(This story was updated from an earlier version.)
SirsiDynix, one of the largest ILS companies, is poised to roll out a new system later this year that the company says will integrate its product lines in a cloud architecture.
Various aspects of the BLUEcloud Suite (BCS) have been discussed previously, and some products that it comprises–such as Enterprise, BookMyne, and Social Library–are already on the market. But, at the Customers of SirsiDynix Users Group, Inc.(COSUGI) conference held in Salt Lake City March 14-16, BCS was announced as a re-engineered technology stack and holistic brand that company officials say will become the architecture upon which the company will build its products in the future.
This year’s COSUGI conference drew 544 attendees, the largest number in four years, including some top industry leaders such as Steve Potash of OverDrive.
BCS, which is software-as-a-service (SaaS), is built upon the existing Horizon and Symphony integrated library systems, and in its ambition to leverage new computing technologies and architecture to provide a complete, cloud-based administration, acquisition and discovery system, Bill Davison, the SirsiDynix CEO, said BCS was the company’s foray into the new library services platform arena.
“It’s definitely a library services platform but we think what we’ve done is balance that with the stability and existence of your current system by not forcing a big changeover of your data which can cause a huge hassle,” Davison said. “You can just use it when you are ready, use it in parallel to what you’ve got now, and grow with it.”
This more evolutionary approach, not recreating everything from the ground up, is similar in some ways to the approach taken by Innovative Interfaces with Sierra and VTLS with Open Skies.
Avoiding data migrations
Davison said BCS was a way to organize the company’s product line so that customers can more easily grasp the entire aggregated suite of products now being offered and better understand how the company has rebuilt its infrastructure and the value he says that will bring customers.
“We are basically delivering a new set of products to our customer base without having forced them to move their data to switch,” he said.
Mark Harris, of the Ames Public Library in Iowa which uses Horizon, liked what he was hearing.
“What’s very exciting about this is we are looking at an ILS migration and that kind of throws everything up in the air as to where to go, but the fact that Blue Cloud looks like it is going to allow us to avoid a database migration … seems very positive to me at this point,” Harris said.
If Ames can avoid the commitment of time, training, and finances that go into switching an ILS, which typically takes about two years, it would help the library catch up, Harris said.
“We’re kind of behind the curve. We’re still on HIP [Horizon Information Portal], we don’t have any of the PAC enhancements yet, and we’re not even looking at an ILS migration for a couple of years so we’d be even further behind that curve,” Harris said. “This looks to me like a path to getting up to speed fairly quickly.”
However, SirsiDynix has to deliver on its promises, Harris and others said.
“I have a very positive reaction and I have a kind of historical skeptical reaction. I came to many of the conferences when Horizon 8 was being demonstrated and promoted and that failed obviously,” Harris said.
Rewriting the infrastructure
BCS will require the latest version of the ILS for the initial release, but once BCS is released customers will be allowed to lag behind by a version. Many of the new browser-based features and workflows of BCS–including new interfaces for universal administration, cataloging, circulation, acquisitions, serials, mobile circulation (MobileCirc), analytics, and discovery (BLUEcloud PAC)–are almost all covered by the basic maintenance fee. MobileCirc is an added cost and for a portion of customers analytics will be an add-on as well. Davison said the rate of maintenance fee increases won’t change, meaning marginal increases will still happen as usual.
MobileCirc, which is scheduled to be released in summer 2013, is a new portable client for circulation, inventory, and shelving tasks. it will be released as an Android or iOS app or as a browser-based web app.
Davison said SirsiDynix had a strong year in 2012, with 88 new library customers migrating to Symphony in 2012 and another 120 Horizon, Symphony, and Enterprise and Portfolio customers moving to the company’s SaaS hosting in 2012. But the company also has been pushing in the direction of BCS because after surveying its customers it found pain points around the number of products that the company kept building that entailed more cost as opposed to taking the products customers had already bought and making them a lot better.
“We do invest and enhance current products but it was just moving them a little bit,” Davison said. “We stepped back and said let’s build this entire suite so we can integrate all the best functionalities from both ILSes and streamline it and come out a lot better than just trying to keep updating each individual system.”
The past year saw significant progress in rewriting the architecture of Symphony and Horizon so that a consistent set of web services sit atop both and make it possible to create the BCS applications just one time but which can hit both ILSes equally on the back end, according to Talin Bingham, the chief technology officer.
