November 29, 2023

III’s New CEO Calls for Greater Collaboration

Just under 1,000 library professionals gathered in San Francisco from April 24-26 eager and curious to learn about the latest product news from Innovative Interfaces and also to hear the company’s new leadership articulate the firm’s direction after a year of upheaval.

The 21st conference of the Innovative Users Group (IUG) was the first for CEO Kim Massana, who took over last August following the company’s March 2012 purchase by private equity firms Huntsman Gay Global Capital and JMI Equity and the departure of longtime executives such as Neil Block and Jerry Kline.

Without deprecating the company’s past, Massana sent a clear message that the culture of III is shifting toward greater accountability and client focus, and he also said the company is moving away from its black box reputation and embracing, as a corporate imperative, greater openness and collaboration.

“Historically, Innovative was a much more closed system. We had not been good in dealing with third parties and partnerships and we wanted to change that significantly,” Massana said. “Going forward we want to be the technology partner of libraries, and if you want to be a technology partner in this day and age you can’t be a closed box.”

The ethos of competing situationally but also allowing that III software is not complete unto itself and the company must partner as needed was much in evidence in San Francisco. Among some of the more talked about items were:

the rollout later this year of the first wave of RESTful application programming interfaces (APIs) for Sierra, the company’s library services platform;
a new collaboration with OverDrive announced at the conference that follows upon other major partnerships with EBSCO and 3M. The OverDrive integration will allow for the checkout of ebooks from within Millennium or Sierra without jumping to the OverDrive interface;
the June rollout of Decision Center, the company’s new data-driven collection management tool that will compete with collectionHQ’s product;
a wave of hiring backed by the new investors, which has already increased the staff by 20 so far this year and will add another 40 by the end of the year (mostly in development and support), according to Massana, pushing the company past 400 employees;
the creation of five “library relations managers” who serve as customer advocates at III;
the complete integration of SkyRiver Technology Solutions into III along with the termination of SkyRiver’s suit against OCLC on March 4.

Massana said that the company’s new backers are investing a lot of money in the company, and he sees an opportunity to gain market share in places like China, Africa, the Middle East, and elsewhere. The company recently opened an office in Dublin, which will help the company’s business in Europe, he said. North America represents about 75 to 80 percent of the III client base now. SirsiDynix, one of III’s main competitors, reported significant international growth last year.

“Now that we have the backing of two very strong investors who are here for the long term funding is not an issue,” Massana said. “What is an issue is finding good business opportunities.”

The SkyRiver decision

The SkyRiver decision was the sharpest break to date with III’s past corporate strategy.

“This was a litigation process that at best was going to take a lot of years to go anywhere, and it was going to be a pretty expensive process,” Massana said. “And I don’t think the library community liked the idea that we were settling our differences in a court battle.”

Kim 200x300 IIIs New CEO Calls for Greater Collaboration

Kim Massana took over as Innovative’s CEO in August 2012.

Instead, Massana said the company is going to put all of its focus and money on improving the SkyRiver product. “One thing I want to make very clear is that we are very, very, very committed to SkyRiver and that we are going to compete head to head with OCLC.”

Massana said that integrating SkyRiver into III streamlines the organization and places the support and reach of III’s development and sales team behind it.

“We believe very strongly that we have an attractive alternative and what we want to do with all this is get traction faster and at a bigger scale,” Massana said. “Our sales force can remind clients every time they interact with them of our capability in the bibliographic utility space, which is something we were not doing effectively in the past.”

Also, company officials said developers can now more easily leverage SkyRiver’s bibliographic database to complement other III products, such as eMARC Express, which can provide full MARC coverage for ebooks in a day or two of acquisition.

“We are looking to make that part of our larger ebook strategy,” said John McCullough, the vice president for product strategy. McCullough was one of about 90 III employees in attendance at the conference, which drew 973 attendees from 42 states and 17 countries as well as 28 exhibitors.

APIs and Partnerships

Massana said the API rollout is also a complete shift in philosophy for the company, and it indicates how III is more interested now in collaborating with a range of third parties.

“You will see a significant number of announcements over the next few months on partnerships and our API rollout is a big part of that,’ he said. “This is a big change from the way we use to deal with third parties.”

