A bunch of my colleagues are dressed up today. I considered donning my khaki-colored dockers, denim shirt, and brown loafers, but was afraid that no one would recognize me as being a vendor. I needed too many props to pull off the costume, like some PowerPoint slides that look like a real website. I have mastered the ability to smile, rock back and forth on my feet while swinging my arms, and exuding that look of “Boy, do I have a solution for you!”
It’s getting harder these days to determine whether what libraries are getting is a trick or a treat. We tend not to take “trick or treat” too seriously . . . as in give me a treat or I will play a trick.
Sometimes the trick is figuring out just what the heck is going on, like when two competing vendors join forces to offer products and services. We’ve seen this ad nauseam in the ILS vendor world in the last couple of years. It’s even present in the open source community where openness is the shared structure despite the fact that the products themselves compete. This week, we see it in the self-check and security arena.
3M and Checkpoint have apparently joined forces. It’s not quite a merger and I am still trying to figure out the techno-political ramifications of the partnership: 3M will be an exclusive reseller of Checkpoint technology, and Checkpoint will continue to sell directly to libraries. The partnership is described in this press release (pdf).
Reading between the lines a little, it seems like 3M is enamored of Checkpoint’s technology, and Checkpoint likes 3M’s support and customer service infrastructure. How they will reconcile their products might be akin to how the entire self-check and security market reconciles its standards, something that has been contentious for the last few years. 3M and Checkpoint are both on the NISO RFID for Library Applications Working Group, chaired by VTLS‘s Vinod Chachra. TAGSYS, an RFID maker, is also on the group. The extent to which competing vendors have input into the standard is unclear.
In my opinion, the discussion around RFID has been too philosophical (privacy, data leaks, etc.) and not technical enough (interoperability, technological lifespan, etc.). Establishing a relationship with a self-check and security vendor has too often been a life-long relationship for technological reasons. Interoperability is the only hope in being able to choose the right vendor with whom to establish a relationship.
[This post originally appeared as part of American Libraries’ Hectic Pace Blog and is archived here.]
The 3M and Checkpoint sudden “friendship” is very interesting, since both camps have been fierce competitors for years. Considering that both product lines overlap, one or the other side will quietly disappear, which is certainly a very scary situations to customer (libraries) that have already invested into them. And, this is all from the biggest players in the library automation market! Bottom line: In this day and age, “big” is no longer “safe”. Both 3M and Checkpoint are multifaceted firms with thousands of products that have little to do with libraries. When the “cost of focus” to a particular market segment becomes high, these sort of alliances happen. So, just because a firm is “big” it is no longer a guarantee that it will be a player, long term, especially in the library automation market.
President / CEO
Library Automation Technologies Inc.,
I dunno, Oleg. I think it bodes very well for the future. The idea behind a standard is to ensure that we do in fact have vendor interoperability. To get that, we need the big boys to adopt that standard. I’m delighted that Checkpoint has decided to get on board.
Eventually the NISO/ISO RFID Library Data Model Standards will be adopted and libraries won’t have to worry about being stranded with one vendor or another.
I just hope the standards body does the right thing by creating a data model standard that works for libraries — not something that works for one or two companies that are involved. This means the tags must work up and down the supply chain so that book distributors can install them (like they do in Europe) and libraries should be able to use them for tracking books during delivery and ILL. Security should be handled in a standard way and the tags should be smart enough to respond to requests from authorized readers only.
Ultimately, libraries shouldn’t have to be any more involved in selecting RFID tags than they are involved in selecting bar codes. Getting Checkpoint and 3M on the same team seems like a step in that direction. This is good for the future of RFID….although its true that I wouldn’t want to be an existing Checkpoint RFID customer right now.
I’m beginning to think that standards themselves are the problem. Maybe we need to get past standards and start thinking about services the way we are getting past “records” and thinking about data.
The 3M-Checkpoint marriage of convenience looks all hunky-dory until you consider two vendors dictating the terms of agreement of interoperability. Um, let me think, who will this serve best? Their competitors? I suspect not.
I agree in the beginning there wasn’t enough discussion of interoperability. But the early discussions about privacy weren’t entirely off-base. There were libraries fluffing off major issues in a pathetically clueless way — not a lot of them, but enough to beg the question. Then again, a few admin types probably needed to be scared by the interoperability issues.