Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Moving Forward through Tech Cycles

Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Moving Forward through Tech Cycles

Article excerpt

It's a given that technology changes continually. Fve been working with automation in libraries long enough to have experienced a number of major changes in technology. I started in the days of mainframe computers, which gave way to midrange systems, which were later replaced by client/server systems. Today, the preferred technology platforms involve web-based systems, service-oriented architecture, and cloud computing. These preferences in technology shall also pass and will be replaced by new approaches to computing not yet invented.

Changes in the larger technology arena have driven library automation products in and out of favor. Each generation of technology forces some products into legacy status and offers the opportunity to develop new flagship systems designed for current hardware and software architectures. I'm concerned that in the rotation through multiple generations of technology, library automation products need to transform conceptually as well as architecturally.

Legacy vs. Flagship Products

I consider a legacy product to be any library automation system that is no longer receiving ongoing enhancement and development. In many cases, these systems are casualties of these technology shifts. It's often not feasible to continue to develop a system once the operating system or hardware platform on which it runs has become obsolete. In some cases, the functionality of the system can be ported to the next generation of technology. We've seen examples of some systems that have evolved through these transitions, but others have not survived. Once a company makes the decision to discontinue forward development of an ILS, I consider that ILS a legacy product. Companies usually continue to provide support services for these systems and will repair bugs and even make minor enhancements. The companies do not offer legacy products for new sales, and the installed base of libraries declines toward eventual extinction.

A flagship automation system, in contrast, benefits from new development, marketing, and support. It runs on a technology platform reasonably current for its time. Companies in the library automation industry tend to focus their efforts on a single strategic flagship ILS, though there are exceptions.

Recurring Product Cycles

A pattern I see in the history of library automation involves the launch of a new flagship ILS, its eventual demise, and its replacement by a new-generation system by the same company. This cycle may last more than a decade. If changes in technology render an ILS unsupportable, it's vital for a company to develop a new system before the old system becomes completely obsolete and its users migrate to competing systems.

Flagship systems can also meet their demise as victims of mergers and acquisitions. Even if an ILS runs on a current technology platform and is otherwise a viable system, if the company that created it is acquired by a competitor, that system becomes vulnerable. Merged companies often want to channel their resources on a single flagship system. Savvy companies leverage technology cycles as they blend multiple channels of ILS customers into a single new product. Forcing lateral changes within a cycle results in abrupt changes that disrupt libraries' automation strategies. Business decisions as well as technology cycles can also place an ILS into the legacy category.

By my thinking, libraries always purchase an ILS when it is the flagship product of a company. No library would waste its resources by purchasing an automation system that was not forward -moving. But if a library finds itself in the unfortunate position of running an ILS that slips from flagship to legacy status, it faces the prospect of acquiring a new system. Most libraries have experienced the need to replace their ILS at least once during their history of automation.

Benefits Gained?

Each new generation of ILS promises many benefits that will accrue as a result of the new technology it embraces. …

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