Friday, May 22, 2009

Open Incentives

When I was writing code for a living, I loved working with open source products. I loved being able to download a tool and get it running without having to lobby for a purchase order. I loved the fact that when I encountered an error using one of those tools, I could step through the code and see where the problem started. I was fascinated by the proliferation of open source projects and by the communities of developers that emerged around these projects. What made some projects succeed and others dwindle? Who was finding the time and incentive to build them? When I started spending more time with business (as opposed to technical) questions, open source posed new intriguing questions. What does open source mean for my employer, SirsiDynix? Many have suggested that open source ILS systems are a disruptive innovation that will transform the library automation industry. Will it? If so, how? My business cards say “Director of Product Strategy”, should I be pushing SirsiDynix towards an open source business model?

Some thoughts in progress: The open source projects that really take wing seem to have one of two things in common—thousands of dependent developers, or big audiences that will support an advertising funding model. PostgreSQL and Eclipse, for example, are successful open source products that many thousands of developers rely on every day to do their basic work. Of those thousands, a relative few actually get invested in solving problems and contributing time and code. Software engineers have various incentives to pitch in. It may build their resumes, they may feel good by contributing, or they may just need the product to do something it doesn’t, so they get in and fix it themselves. It takes the many thousands, though, to percolate out a critical few that will move the product forward. Mozilla Firefox is a successful open source product that survives on advertizing revenue. 85% of that revenue comes from Google. Stay tuned, though, now that Google has its own web browser.

Library automation is a niche community. We have a smattering of solid developers in our midst, but the thousands who rely on the ILS to do their daily work are nerds of a different feather. I don’t see us percolating out a critical mass of invested contributors. The advertising model seems culturally at odds with the library world. True, there are lots of patron eyes out there, but hitting them with adverts in the OPAC feels a bit like shouting at the study table, or mud wrestling in the archives room.

I have not seen products really fly when funding comes from support and implementation fees. This model assumes that the product is hard to install and configure. The incentive structure leans to support and documentation, but not really new development. Innovation and strategic planning has to come from developers outside the business model. Outside developers, though, are incented to solve their own particular problems, not build the product of the future. There is a difference.

For now, then, the incentives for innovation seem rightly aligned in a business model based on proprietary code. Support is a cost in this model so SirsiDynix does better when the product is easier to deploy, configure, and maintain. We’re working hard on that right now. SirsiDynix is openly profit driven and will only succeed if it solves problems that competitive offerings don’t. SirsiDynix is not a side project. Our survival depends on being ahead of the change curve in the industry. That’s my take. For now. But I’m open to other arguments.

Jared Oates
Director of Product Strategy, Engineering

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Roadtrip Success: The Roadmap

So. Spring is finally making a convincing appearance around here and the kids are counting down the days until the pool’s open, school’s out, and most exciting, the possibility of a road trip looms. That brings us to a key element in road trip success: the roadmap.

Anyone remember my second favorite Far Side cartoon? It features the “Rand McNally Situation Room”, with the premise that geographical boundaries and countries were changing so rapidly that the map needed constant review and updating in order to be accurate even for a day. A great analogy for what’s going on in libraries and at SirsiDynix these days. We still need a roadmap, but thinking of the roadmap as anything but a living entity that encompasses change isn’t going to cut it.

SirsiDynix and more than 700 of our customers traveled to Dallas in April for the 2009 Intersection Joint Conference. Attendees shared ideas, innovations, tips and tricks and best practices not only for use of SirsiDynix software but also for identifying and meeting community needs with a full pallet of tools and creativity. SirsiDynix presented our 2009 roadmap, also available to customers on the Client Care Portal. Re: the situation room, the roadmap had already been influenced and updated between when we prepared it internally and when we discussed it at the Conference.

Early this year, SirsiDynix initiated a new program that supports our Engineering group taking 10% of their work time to focus on innovations which may then be approved for formal development. The first phase of this program was informed by the impressive iPhoneApp DC Public introduced earlier this year that takes advantage of Apple’s iPhone development kit and SirsiDynix Symphony APIs to allow users to search DC Public’s catalog, place holds for materials, and easily get directions from where they are standing to any DC Public Branch. During Intersection, SirsiDynix announced plans for a broader set of mobile applications designed to allow everything from more efficient mobile access for end users to one stop business intelligence for library managers.

The roadmap will no doubt continue mutating more rapidly than ever to reflect what’s going on in the larger world of technology. One thing I appreciate as we participate in this type of change is that we’re starting with a lot of there there: a full set of feature rich modules, a long-established, international Software as a Service strategy, and customers around the world who share their techniques for expanding the system by taking advantage of the APIs, support for standards, and of course the magic ingredient: elbow grease.

Back to the iPhone apps and the road trip: my kids did manage to call up a map from St. Louis to a DC Public branch and immediately advocated a road trip to see their cousins in the Bethesda area. This summer we’ll do some work on the distance/time concept!

Take care,
VP of Product Development

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Save Time and Money--Even Make Money

In these trying economic times we pulled together a list of features in SirsiDynix Symphony software that might be used to save time, save money, and even make money. We couldn't believe what we could come up with in just a few minutes so I'm passing this partial list on and challenging you to add to it!

SIP: If the staff didn't have to spend so much time checking out materials they could spend a lot more time helping people or reshelving all those materials that come back! And what about those automated check-in machines? You can also save time on reserving PC time and handle your print management and cost recovery with various SIP-compliant interfaces.

Pocket Circulation devices: These handy devices will let you check out materials online or offline, and you can do inventory with them. That saves much time, allowing your staff to work while in the stacks.

Online User Registration: Extend the welcome mat for new users by allowing them to register online with e-Library.

Books by Mail: Reach out to the Amazon crowd by offering shipping and return services for materials. You can decide how to ship, what to charge (if anything), and make library user more convenient than ever for busy users.

Self-Service Hold Shelves: Let library users pick up their materials and check them out via self-check devices. They set up easily and with privacy considerations.

Let us know what ideas you come up with and how we can help!

Best wishes,
Anne Arthur
Product Manager, Engineering

Friday, May 8, 2009

Welcome to the "Sustainable Development" blog from a few of us at SirsiDynix. We are excited to communicate with you in this manner and hope it is beneficial to you.

Throughout the next several posts, we hope to convey a little of what we are planning down the road, thoughts we have on upcoming technology, and insights into the development of current and upcoming SirsiDynix products.

We hope you will feel free to comment on this blog and let us know what you are interested in hearing about. We are happy to take you behind the scenes and make this a helpful resource for you!