Aaron Choate, the head of technology integration services at University of Texas at Austin Libraries, is in the middle of a Sierra implementation.

“We are most interested in what they are doing with the APIs,” said Choate, adding that since the change in leadership the company has become more agile and responsive to the larger ecosystem.

The API announcement helped swing the decision to migrate to Sierra, Choate said.

“We really want to see that succeed as a model for Sierra. Being more open is very important to us and we’ll be watching it to make sure it happens. And if it doesn’t happen it’s the kind of thing that would make you make other decisions in the future,” he said.

EBSCO and OverDrive

In the case of  EBSCO and OverDrive, Massana said both were very complementary businesses to III with the competitive areas only being marginal. In the past, he said, the company focused too much on the margins and not the bigger picture.

“We want to be much more engaged into the community. We don’t have to provide all the services but we want to make sure we talk to everybody the libraries want us to talk with,” Massana said. .

“We feel very proud of the partnership with OverDrive. We think there is a good relationship between the two companies, but we think that we can go much deeper, and we will follow the lead of libraries on how far they want us to go with that partnership.”

In the case of the EBSCO partnership, Massana said there were different philosophies at work with EBSCO concentrating on content and III on library automation with the two meeting each other in the discovery space (EBSCO Discovery Service [EDS] versus Encore Synergy).

“As long as we have clear rules of engagement and we respect each other and we understand when we are going to cooperate and when we compete and how we do it we’re fine,” said Massana, who commutes to the company’s headquarters in Emeryville from his home in Los Angeles. “We’re becoming much more comfortable in these kind of situations. As companies our goals are very well aligned and we feel a lot of trust. They have been a great partner.”

Under the OverDrive deal (and similar to what the company already does with 3M), III can consume OverDrive’s checkout and hold API. Checkouts and holds will happen completely in the local library interface, which is one of the main demands of the Readers First Initiative.

In addition, III will expose certain APIs to some of OverDrive’s collection development services so that a staff user evaluating purchasing ebooks will have a real-time call to the print inventory for the title.

mccullough 200x300 IIIs New CEO Calls for Greater Collaboration

John McCullough, the vice president for product strategy, said the company needs to consume and expose APIs.

McCullough, the vice president for product strategy, said that even though Sierra has clear native strengths, such as RDA integration or various outreach features, bringing APIs online into things like holds and item status and other functions was the defining characteristic of “Sierra 2.0.”

“This represents a real shift from our black box reputation, our fortress-like corporate reputation,” McCullough said. “The APIs are free and included, and the library has the ability to open up the system to discovery partners they are working with, including discovery layers competing with III’s. That’s the paradigm shift of Sierra.”

If the library likes the Encore interface then the agreement allows III to consume the EDS API and present that fully integrated with the local catalog results. Or, if the library prefers, it can go directly to EDS and III will expose some patron record functions (e.g., outstanding print holds and checkouts).

“Wherever the user’s eyeballs are we want their full experience to travel with them,” McCullough said. “That means consuming APIs and that means exposing APIs,” and then letting products compete on their own merits.

The situational approach extends so far that EBSCO’s sales force is training with III’s.

Sierra has been gaining traction, according to III officials, and already has 400 commitments with 200 live, the lion’s share being Millennium customers migrating. Company officials said that even though the goal is to move the client base to Sierra that Millennium will be maintained and migration is a customer’s choice.

Hope College in Holland, MI, also went live with Sierra recently, and Brian Yost, the head of technical services and systems, was at IUG to learn about the company’s new ownership (“I’m taking a wait and see approach”) as well as the APIs.

“The APIs will be nice if it actually ever happens,” Yost said. “They’ve been saying that for two years and we’re still waiting to see the real benefits of Sierra being an open system with open APIs that can interact with other systems.”

Yost also said he was interested in the rollout of Decision Center, but again he was a bit wary.

“We have purchased certain Innovative products and then they weren’t supported very well so I’m a little hesitant to buy a new Innovative product right now, and so I’m definitely looking at other vendor options as well.”

Massana said increasing the company’s metabolism depends in part on being more focused on such comments from customers, which even went so far at the conference to having a bulletin board where attendees could post comments and III officials would respond.

