As I track developments in the library automation industry, I keep watch for the various mergers and acquisitions and other developments. I noted in my ALA wrap-up article for the September 2001 issue of Information Today that the WINGS Request Management System had been sold from its developer Pigasus Software, Inc. to Auto-Graphics, Inc, a veteran library automation company. The sale took place in June 2001. On October 8, 2001, Auto-Graphics announced that its involvement with WINGS had ended. In this month's column, I'll look deeper into this development, provide some background and perspective, and relay the current status of this product.
Interlibrary-Loan Automation Overview
As libraries increase their reliance on resource sharing, interlibrary loan and document delivery play critical roles. Unfortunately, one of the aspects of library automation that seems to have lagged behind others involves interlibrary loan. Other parts of library operations—circulation, cataloging, acquisitions and the like—have reaped the benefits of automation systems for many years. The work of an Interlibrary loan office is complex and labor-intensive, and very much in need of whatever efficiencies can be gained through technology. Integrated automation tools have emerged only recently for this important part of the library.
The basic tasks of interlibrary loan offices involve allowing the users of one library to borrow materials from another library. Interlibrary loan transactions are complicated by the fact that they involve multiple institutions, and do not work within a single library automation system as does a simple circulation transaction. An automated interlibrary loan system must deal with a complex workflow, where any given transaction involves communications with multiple external systems. Workflow patterns differ significantly for the lending of materials than for the borrowing of materials. Tracking and detailed record keeping are essential features.
The traditional approach to automating interlibrary loan has involved the use of centralized services such as OCLC, RLIN, DOCLINE or Auto-Graphics. Each of these services provide extremely large bibliographic databases with library holdings and include fairly automatic ways to route requests from borrowers to suppliers. While these large utilities offer a large degree of efficiency, they were initially self-contained, lacking the mechanisms for communicating with external systems.
The weak link in interlibrary loan automation has long been the lack of a standard communications protocol. Just as the Z39.50 protocol was developed for search and retrieval among different systems, the ISO 10160 and 10161 protocols emerged for the transmission of interlibrary loan requests among diverse systems. A suite of protocols and profiles were available by the mid to late 1990's, preparing the way for a new generation of interlibrary loan and resource sharing software.
Software began to emerge that not only automated the work of the interlibrary loan office in the library, but that streamlined the flow of information throughout the process. Such systems can transfer requests from the local interlibrary loan office to external suppliers without re-keying or otherwise duplicating effort. Taken a step farther, resource sharing systems can be developed that use the ISO protocols to form a peer-to-peer interlibrary loan network where libraries share materials with one another without the intervention of a centralized ILL utility such as OCLC or RLIN.
Pigasus Software, Inc.
One of the companies that became involved with the creation of interlibrary loan automation systems was Pigasus Software. The company was founded in 1997 and is based in St. Charles, MO, led by Candy Zemon and Art Zemon. The company's product, called the WINGS Request Management System, was an interlibrary loan automation system that automated many aspects of the ILL workflow and that included support for the ILL 10160/10161 protocols and the IPIG Profile for interoperability.
Pigasus created its products through both its own software development efforts and through technologies licensed from other companies. In May 1998, Pigasus Software and The Library Corporation (TLC) entered an alliance for the development of an interlibrary loan product. Pigasus Software licensed the ILL.Connect toolkit from TLC, thereby obtaining an ISO 10161 “engine” which could send and receive messages to other ILL applications. Pigasus released Version 1 of the WINGS System in June 1998.
Building on the initial product, Version 2 of WINGS was released in June 1999. This version included full ISO 10160/10161 and IPIG compliance and offered new features and better performance. This version relied on the ColdFusion Web application environment from Allaire Corporation to power parts of the system. The integration of ColdFusion resulted in a major improvement in the performance and flexibility of WINGS. This version also included the ability to check any Web-based online catalog to see if the library owns any given title and whether it is available for loan.
