The June 2005 consolidation of Sirsi Corporation and Dynix created SirsiDynix, which stands as the largest company in the library-automation industry. Although many aspects of the company have been integrated, until recently the company sailed two flagship library-automation systems: Horizon and Unicorn. The company’s mid-March announcement hoists a single flagship—marking a significant change in course—based on the company's Unicorn platform.
Mapping the Route
SirsiDynix entered a new phase of its corporate history when San Francisco-based Vista Equity Partners, a private-equity firm that manages about a $1 billion in assets, acquired it. Announced on December 27, 2006, the transaction closed on January 17, 2007.
As the company makes the transition from ownership by a relatively hands-off venture-capital fund to a more hands-on private-equity firm, it is reasonable to expect some adjustments in the company’s strategic direction and in its leadership.
The change in leadership took place on February 16, 2007—just days prior to the company’s main user conference in Colorado Springs—when Patrick Sommers abruptly resigned his president/CEO position. His resignation was effective immediately. Other executives to leave the company include Chief Marketing Officer Angus Caroll; Chief Operating Officer Don McCall; and CFO Dean McCausland.
Beginning with his January 2001 appointment, Sommers led the company through a series of mergers, acquiring competitors DRA and Dynix, ultimately amassing a small arsenal of automation products (DRA Classic, MultiLIS, Taos, Dynix Classic, and Horizon) and increasing the size of the company five-fold.
As of press time (mid-March), the CEO post remains vacant, with Vista principal Martin Taylor temporarily in charge.
All Roads Lead to Rome
A mere 55 days after Vista obtained ownership of the company, SirsiDynix reported it would consolidate development efforts into a single ILS platform based on Unicorn. That system will be branded with a new name. Currently, this new system is identified via the code name of “Rome,” and it will be aggressively enhanced to include some of the best features from the Horizon 8.0 development effort.
The initial release of Rome, slated for the fourth quarter 2007, will essentially be the upcoming Unicorn GL3.2, with some specific features added from Horizon 8.0. Additional features and functionality from Horizon will be integrated into Rome in future releases.
Ongoing development on Horizon has ceased. Horizon 7.4 will be its terminal version. The long anticipated Horizon 8.0 system (also marketed under the Corinthian brand) will not go forward beyond the 10 beta test sites now using the software in production. SirsiDynix will continue to support Horizon 7.x indefinitely, allowing those libraries to make the transition to Rome on their individual timetables.
Libraries operating one of the SirsiDynix legacy systems—including Dynix Classic, DRA Classic, INLEX/3000, and MultiLIS—will be offered a migration path to Rome. Those libraries with contracts already in place to move to Horizon will instead be offered Rome. Libraries running the Unicorn ILS will be least affected by this change, since the initial version of Rome is essentially Unicorn Version GL3.2.
Although Horizon 8.0 was scheduled for production release in February 2007, the company determined that another 12–18 months of development would be required before it could be considered a viable product. The results from the beta testing and initial production deployment of Horizon revealed that the system was not yet stable and reliable. Unicorn, in contrast, has proven to be a mature system that offers libraries a very reliable automation product. Unicorn was initially introduced in 1982 and has been gradually enhanced and developed over the course of a 25-year period. Though the internal architecture of Unicorn is less upto-date than Horizon, it has established a solid track record as a feature-rich and solid system.
Unicorn vs. Horizon
When Vista Equity Partners took the helm at SirsiDynix, it was not a far reach of the imagination to infer the company adopting a strategy that would focus on a single flagship ILS. Two separate ILS development efforts, particularly in an era in which the real focus of library automation lies in front-end interfaces and products that deal with the management of electronic content—are difficult to justify. The consolidation into a single ILS platform was an inevitable business decision.
Unicorn was introduced in 1982, originally developed by Sirsi Corporation at Georgia Tech University in Atlanta. The system has been incrementally enhanced throughout the subsequent 25 years. The system’s internal architecture has evolved, but it still reflects its original design. The system has been one of the industry survivors and its development has persevered through the many changes in technology that have transpired during the last quarter century: host-terminal, client/server, and n-tier application architecture.
Although the server architecture has remained stable, Unicorn’s client software used for staff to access the system has been replaced multiple times, starting with a text-only telnet client, to the Windows-based InfoVIEW clients, to WorkFlows, originally written in C and later reimplemented in Java. Patron access to the system has evolved from the original telnet OPAC, to WebCat (1995), to iBistro/ iLink (2000), and more recently to the Enterprise Portal Solution and the Rooms and SchoolRooms interfaces.
Horizon’s development is based on the Marquis system, launched by Dynix Systems in 1991 through a spin-off company of the same name. Marquis was the one of the first graphical client/server library-automation systems, and it originally had strong presence in the niche of large special libraries; for example, the Microsoft corporate library was its second customer.
Prior to its acquisition by Sirsi, Dynix had begun a massive effort to redevelop Horizon. Horizon had been incrementally enhanced through version 7.4. Horizon 8.0 would be an entirely new system, based on a completely re-engineered architecture and current-day technologies. At the Midwinter ALA 2007 Meeting, SirsiDynix officials slated Horizon 8.0 for general availability release by early March 2007 and reported its completion was the company’s number-one priority. Horizon and Unicorn have roughly the same size of customer base. Although sales of both systems have declined somewhat in recent years, Horizon has outsold Unicorn for the last four years.
Impact on Libraries
The business decision to discontinue Horizon has an enormous impact on libraries. The 1,583 libraries currently running Unicorn can expect a smooth migration, with only a minor course correction to accommodate the changes expected as the system evolves into Rome. The 1,597 libraries running Horizon face an inevitable migration. Though SirsiDynix indicates that these systems will be supported long into the future, they are clear that no future enhancement and development will take place.
About 700 libraries currently run Dynix Classic. In the last few years, the majority of Dynix users were choosing to migrate to Horizon, while only a handful selected Unicorn. Contrary to this trend, the remaining Dynix libraries will be enticed to now move to the Unicorn-based Rome platform.
Libraries that have recently implemented Horizon may be the most disrupted. Changing to a new automation system consumes enormous resources—migrating data, training staff, configuring software, etc. It’s not a process that librarians and library staff want to go through very often, and newly minted Horizon sites now face the daunting task of migrating once again.
Given SirsiDynix’s interest in executing a single-platform product strategy, other options might have had an even greater impact on libraries. If the company had gone forward with Horizon 8.0 as its sole path, both Unicorn and Horizon 7.x libraries would have faced migrations.
This set of transitions demonstrates the realities of product development in the library-automation industry. The decisions that impact libraries the most aren’t always worked out in the marketplace or in the softwaredevelopment arena, but instead are made in the corporate boardroom.