Marshall Breeding’s Top Technology Trends

The Changed Business Landscape

Many technology decisions are made in the corporate board room, not the laboratory nor even necessarily in the marketplace. The recent acquisition of Dynix by Sirsi reminds us that the shape of the automation landscape is largely formed by the interests of the behind-the-scenes investors that own the companies involved. While it’s yet to be seen what product offerings might change as a result of this business transaction, the potential impact is large. While we hope that the needs of libraries drive the development of library automation software, we must be aware that there are other factors at play as well.

Consolidation Everywhere

We see immediate evidence of the consolidation of the library automation business arena. Are more afoot? There will be a fewer number of larger companies developing software. But the remaining companies will have enormous resources. The new SirsiDynix entity, for example, will have a workforce totaling over 725 personnel with as many as 185 dedicated to software development. Companies on this scale have the capacity to develop systems we don’t all hate. But will they?

Consolidation happens among libraries as well. Libraries increasingly band together in consortia to share an automation system. I’ve seen several examples over the last couple of years of multiple consortia merging into one. Very large ILS implementations are becoming more common. Libraries, just like their commercial partners, are looking for all reasonable efficiencies and economies of scale.

Enterprise Systems Prevail

Computing increasingly happens on the enterprise level. Large organizations, such as universities, colleges, and municipal or county governments demand a single unified technical infrastructure. Departmental computing is on the wane. Most organizations, for example, have already dismantled informally run departmental mail servers in favor of enterprise mail or groupware systems with sophisticated messaging, collaboration, and security features.

Enterprise systems consist of many different components, each of which has been selected or designed to fit within a coherent framework. Multiple business systems, for example, may be assembled that share a common database platform, allowing the organization to mine data across applications. Enterprise resource planning is the order of the day. Increasingly a service-oriented architecture (SOA) provides the framework that ties an environment of diverse and complex systems together.

Library automation tends to fall into the category of departmental computing. It’s important for library applications to fit well with the enterprise architecture of our organizations. The concept of a standalone OPAC or even a library-specific portal may not be consistent with this enterprise-wide approach. In the academic environment, for example, library-oriented information and services, might need to function as snap-ins to a comprehensive course management environment with deep integration with the organization’s ERP systems. Today’s monolithic library automation systems have not been designed to fit the enterprise model.

Wireless Networks Proliferate

Wi-Fi hotspots in libraries have become commonplace. Many libraries have conquered the security and policy issues that in the recent past held many back. Roll-your-own products such as ZoneCD from PublicIP as well as the many offerings from ILS vendors allow libraries to implement a hot spot customized for library use. Policies and requirements vary considerably from library to library, but fortunately technical solutions exist for almost any scenario. Redirection to a click-through policy page, authentication against the library’s patron database, 802.1x authentication, filtering, non-filtering, clear-text, encrypted text, are all options. Today, 802.11g has largely displaced 802.11b for new equipment purchases. WPA now prevails over WEP, and full 802.11i security is emerging. 802.11n, the proposed next generation of Wi-Fi charged to deliver 100 mbps remains deadlocked between competing technical proposals. Don’t hold your breath for this one.