Evaluating Library-Tech Vendors

By Breeding, Marshall | Computers in Libraries, March 2015 | Go to article overview

Evaluating Library-Tech Vendors


Breeding, Marshall, Computers in Libraries


[l]T'S THE PERSONAL INTERACTIONS THAT OFTEN COUNT THE MOST IN SHAPING IMPRESSIONSAND DEVELOPING WORKING RELATIONSHIPS.

I have often used this column to highlight the relationship between libraries and the organizations from which they acquire technology-related products and services. Let's call them vendors. As you may already know, I consider it extremely important for this relationship-that could be thought of as a mere business transaction-to be a partnership.

Those that develop technology products must be attentive and responsive to libraries, which invest considerable time and resources into product implementation. Libraries need to help shape the ongoing development of products, rather than merely assume a passive role. I believe there should be a vigorous engagement between libraries and technology vendors to ensure positive progress going forward.

The term "vendor" is not meant to have any negative connotation. Vendors constitute a diverse community of organizations that cater to libraries, encompassing for-profit companies and nonprofit organizations, as well as those offering proprietary software and content and those providing services surrounding open source software and open access (OA) content. Many libraries work on their own with open source software or other local development projects that may take place without specific vendor involvement. But let's focus on vendors.

As libraries continually acquire new products or renew commitments to existing ones, the priority has to be the functional capabilities offered by a vendor's products and services. Another important aspect to consider is the working relationship with a vendor. This month's column explores some of the qualities that are important to look for in establishing a good library/vendor relationship. While not definitive measures, I hope they provide a good starting point for selecting vendors that will make good longterm partners.

Organizational Stability

Although some interactions with vendors may be for one-time transactions, most require longer-term relationships. In the library community, one of the biggest fears is the possibility that a key vendor-one a library entirely depends on for strategic products or services-will experience some sort of business failure. It can be extremely disruptive to a library when any part of its technical infrastructure or content services needs to be replaced within a shorter time frame than expected. Mergers and acquisitions (M&A) have taken a steady toll on products and services over the decades. In some cases, new owners preserved products through the time period that they would have continued otherwise, while other products have met an early demise.

Libraries have a vested interest in working with organizations that will endure, continuing to develop and support products and services currently in use-and hopefully develop new ones that will provide continuity during the long haul. Organizational stability tends to be one of the top issues in the consideration of newtechnology products or services. There have been very few examples of companies that have gone out of business through bankruptcy. The more common way that companies exit the industry is via M&A, usually involving a direct competitor interested in enlarging its size or by one in an adjacent industry seeking to expand its scope of products.

It isn't possible, however, to accurately spot the organizations that will survive in the library-technology industry. Overall, most of the companies today are well-established. This isn't an industry of startups-the entry of an entirely new company is quite rare. Exceptions might include those involved in more specialized niches, in which new players may come on the scene to bring new consumer technologies into the library arena, such as new mobile apps, 3D printing, or near field communications (NFC).

The strongest companies are not always the ones that survive various rounds of acquisition. …

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