Tag Archives: Vendor lock-in

ILS Migration: SirsiDynix and III on exit support and maintenance

Planning a migration? Eventually you’ll have to determine when you’re going to unplug your existing maintenance contract, an important factor given the ILS marketplace norm of restricting usage to paying maintenance customers.

Most proprietary software at least gives you some illusion of ownership and control by letting you run the software for years after you paid for it (why pay for support if you don’t need it?). For the growing number of SaaS-based network services (e.g. RefWorks or Ebsco AtoZ), this is not the case, but at least it’s clear up front that customers are entering into what is  essentially a car rental type of agreement for software use.

The wonky thing about most ILS EULAs is that you normally don’t think of the SaaS model when you’re running the software locally.  You buy the software but that “purchase” should really be understood as a down payment against a lease agreement. You didn’t buy anything that you can keep or share!

When I look at my desktop & server-based applications that we run (excluding the few SaaS providers we use), I can’t identify a single vendor that would unplug me effective termination of our annual support & maintenance (or prevent me from using the software without a paid support contract in place).  Not a single one.

In any event, we’re exiting our Unicorn & Millennium systems and moving to a new open source ILS  (more on this later), and here’s how the two vendors responded to our request to go month-to-month or quarterly (your results may differ):

  • SirsiDynix: not allowed, we must purchase another full year’s annual support and maintenance
  • III:  accepted our request to go with 2 additional quarterly payments, rather than paying for an unwanted full year’s maintenance.

[BTW, we have two systems in place here as we’re in the process of amalgamating several libraries]

Personally, it’s frustrating that we can’t run the software on terms that even Microsoft would permit (i.e. without annual support & maintenace), but ok I get the deal: we rented a car.  I also didn’t expect III’s “flexibility” here since they’re arguably the most proprietary of the bunch, so good on them.

And finally, it’s a bit of a shame in that this situation significantly impedes many libraries’ ability to re-direct scarce funds towards any new ILS investment (as well as manage a migration with more  flexibility) since you’re not always able to optimize migration scheduling with the end of your maintenace contract.

Next generation vendor lock-in?

I’ll be attending the One Big Library unconference later this month and I am hoping to hear some discussion on some of those sticky ownership and control issues. Yes, libraries are all about sharing and open access, reducing barriers to ensure information and knowledge for all, and so on. And of course many Big Library developments are very compelling – even essential – to furthering the interests of the communities we serve. But I think we need to be more vigilant about our strategies and options to ensure our content (and the content we rely upon) remains sufficiently within our access and influence, and also think carefully about our moves in the context of investment decisions with longer term consequences.

It’s important to note that control doesn’t mean not giving up control. There are numerous circumstances in which our interests and those of our clients can be best served by just giving it away. Just get our metadata and full-text accessible from where our users go to for search and discovery. But it’s one thing to give it all away and yet another to give it away and still have your data to give away to another service on another day.

But what about the ownership and control vested in so many of these “public” repositories? Enormous amounts of data are being submitted to repositories, many of which have no explicit public interest mandate to speak of. So maybe it’s compelling to showcase your photographic collection on The Commons (Flickr), but what rights will you have to the possibly enormous amount of user contributed social content (tags, reviews, comments, etc.), say, after many years of being part of that service? What happens if Flickr goes bad or if a competing service becomes the better way to go? Are we setting ourselves up for the next generation vendor lock-in? There are many that believe that the web offers some sort of unique protection from the effects of concentrated ownership and domination of content supply that other forms of media have suffered, but I’m not convinced.

So from the conference, I’m hoping to see some discussion on:

  • What models supporting One Big Library are likely to offer the best service and greatest freedom?
  • Does it matter where we invest our resources? What criteria could we use or what principles should we adopt to ensure our investments in One Big Library don’t lead to ‘one big lock-in’?
  • Simplifying the mind-numbing legal issues regarding who owns what, especially for user contributed content. What assurances do we have that all the intellectual effort put towards tagging, reviewing, selecting, filtering, adding comments, etc. is not going to be usurped or otherwise restricted in ways detrimental to our long term interests? Who will own all that intellectual output, and again does it matter?
  • There are many paths towards one big library – which direction makes sense for your particular type of library and/or specialized type of content?
  • When is it a fair exchange for libraries to get a service (sometimes “free”) in exchange for giving up full control over their data?

