Innovative Interfaces Inc. (III) today announced that it has acquired Polaris Library Systems, bringing together two of the leading providers of library automation technology. The combined companies will be led by III CEO Kim Massana, with former Polaris President and CEO William Schickling joining Innovative as VP, Public Library Products. Several other Polaris executives will also join Innovative’s management team, including VP of Sales Scott McCausland and VP of Customer Operations Jodi Bellinger. Polaris’s headquarters in Syracuse, NY will be retained as a center for operations, joining III’s offices in Emeryville, CA; Dublin, Ireland; and Noida, India. Other terms of the sale were not disclosed, but the companies described the acquisition as a strategic fit.
In a statement, Massana said III would be “fully committed to supporting the customers of both companies.” III SVP of Global Marketing Gene Shimshock confirmed with LJ that this would involve continued development support for the Polaris ILS.
“Our investors are investing for growth,” Shimshock said. “Kim [Massana] has been very clear about our growth strategy…. we’re looking for opportunities to bring the best products to market.”
John Blyberg, Assistant Director for Innovation and User Experience at the Darien Library in Connecticut, who has worked with both Polaris and III’s Millennium ILS, expressed surprise at the announcement, but noted that the two companies’ product lines could prove to be complementary.
“This move will allow Innovative to rethink how it structures its product line, and how that will align with its existing customers, both public libraries and academic libraries,” Blyberg said. “If I could look into the future, I’d bet that they are going to focus on those two branches and say ‘here, on the Millennium side, we’re going to adapt this to the unique needs of academic libraries…’ and then, on the Polaris side, they’ll continue to focus on addressing the needs of public libraries. There are some similarities, but the two types of libraries diverge significantly. I think it’s interesting that a software company is acknowledging that in this way.”
Both companies also need to find a long-term way to address the emergence of next-generation library services platforms (LSP) such as Ex Libris’s Alma and OCLC’s WorldShare, noted Carl Grant, Associate Dean for Knowledge Services and the Chief Technology Officer at the University of Oklahoma Libraries. Grant notes that III’s current next-generation solution, the Sierra Services Platform, does offer enhanced functionality compared with Millennium, without requiring significant staff training or changes to workflow. But, unlike Alma and WorldShare, Sierra is built on legacy code, and does not have a true multi-tenant cloud architecture.
“Both of them really need to get a next-generation platform together and on the street,” Grant said. “Combining forces makes a lot of sense for them at this point in time.”
Grant and Blyberg both said they expect to see concerns arise among both customer bases, regarding specifics such as pricing, or intangibles such as corporate culture. However, Grant praised the direction in which Massana has taken III since joining the company in 2012, placing an emphasis on partnerships with other technology providers, such as EBSCO Discovery Service and the recent partnership with Bibliotheca. And, he noted that Polaris has long had a reputation for providing quality customer service under the guidance of Schickling.
“Any time [mergers of ILS providers] have happened, there is a tremendous amount of effort involved. [Librarians] know the focus has been broadened, which means it has been slowed down. So, both customer bases are going to be worried,” Grant said. “But Kim [Massana] is a smart man and he’s making smart moves in many ways…. If they can preserve the customer-oriented nature of Polaris as they merge it into Innovative… I think that would be a very positive thing for the company.”
For a FAQ from III which addresses some potential customer concerns, see infoDOCKET.com.