that serve academic libraries.

With multitenancy, a vendor hosts a single instance of a software application that serves multiple customers, or “tenants.” In single tenant architecture, software applications are installed on individual servers or computers, or remotely hosted by a vendor as one instance of software per customer.

One key benefit of multitenancy is that updates, bug fixes, and upgrades can be applied once by a vendor, and all of its customers are immediately operating on the same updated software. This enables vendors to apply updates and fixes more frequently than would be possible in single tenant architectures. Alma, for example, has released monthly revisions/updates ever since its initial launch in 2012. Multitenant architecture also greatly simplifies the aggregation and analysis of data from all “tenants,” which, in this case, is a boon for library usage analytics.

By contrast, with single tenant architecture, updates and fixes must be applied to each individual instance of software. In situations of a vendor hosting multiple instances, the vendor can ensure that all of its hosted customers are up-to-date, although it is still a longer and more complex process than multitenant updating. Yet when an ILS, for example, is hosted by a library on library-owned servers, any updating must be handled by the library’s IT department. In these cases, vendors typically spread out major revisions/updates in an effort to avoid overburdening their customers’ on-site staff but inevitably end up with customers whose updates lag behind, running a variety of different versions of their platform.

With ProQuest now planning to fold Intota into Alma, Alma and OCLC’s Worldshare Management Services (WMS) are the two major built-from-the-ground-up multitenant architecture LSPs on the market. The Apollo platform, by Biblionix, is also multitenant, but the smaller company offers its system exclusively to small and medium-sized public libraries in an effort to keep the platform’s development as focused as possible.

The BLUEcloud LSP by SirsiDynix and OLS by Innovative are both cloud-based platforms offering multitenant services that work with SirsiDynix’s Symphony or Horizon ILS, or Innovative’s Sierra Services Platform, vtls-Virtua, or Polaris ILS, on the back end. The benefit, both companies contend, is that they offer next-generation services without forcing thousands of libraries to migrate to entirely new ­systems.

“It’s an evolutionary approach, not revolutionary,” Schickling explains.

Next generation

Andrew Pace, executive director, networked library services for OCLC, describes the development of WMS as a complete tear down of the traditional ILS model and reimagining at the network level. As with many proponents of WMS and Alma, he contends that the next-generation services offered for older ILS platforms will ultimately fall behind next-generation systems that were built from the ground up. Regarding single-tenant updating and revision processes, he draws a comparison with the CDs that America Online used to mail its customers. “What if Facebook was like that?” he asks.

OCLC was a newcomer to the ILS/LSP market when WMS went into general release in 2011 following a testing and early adoption phase the prior year. This year, Pace says he’s happy with the system’s “lack of newness,” noting that many libraries are celebrating their five-year anniversaries with WMS. And adoption of the system has continued to grow, with OCLC attracting 68 new WMS contracts in 2015 and 79 in 2014.

New features include WorldShare Report Designer, a tool that enables WMS libraries to draw on data regarding acquisitions, circulation, metadata, resource sharing, discovery, ERM, and other library functions and build custom visualizations and reports.

“You can use these reports to support decisions to subscribe or unsubscribe from certain databases, for example, or to transition from print to electronic resources,” OCLC explains.

Separately, OCLC last year launched its new online Community Center, which invites OCLC member libraries and product users to connect with peers, ask questions, and present suggestions regarding services and products including WMS.

Consolidation concerns

Even with so many new developments coming from every corner of the market, 40% of respondents to a recent LJ survey expressed concern about consolidation and private equity ownership in the ILS industry (see Wish List). Consolidation, after all, means fewer choices, and there is always a concern that financial motives could lead private equity to mishandle a company’s portfolio.

These concerns can lend an appeal to the stability of founder-run companies such as TLC and decade-old Biblionix. Smaller companies, of necessity, can also be more responsive to customer demands. TLC’s long-standing open system approach, for example, has simplified library-driven projects and collaboration with third-party vendors on its CARL.X and Library.Solution systems. The company recently was one of the first ILS vendors to market with a web-based, mobile optimized staff client, and last year TLC partnered with ­SocialFlow to offer libraries a leading social media network distribution and optimization platform that is used by companies including the New York Times, BBC News, and NPR.

Many of its customers also praise the company’s constant focus on both patron- and staff-facing user experience (UX). During the annual TLC Users (TLCU) conference in October, for example, attendees raved about demos of a new web-based cataloging module that will include a draft state allowing catalogers to work with records and/or pass new records to other catalogs for review prior to saving in the system, the option to review imported records before they are stored, a cloud-based MARC record source to facilitate complex searching without having to go through the Z39.50 interface, and a proprietary authority service that enables users to do a keyword search within the interface and retrieve vetted drop-down menus of names, subjects, and genres. Catalogers with the proper login permissions can also switch seamlessly between the interface and the editable record.

“The priorities in our development definitely come from customer input,” Murphy says.

And Murphy’s comment at McGee’s Midwinter panel rings true. Innovation can’t always be developed on demand. Real innovation comes from people, and the best thing a company—large or small—can do to foster innovation is to provide the right environment for its employees as they build the next generation of library systems.

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