The WINGS software has been adopted by 18 institutions, representing over 40 libraries. The largest library using WINGS is UCLA, which selected WINGS as their document delivery request processing system in June 1998. Pfizer Central Research selected WINGS in March 1999. Arizona Health Sciences Library of the University of Arizona was the initial library to test WINGS in conjunction with the OCLC ILL system.
In addition to selling directly to libraries, Pigasus also engaged in partnerships with other companies to re-sell WINGS and integrate it into other products. In June 2000, Pigasus Software forged an agreement with VTLS, Inc. where that company would integrate WINGS into the Virtua integrated library system. In June 1998, Relais International licensed the Networker component of WINGS for use within its interlibrary loan and document delivery service.
Architecture of the WINGS Request Management System
WINGS is a client/server system operating on Windows NT or Windows 2000 Server. The application includes several layers and components:
User Interface. WINGS is a completely Web-based environment. Requests are submitted by the end-user through Web forms and all the tasks performed by ILL staff are accomplished through a Web interface. All the Web interfaces are constructed with ColdFusion.
Sentinel is a layer that stands between the user interface and the underlying database structures. This layer manages access to the data from the interface layer, ensuring its integrity. This layer is also implemented in ColdFusion.
Database. All information relating to requests are held in a structured database. WINGS supports either Oracle8i or Microsoft SQL Server. These are both powerful relational database systems that offer a high degree of data integrity features and that can sustain very high workloads.
Networker is the software component that operates as the ISO protocol engine for the system. It listens for incoming requests, delivers outgoing messages, and applies rules for routing and processing. Networker is based on the ILL.Connect toolkit developed by The Library Corporation and is written in the C++ programming language.
Ventriloquists are translators for communicating with proprietary systems that do not rely on the ISO protocols. Most of the translators available in WINGS are written in the Perl scripting language.
Company Background: Auto-Graphics.
Auto-Graphics is a public company traded under the symbol AUGR. The company was founded in 1950, beginning as a business that performed hot metal typesetting, but rapidly evolved as a company involved with technology. The company was an early adopter of computer technology in the publishing process, and became involved in database development and online services. The company currently has two main divisions, one devoted to Publishing Services and the other for Library Services.
Auto-Graphic's publishing interests include an XML/SGML-based editorial software system. The company offers services to convert and deliver information in a Web-based environment. The primary product for the publishing division is the Impact/CMS (Content Management System), designed to create, manage, and organize data in XML format. Impact/CMS uses either Oracle or Microsoft SQL Server as its underlying database. The company's Impact/WEB product is a software system for publishing information in an Impact/CMS system to the Web.
The Library Services Division of Auto-Graphics is a major supplier of software and services to libraries. Focusing especially on large library consortia, Auto-Graphics software is used by over 9000 libraries. The company has several statewide contracts, where it provides library automation services to the libraries throughout a state. Auto-Graphics has major contracts for Texas, Tennessee, Connecticut, Kansas, Oklahoma, and the Canadian province of British Columbia, as well as a number of regional library consortia. Auto-Graphics maintains a bibliographic database of over 4 million records.
The company's flagship product is its Impact/Online bibliographic database and interlibrary loan system. A new version, IOL2 was completed in late 2000, based on Microsoft Windows NT servers and Microsoft SQL Server relational database management system. The company also offers a Web-based Library automation system called VERSO by virtue of software purchased from Maxcess Library Systems. Auto-Graphics offers this system either in the ASP (Application Service Provider) model or as software the library operates locally.
In January 2000, Auto-Graphics signed an OEM agreement with Pigasus and introduced its Impact/ISO ILL product, a request management system that automates interlibrary loan, document delivery and resource sharing operations for a library. Requests are initiated from library users through a Web interface. Once submitted, users can track the progress of their request. Staff in the library's interlibrary loan department also use a Web interface to operate the software, as it automates the workflow of processing the lending and borrowing of materials from other libraries. The Impact/ISO ILL system uses the ISO 10160/10161 protocol as its communications method as it submits requests from the local user external suppliers that are also able to use this protocol. It can also use e-mail, fax, and printed forms for suppliers that do not support the ISO protocol. The Impact/OSO ILL product relies on technology licensed from Pigasus Software, Inc. The software licensed from Pigasus was the full WINGS Product.