“Just in the past year we’ve nailed down what I call the idiosyncrasies or differences between those two environments and now we have a consistent way of addressing them both,” Bingham said.
The unified administration module–a single place to manage all the products instead of jumping to separate administration interfaces for each product–was an eye-opener for Nathan Guinn, the director of product management.
“The second we changed our paradigm of how we gear the administration of our products it opened a number of windows for us and let light in on the problems because now we recognized the pain in having to go into multiple applications and configure them and set them up,” Guinn said.
An overarching goal in this project, Guinn said, was to stop the duplication of data whereby each product, such as Web Reporter or Enterprise, had to harvest its own set of ILS data onto a separate server so that it could be treated or interacted with differently.
“We wanted to move away from that duplication and try to get to a single instance of data that the clients then interact with,” he said.
In addition, this approach can help integrate all searches across products so that they produce the same result sets, and moving to the cloud allows for more rapid product updates, Guinn said.
The new cataloging interface, which is the first core ILS function scheduled to be released in the summer, features a way to view bibliographic records from OCLC or a content vendor side by side with the ILS record and contains a drag and drop functionality that merges the two.
“I’m very excited to see how that develops,” said Mary Kay Baden, a cataloger at Scott County Library System in Savage, Minnesota. “It looks really good and it’s a better interface,” she said, adding that a glimpse of the functionality was provided at last year’s conference as well.
Reactions from other librarians to BCS was generally positive. David Justus, of the Steen Library at Steven F. Austin State University, in Nacogdoches, Texas, was intrigued if not completely on board yet.
“Every year when I come to these conferences I feel pretty good about what I’ve seen but the actual implementation doesn’t always turn out to be what you were expecting. But I do like this. I like what I’m seeing,” he said.
“Cautious optimism I guess would be my reaction,” said Brian Dunten of the Indianapolis Public Library. ”I’m very glad to see that the company is moving ahead around the Horizon product. For a while we kind of felt our future was uncertain with that product, but I’m very glad to see they are moving ahead with development on that platform and bringing more of the modern services to it.”
The integration promise of eResource Central (eRC), the company’s new electronic resource management tool which is a part of BCS, was on Dunten’s want list.
“I think that the current discovery tools are showing their age and definitely I’m looking forward to where we have better integration with things like OverDrive or EBSCO ebooks,” Dunten said. “I think that will really benefit our patrons.”
Sirsi has already struck numerous partnerships with major providers for eResource Central, and the next big company on the list is Ingram with which talks are under way.
eRC manages the metadata from all the ebook vendors, and the library then pushes that data out as it chooses to Enterprise, which remains the premium discovery product under BCS. However, the suite will also include as part of the maintenance fee a new tool, BLUEcloud PAC, that will have 11 of the 19 major Enterprise functionalities, according to a company flyer, and likely will become the primary discovery layer for many customers.
“We wanted to move everybody off their current PACs that have been around a lot and get them to a new state-of-the-art PAC,” Davison said. “The nice thing is we’re not forcing you to go anywhere, you can choose when to go to it, but it’s included in your maintenance.”
A customer can buy up to Enterprise if they want.
“I think it’s a long-time coming,” said Nick Kelley, of the Avon Lake Public Library in Avon Lake, Ohio. “E-library’s been kind of dwindling and it hasn’t been satisfying people,” he said, referring to Symphony’s patron interface.
Kelley said some customers who had already invested in Enterprise to replace e-library only to see BLUEcloud PAC now being offered as part of the maintenance fee might be scratching their heads, but, overall, BCS was definitely a step in the right direction.
“We like what we are seeing now. It’s going the right way,” Kelley said.
In addition, SirsiDynix is planning a broader rollout of a Buy It Now button that it has been piloting with the LIBRI consortium in Idaho (the library and SirsiDynix share revenue from a cut of five to eight percent). The company is also compiling a global list of “ghost” titles, material the library doesn’t yet own, that libraries will be able to expose in their catalog, similar to what OverDrive does, and which will also underpin an eventual rollout of demand-driven acquisition. There also is a new prepaid debit card that also acts as a library card and which provides revenue back to the library.
“2012 was a very strong year for SirsiDynix, both in terms of gaining new customers as well as the development of new products. We will work hard to make sure that the libraries that joined the SirsiDynix family this past year will have that decision validated again and again,” Davison said.