Continuing its expansion into the library software arena, OCLC recently announced its intent to acquire U.K.-based Fretwell-Downing Informatics (FDI) Group. A transaction to be processed through OCLC's major European division, OCLC PICA, this move to add FDI comes after OCLC PICA's takeover of Sisis Informationssysteme, a German-based ILS company. This event also takes place within the larger context of a robust consolidation phase within the library automation industry (as evidenced by this year's SirsiDynix merger).
Fretwell-Downing Informatics will continue to operate under its established name, though as a wholly owned for-profit subsidiary of OCLC PICA. Existing management and staff will remain in place. As part of OCLC, FDI gains access to a significant development and support infrastructure. FDI's customers in Benelux (Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxemburg) will especially benefit from closer proximity to OCLC PICA facilities.
FDI Group has established itself as one of the major suppliers of library technology in the U.K., Europe, and the U.S. The company's products include:
- OLIB, an integrated library system based on the Oracle relational database management system. The system has proven itself popular in the United Kingdom but never took hold in the U.S. At the end of 2004, there were about 160 installations of OLIB worldwide;
- ZPORTAL, the company's federated search, or metasearch, product launched in 2001. This software finds use in many academic libraries and consortia and was selected as the key technology for the Association of Research Libraries' “Scholars Portal” project. It is the basis for the U.K. National Library for Health single-search environment;
- VDX (Virtual Document eXchange) provides an interlibrary loan and resource-sharing environment that's been adopted by a number of large consortia. Unlike OLIB, VDX finds a strong customer base in North America. Ironically, VDX gained popularity in library consortia that wanted to reduce OCLC ILL by performing peer-to-peer resource sharing using the OSO ILL protocols. Now this product is owned by OCLC itself;
- OL2, the company's OpenURL-compliant link resolver; and CPORTAL provides an environment designed to support local governments providing information and services through the Web.
The company employs a total of seventy-five individuals, up three from year-end 2004, indicating some growth in staff. Headquartered in Sheffield, U.K., the company maintains offices in the United States and Australia.
U.K. businessman Professor Anthony Fretwell-Downing—who, beginning in 1979, established several other automation businesses (in the fields of hospitality and education)—founded Fretwell-Downing Informatics to develop software for libraries.
In 1989 Fretwell-Downing acquired a library automation system called, “The Lending Library.” That software needed considerable reworking to be commercially viable; it was rebuilt on top of the Oracle database management system and was transformed into the product “Oracle Libraries,” or OLIB. FDI was formally established as a business in 1992.
Robin Murray heads FDI as its CEO/president. Murray came to Fretwell-Downing in 1988 to lead the company's efforts in creating graphical information systems; shortly after his arrival at Fretwell, he was charged with producing OLIB. In 1992, he became FDI's Technical Manager, then he moved up to the company's Technical Director position in 1995. In 1999, Murray moved into the Managing Director post, and he was promoted to the company's helm in 2000.
Matt Goldner, executive VP of FDI through 2004, joined OCLC in October of 2000, and Goldner was recently named the Executive Director for Cooperative Collection Services.
Like many of the U.S. library automation companies, FDI has operated with support and direction from venture capital interests. In May 2002, FDI received a three-million-pound investment from the venture capital firm ISIS Capital plc, a subsidiary of Friends Ivory and Sime plc, which provided the VC firm with twenty-four percent interest/ownership in the company. Anthony Fretwell-Downing remained the majority owner, and other company executives owned minority stakes in the company.
OCLC PICA Background
Founded in 1966 through the Dutch university libraries and the Royal National Library, PICA is a large nonprofit cooperative of European libraries. In April 1999, OCLC gained a sixty-percent ownership of PICA, with forty percent retained by the PICA Foundation. Even under OCLC's majority ownership, OCLC PICA maintains its own, independent business strategies.
OCLC PICA is based in Leiden, the Netherlands, and the company maintains offices in Birmingham, United Kingdom; Oberhaching, Germany; and in Paris, France; it employs a workforce of about one hundred.
The key activity of the organization involves metadata management, providing an extensive shared cataloging system of more than twenty million bibliographic records called “GGC.” OCLC PICA also distributes OCLC's services throughout Europe.
In addition to bibliographic services, PICA has long been involved with developing library automation software, offering both Central Library System (CBS) for union catalogs, and Local Library System (LBS), offering traditional ILS functionality. Recent annual revenues for the organization totaled about 17.5 million EUR.
An Earlier Phase of Library Automation
This isn't the first time that OCLC has been a player in the library automation game. In the 1980s, the organization operated a Local Systems Division that (in addition to other library automation software products) developed, marketed, and supported the library automation system LS/2000. In 1990, OCLC exited that sector by selling its library automation products to Ameritech Corp., one of the many antecedents to the current SirsiDynix company. From 1993 through July 1997, OCLC also owned Information Dimensions, which was a for-profit subsidiary. Information Dimensions developed the BASIS family of software products utilized for managing documents, software with common use in corporate libraries and information centers.
OCLC PICA's add-on of FDI falls well within the recent consolidation phase occurring within the library automation industry. Long a fragmented industry, the proverbial wheels of mergers-and-acquisitions now seem to be turning. The recent acquisitions of Dynix and DocuTek stand as the largest examples of this phase.
Keeping in mind this acquisition takes place through the European OCLC PICA cooperative, not OCLC proper, it does seem to reflect a revived interest in bringing in major library automation products into the OCLC fold. Unlike Sisis Informationssysteme, which was a small and lesser-known automation company, FDI stands as a larger presence in the library automation industry, with both a major library automation system and a suite of products for resource sharing, federated search, and linking.
At noted above, earlier this year (June 2005) OCLC PICA acquired Sisis Informationssysteme, a relatively small German company that offers the integrated library system SISIS-SunRise (which finds use in about 180 libraries, mostly located in Germany and Austria). Sisis Informationssysteme also produces the portal product, “SISIS Elektra.”
OCLC PICA itself brings the LBS Local Library System used in more than 60 installations, spanning 180 libraries, which are primarily in the Netherlands and Germany. By adding FDI to its portfolio, and with the 160 libraries running FDI's OLIB automation system, OCLC attains a significant competitive level, situating it to vie with some of the major library automation product vendors. With the FDI acquisition, the number of libraries running library automation systems under OCLC's control will total 480-plus. And when counting the number of libraries using the company's suite of resource sharing, union catalog, federated search, and linking products, that number of libraries using OCLC-related products grows even larger.
When I covered OCLC PICA's acquisition of Sisis Informationssysteme (Smart Libraries Newsletter 25, no. 9, Sept. 2005, p. 4), a few months ago, I suggested this development did not necessarily represent OCLC making a major move back into the ILS arena. But now that OCLC PICA has gone on to acquire a much larger automation company, the company makes apparent its desire to compete in the area of library software. With three library automation systems; a union catalog environment; one of the major federated search products; an OpenURL linking product; a community-information portal; and a peer-to-peer ILL system, OCLC now stands as one of the major library automation vendors. Its expansion into these areas represents a major development in the library automation industry and is one that the field should follow closely.