Pigasus sells WINGS to Auto-Graphics
Pigasus agreed to sell the WINGS Request Management System to Auto-Graphics in June of 2001. The news of this sale became public about the time of the ALA Summer Meeting, and was one of the stories that I covered in my wrap-up of library automation news related to that conference. This development did not seem surprising to me. Pigasus was a small company and it made sense that it would seek additional resources to carry its product into the future.
The exact terms of the sale are not public at this time, but the following information was included in Auto-Graphic's June 2001 10Q report to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission:
“In June 2001, the Company purchased the rights to Wings, an Inter-Library Loan software program that was developed by Pigasus, Inc. Through this purchase the Company also acquired the existing customer contracts that Pigasus, Inc. had in conjunction with the software. Wings has been sold to existing customers of the Company over the last two years. In addition to continuing to sell Wings software to libraries as a stand-alone product, Wings will be integrated into the Company's existing IOL2 product line to allow the Company to offer both virtual and union database services to library consortia.”
The employees of Pigasus Software, Inc. became employees of Auto-Graphics as a result of this contract.
The deal unravels…
On October 4, 2001, five months after the sale, Auto-graphics terminated its agreement to purchase WINGS. Both Auto-Graphics and Pigasus have posted letters to their customers on their Web sites regarding this issue. There is an ongoing contractual dispute between the parties which is not yet resolved.
I spoke with Art Zemon, Vice President of Pigasus Software and Robert S. Cope, President and Chairman of the Board of Auto-Graphics concerning these events.
Auto-Graphics' basic position is that Pigasus Software misrepresented certain issues regarding the WINGS Request Management System is such a way that justifies the termination of the contract of sale. Auto-Graphics has initiated legal proceedings against Pigasus Software on this matter.
Auto-Graphics claims that contracts effective prior to May 2001 remain the responsibility of Pigasus Software, Inc. for ongoing support and training. Customers that purchased WINGS from Auto-Graphics will continue to receive support and training from Auto-Graphics but there were very few sales made during this period.
On October 3, 2001 Auto-Graphics terminated the employment of all the former Pigasus staff. Art Zemon and Candy Zemon were employed through the end of October. Eric Jung, Vice President for Operations at Auto-Graphics informed the Zemons that responsibility for technical support for WINGS has reverted to Pigasus Software. Pigasus Software, however, is now a company with no employees.
Auto-Graphics asserts that the dissolution of the sale of WINGS is independent of the OEM agreement where Auto-Graphics licensed components of WINGS for use in its Impact/ISO ILL product. That OEM agreement remains in effect. Even before Auto-Graphics purchased WINGS from Pigasus, they were the highest-volume licensor of the software by virtue of this OEM agreement.
Pigasus Software, on the other hand has great confidence that the WINGS Request Management System functions well and that the contract of sale remains in effect.
With the current state of discord between the companies, any observations made at this point are tentative. I want to stress that I'm not taking either company's side in the business dispute between Pigasus Software and Auto-Graphics. My aim is simply to provide an objective description of the events.
It does seem that there is little chance that WINGS will survive as a product. Auto-Graphics will carry the product forward only if the dispute with Pigasus Software can be settled. Otherwise the company has no intentions of supporting WINGS in the future. Pigasus Software no longer has the resources to sustain the product.
Given the relatively small number of libraries that have purchased the software, the impact on the overall library world will not be enormous. But the libraries that had purchased WINGS from Pigasus Software will face the uncertainty of running the system without support or the inconvenience of switching to another system.
As I noted in the beginning of this article, software development for Interlibrary Loan lags behind that for other aspects of library automation, and the choices in the marketplace are relatively few. Having one less to choose from is unfortunate.