I’ve often thought that the only way to keep large repositories “in check” is to maintain the right to to withdraw your records & contributions and “take your business elsewhere.” But participation in large repositories challenges conventional notions of ownership and control. Which records are “yours” to withdraw? What data are you entitled to if you wanted to switch services or participate in more than one similar service? In the Flickr example above, would the Library of Congress have rights to copy user contributed data (tags, etc.) and have them for use in some other repository (maybe even a competitor to Flickr)? Once you’ve contributed your metadata, how much is it yours anymore? Does it matter?

Anyways, I’m feeling pretty overwhelmed by all that could be possible in our current understanding of One Big Library. There are so many exciting developments to watch and move towards, but I’m also concerned about participating in network systems with often unclear or otherwise unchallenged contracts about ownership and access for user contributed data – especially long term implications.

I think this may be a big problem for us in the future.

Right to Repair…(your ILS)

I saw an advocacy ad from the Automotive Industries Association’s Right to Repair campaign in my newspaper recently and it struck a chord (a similar US site here). Does this sound familiar:

Vehicle manufacturers are restricting access to tools, training and software to the aftermarket industry. Due to the increased sophistication of today’s vehicles, it is gradually becoming more difficult for independent repair facilities to access the information and develop the skills required to service vehicles.

I’ve always tried to give my dealer the benefit of the doubt, yet I always seem to get the bigger bills when I go there instead of my independent mechanic. These folks are courteous and professional, and I tend to end up there when I’m constrained for time (my independent mechanic is located much further from my office).

My last two repairs reminded me why I’ve always end up going back to my independent and why I’m sympathetic with the “right to repair.” With both recent major repairs I started out at the dealer, trusted their advice, agreed to proceed despite the high quoted figure, but at the last minute found the opportunity for a second opinion. Both times I needed an out of stock part, and during the delay just happened to call my independent mechanic for one or another reason and ended up chatting about the problem.

The most recent time, I saved well over $1000 pulling the car out of the repair queue and following the advice of my independent: different parts supplier and wiser advice.

So was my dealer trying to “rip me off?” Well, I don’t know but I don’t think so (at least not in any personal sense). I do know that the individuals I dealt with are hard working, courteous and professional (much like the ILS vendors I’ve dealt with). So what gives? It’s not so much a matter of “being ripped off” as it is who was better aligned with my interests. There was nothing personal like “let’s rip this guy off today” but rather the dealer wasn’t using the most competitive supplier for one of the expensive parts I needed, and in the other case didn’t give me the proper contextual advice (“hey George, this is an 8 year old car, do you really need to fix X in this manner since this is not a safety issue..”).

So it came down to who was most aligned with my interests, and what kind of marketplace serves my interests in the bigger picture. The independents do not have a “captured market” of warranty customers to bring in revenue, so they’ve got to serve your interests in ways that the dealers don’t, and thereby perform a much needed balance of options.

What’s interesting about the notion of “right to repair” is how such questions and issues pervade many sectors of the marketplace – we’re definitely not unique with this in the ILS space. And so we have our own “aftermarket” marketplace for discovery layer alternatives: with open source SOLR/Lucene derivatives, proprietary products like Endeca and many others which can help us “repair” or otherwise enhance the discovery part(s) of our ILS.

Next week’s Code4Lib 2008 conference will see an important update on the DLF ILS Discovery Interface Task Force API recommendation by Emily Lynema and Terry Reese. Keep an eye out for that report, especially if you’re in the process of selecting a new ILS (or reviewing your current one). It’s a good step towards protecting and enhancing your ILS investment, ensuring you have the necessary code/protocols in place to “repair” your ILS so that it could better integrate with vendor independent discovery systems.

The single source vendor should no longer be the only “repair shop” in town. You can find a copy of the draft report at the project home page wiki.