“We need to be a little bit more accountable and better at doing all the things we say we are going to do and doing them right the first time,” said Massana, a native of Spain who sheepishly admitted that during his job interview he did not realize that the company’s chairman, Steve Young, was far more famous as a U.S. football player than as an investor.

Decision Center rollout

Decision Center will replace Reporter, and the company will start providing a free upgrade to Reporter clients once the system rolls out. In general, it is a subscription based on the size of the library.

“We’re pretty excited about Decision Center and we think in the long term it represents not just the idea of collection management but the idea of taking analytics to the next level in terms of how the library views itself and operates,” said Brad Jung, the vice president for product management and one of the company’s recent hires along with Amanda Schukle, the product manager for Decision Center.

“Libraries today have to do a lot more accounting for why they exist than they used to,” Jung said. “Our ability to give libraries the ability to talk about what they are doing as well as analyze what they are doing we think is critically important.”

Decision Center’s module for ebook analysis is waiting on the integration of ebook vendors’ circulation information into Sierra and Millennium, said Schukle, a former librarian. CollectionHQ announced last week the release of its ebook module which is included in the cost of a subscription.

CollectionHQ targets just the public market, but Decision Center, like III as a whole, wants to have a significant footprint in both the public and academic sectors.

“I’m glad to see more of a focus on data-driven decision making,” said Emily Clasper, the system operations and training manager at the Suffolk Cooperative Library System (SCLS), a New York consortium that provides Reporter to its 49 member libraries.  “I’d rather see that than assumptions and anecdotes or incomplete data driving decisions. I’m excited to see these tools being put into place.”

Schukle said that the idea of using “business intelligence” in libraries is “shockingly new.” Decision Center’s supply and demand analysis, for example, can provide public libraries looking to buy more titles of extremely popular titles a better tool for bringing down wait time than the traditional hold-item ratio, which often results in buying too many copies.

“The ratio is really a guess. It’s not concrete,” Schukle said. “Because we have information about how long each title actually spends in circulation versus on the hold shelf versus in transit, we can predict how long people are currently waiting and then tell you how many copies to buy so they can wait a period of time determined by the library.”

Clasper, a 2012 LJ Mover & Shaker, said there may be more work necessary for the product to work at a consortial level where members need the consortial analysis as well as analysis at the member level.

“Members usually rely on consortium for these kind of tools, and they really need both levels, it’s not an either/or situation,” Clasper said, adding that III has historically been very responsive to making products more consortial friendly even if it does not always occur during the first iteration.

Schukle said consortiums add layers of complexity that the tool, nevertheless, will handle.

“For each of the tools you can set a subset of locations so if they are making determinations for just their location they can choose to filter by just that location,” Schukle said. In addition, the system offers breakdowns by postal codes, and III is looking at greater granularity based on census tracts.

For academics, the product would likely be most useful as a deselection tool at this point, Schukle said, at least until more electronic resource analysis has been incorporated.

Jane Costanza, of Trinity University in San Antonio, TX, who said she comes to almost every IUG, saw the appeal for public libraries but was unsure whether the product could serve the academic side as well.

“I can’t quite tell if it’s ready yet for academic libraries,” Costanza said. “It’s very interesting to design something like that for both public and academic libraries, which is what III is trying to do, but that seems pretty hard to do so we’ll see if they can do it.”

On the academic side, Decision Center would likely have to compete with products like the assessment module that Serials Solution is planning to release later this year as part of its Intota platform.

A Positive Step

John Sterbenz, an IUG member since 1995 and an associate librarian and the manager for technical services and library automation at the University of Michigan School of Business, said III was heading in the right direction.

“We haven’t signed a purchase agreement yet for Sierra, but the fact that innovative is developing these APIs and is working to get them out to the library community I think is a very positive step forward for Innovative as a company,” Sterbenz said.

“I definitely think it is a shift for the company toward more openness compared to the really closed mechanisms of their original Innovative Innopac product and even Millennium which had a little bit more openness but not quite what people were really hoping for way back when it was announced in the late ‘90s. This really is a big change forward and a big positive change forward for the company.”

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Michael Kelley About Michael Kelley

Michael Kelley is the former Editor-in-Chief, Library Journal.