My NCSU colleague, Tito Sierra, said to me yesterday, “Haven’t the last two years of the library system industry been more interesting that the previous 10?” I could not disagree. And today’s news not only adds credence to that theory, it could make the next 5–10 years continually interesting.
SirisDynix announced today that it would begin developing a “holistic platform” for its automation system, code-named Rome. Okay, what does this mean? First some facts, and then some conjecture and editorial.
SirsiDynix will unveil that we are blending the strengths and best features of Unicorn, Horizon/Corinthian, and other solutions to create a new, versatile technology platform to serve 21st-century libraries and consortia. Code-named “Rome,” this platform goes beyond the traditional integrated library system to encompass the full range of technology building blocks for managing library operations and resources, while providing meaningful user experiences to your information consumers.
—from SirsiDynix message to customers
It means that Horizon 7.3 and Unicorn 3.1 will be the last versions of those products from SirsiDynix. Horizon 8 / Corinthian and Unicorn 3.2 will not be released. That said, Rome will be built (not in a day, I venture) upon the architecture of the Unicorn system. End-of-life (EOL) has not been announced for these two platforms. Only Multilis (June 30, 2007) and DRA Classic (February 8, 2009) have been given EOL status.
I understand this decision from a business standpoint, even if I might not agree with it 100%. Choosing a single platform will save SirsiDynix a lot in R&D costs. Not supporting 14 different OPACs (a little hyperbole). Think of main things like development, sales, implementation, and support. Who wants to multiply all of those thing by two?
The problem, to me, is that all the descriptions of Rome sound a lot like the descriptions of Horizon 8.0. Heck, they sound a little like Taos, for those who want to go back even farther. Rumors abound about the instability of Horizon 8. I cannot speak to those rumors. So, I think the decision about Rome is essentially a “time to market” decision. It’s a choice between a sexy platform that is unstable and a stable platform that is unsexy. I used to be happy when stability won the day; now my own ideals are staring me in the face.
SirsiDynix sounds sincere about its direction. I spoke to several principals, including Martin Taylor, John Dickson, Berit Nelson, and Tom Gates—they seem confident in this road to Rome. I am going to reserve the bulk of my judgment for a few months. But I also wonder how this might be playing out in Rome, Georgia.
As many a blogger and library developer has said, the release of the open source Evergreen System by the Georgia PINES group has the potential to change the library automation landscape. “Salivating” was the word I used with a colleague to describe the open source community’s reaction to this plan. That salivation might not start until the news of Horizon 8’s death sinks in, but I think it will hit them sooner rather than later.
With over 4,000 Horizon libraries and 4,000 Unicorn libraries (libraries, not server sites), this news means the potential for hundreds of migrations over the next 3-6 years. I say as a guess based on SirsiDynix’s policy of actively supporting a given product in its current release and two prior releases.
The Horizon customers will be the most interesting ones to watch. SirsiDynix would argue that they were facing an upgrade and change of (at least staff) interfaces no matter what. That argument could also be made by libraries for choosing another vendor. Since there will undoubtedly be financial incentive to stay with SirsiDynix, this will be a difficult decision for many libraries. But it is also why I predict salivation from the open source providers, who will argue that the pain of migration is equal but that the value of openness is priceless. I am sure that SirsiDynix’s competition is ready to pounce as well.
Final thoughts (for today)
It’s likely that Vista’s purchase price for SirsiDynix was roughly twice their annual revenues, or over $200M (the rumor I heard actually put the figure higher than that). As a $1B equity firm, Vista is investing a sizable chunk of its money in this decision. That’s commitment. We’ll see if it pays off.
[This post originally appeared as part of American Libraries’ Hectic Pace Blog and is archived here.]