Innovative Interfaces Inc. will continue selling the Polaris integrated library system (ILS) to new customers and supporting Polaris as a product separate from the company’s Sierra Library Services Platform and Millennium ILS, Innovative CEO Kim Massana told LJ during an interview at the 22nd annual Innovative Users Group (IUG) meeting in Detroit last week. IUG’s more than 1,000 attendees this year included a contingent of dozens of Polaris users, who were greeted with a track of sessions and panels that addressed lingering questions regarding Innovative’s integration plans, updates on the Polaris ILS and the company’s LEAP staff client, and more, following the April 1 acquisition announcement.
“We want to run the [systems] in parallel for the long term,” Massana said. “We bought the company because we want to grow the base.”
Ultimately, the combined company plans to focus the majority of its development efforts on a single, cloud-based interface and suite of tools that will work with both Polaris and Sierra on the back end. This approach would draw on the strengths of both platforms, incorporating Polaris’ new tablet-friendly staff client LEAP for Sierra users, while offering Polaris users tighter integration with Innovative’s consortial resource sharing and collection development tool INN-Reach, for example.
Aside from presenting Innovative with an opportunity to grow through acquisition and bolster its presence within the public library sector, Polaris complemented Innovative in several ways, Massana said, singling out Polaris’ customer service and support capabilities for specific praise.
“That’s an area that they manage very, very well. And this is an area that we know that we need to improve,” he said.
Likewise, the Polaris team will benefit from Innovative’s sales and marketing operation, Massana said. The company plans to have staff for both systems stationed in its Emeryville, CA headquarters and in Polaris’ former headquarters in Syracuse, NY, enhancing support for Polaris on the West coast and support for Sierra and Millennium on the East coast.
On the development front, Sierra and Millennium are designed for UNIX operating environments, while Polaris is built with Microsoft technologies, which will enable the combined company to appeal to customers that need or prefer one type of system over another.
Otherwise, prior to the acquisition, the companies shared similar goals, Massana said. “We both want to do the same things—bring everything into the cloud, develop lots of apps, develop APIs [application programming interfaces]. The advantage now, by being together, is that we are both able to develop our roadmaps faster.”
Since taking the reins of Innovative in August 2012, Massana has focused on shedding the company’s “black box” reputation, which had involved limited partnerships with other technology vendors and tightly controlled access to the company’s software. In less than two years under Massana’s leadership, Innovative has announced high-level partnerships and deep integration efforts with vendors including OverDrive, EBSCO, and most recently, Bibliotheca.
The company’s new APIs represent the next step in Massana’s plan. Released on April 28, the first set allows other programs to access data from a Sierra catalog to generate custom reports or populate “recently added” titles lists on a website, for example. The company has said that this is just the first of a larger suite of APIs that will be released this year and beyond, enabling existing partners, smaller commercial developers, and librarians themselves to build new applications that interact with the Sierra system in previously restricted ways. Near term plans include APIs that will allow other programs to update the Sierra database and perform key circulation functions.
These goals are reflected in Innovative’s new slogan—“The Library is Open.” Massana said that Innovative’s redefined approach was borne of the recognition that it is simply no longer possible for one company to serve all of a modern library’s technology needs. High-level partnerships pair Innovative’s strengths with those of content and discovery providers such as OverDrive and EBSCO, or hardware providers like Bibliotheca. The APIs, meanwhile, will help foster third-party innovation on the company’s platform.
“The technology needs of libraries are changing, how users want to interact with the library,” Massana said. “What we need to do is find partners so that libraries can have that end-to-end solution, and that we can be somewhere in that process…. That’s why we have created this approach to openness. We think it doesn’t matter how big we are, we will not be able to provide [everything].”
On Friday morning, Sierra API product manager Steve Schoen hosted a town-hall style session discussing Innovative’s plans and seeking input from librarians regarding functionality that they would like new APIs to address. Suggestions included APIs that would facilitate integration with university learning management systems, or enable a library to update patron data from a university’s student information system.
During his discussion with LJ, Massana acknowledged that IUG attendees had expressed frustration regarding a recent announcement that developers and/or Innovative customers may be asked to pay fees for future APIs. The goal of this fee-based model would be to provide funding for additional, ongoing API development, making these efforts self-sustaining, Massana said, adding that the company’s leadership was taking this criticism into account as their plans developed.
“I know that this is something that we have to explain better, because there has been some reaction to the pricing,” he said. “We have to explain that it’s a win-win situation. The more they use it, and the more third parties pay into it, the more we can reinvest into this new technology.”