All products have a life cycle, and with computer software products this cycle is even more pronounced. In the last thirty years we have seen Microsoft platforms change from DOS to Windows 95, 2000, XP, 7 and now Windows 10. This is just as true for library management systems. Some vendors achieve the transition from one platform to another while others do not.
So why would you buy new library software? What should you look for in a library management system? Does longevity tell us that the vendor is adaptable? If a vendor has been around for thirty years, it can indicate that the vendor has managed to keep up with new platforms. But what is actually happening behind the scenes?
A system that has been around for thirty-or-so years may have a legacy data structure that is constantly adjusted and tweaked to take on new requirements. The result is something that is not streamlined and which has grown topsy turvy, but is somehow ‘made to work’. Upgrades can be complex and come at increasingly infrequent intervals.
Systems that have been around for a long time can be like tankers – ‘difficult to turn around’.
So why do some procurement managers and librarians hold off from choosing a system that’s relatively new to market?
People often find reassurance in knowing that a system has been around for a long time, and knowing someone else who has it. They feel this is the ‘safer’ choice. But is it? Will such a product actually be near the end of its life cycle and will it need replacing sooner? Will it make the transition to the next software platform? Will it outgrow their requirements sooner? Will there be problems with it?
In a product life cycle, such purchasers are known as the ‘late majority’ or even ‘laggards’. So what are the advantages of being the opposite – an ‘early adopter’ or ‘innovator’?
By adopting a system that’s new to market, the purchaser can rest assured that their choice will last them longer. In the long term they will achieve greater return on investment. New library systems are built from the ground up and don’t suffer from messy legacy data structures, making maintenance more streamlined and less complex. This in turn lowers costs for the purchasers. The library can easily apply upgrades themselves – or, increasingly, have all of their upgrades be automated for them as part of a SaaS (Software as a Service) subscription.
New systems have been designed for current requirements and can take advantage of the latest techniques. Early library systems by their nature tended to be technology-centred. Newer systems offer a more personal user- or human-centred approach. Bailey Solutions applies the ‘usability’ concept of clear and streamlined design to its products, helping the user to move between the functions with as few clicks as possible. This reduces frustration among library administrators, lowers training overheads and shortens queues at check-out desks.
Moreover, because of the tendency for some purchasers to be wary of new products, vendors will introduce discounts to attract sufficient numbers of ‘innovators’ to buy the product. This in turn helps build up the vendor’s market share and, consequently, credibility. There is a clear financial advantage for an innovator in buying the product at such introductory prices. They will pay less for the system and earn the undying loyalty of the vendor.
Purchasers need to have confidence that they are buying the right system for them. Take courage in your own ability to choose a system that is right for you even if no-one else you know has it. Ask to trial the system and put it through its paces, but above all else, don’t buy a system because everyone else has it. You may live to regret following the crowd. You can invest less to gain more – a new system at an introductory price with user-centred navigation, lower training and maintenance overheads, and which will outlast the old fossilised systems and prove a good investment in the long term.