From its inception, the Polaris integrated library system from Polaris Library Systems has been based on Microsoft Windows technology, including both server components as well as the staff interfaces. Its PowerPAC provides a Web-based online catalog for library patrons. At the Polaris User Group held in Portland, OR on October 9, 2013, the company announced that it has begun the development of a new product, called LEAP, which provides a Web-based set of interfaces for the staff functions of Polaris. The product fits the trend in the library automation, as well as the broader IT sector, to deliver software functionality through browser-based interfaces rather than rely on client software installed on local computers.
Once completed, Polaris will offer LEAP as an additional interface option for libraries using the Polaris ILS. The Windowsbased staff clients will continue to be supported and developed. LEAP will interact with the server component of Polaris, including both local on-premises installations and those hosted by Polaris.
Polaris anticipates beginning beta testing the initial modules of LEAP in the first quarter of 2014, with a general release of the product in the by mid-year.
LEAP does not aim to replicate the Polaris Windows clients. Rather, Polars will revisit workflows that may be tied to the desktop clients and consider more elegant alternatives in a Web-based design.
This Web-interface approach avoids much of the technical work in installing and updating client software on desktop computers. For libraries with a large number of staff workstations, moving to Web-based applications can simplify the work of the systems librarians or IT technicians. Web interfaces also result in more flexibility in the devices used to access the system.
Applications can be accessed by any system capable of running a modern browseró tablets and other mobile devices as well as any type of personal computer. For Windows-based products such as Polaris, moving to browser-based interfaces makes them easy to use on Apple computers, which continue to rise in popularity among businesses as well as consumers. From a technology perspective, LEAP operates at the presentation layer, interacting with the Polaris server, which provides the business logic and database components. LEAP is being created using HTML5, which supports functions contributing to a rich interface, and it communicates with the Polaris server via an encrypted HTTP/S data stream.
The implementation of LEAP will involve some new development on the server component of Polaris. Creating this new family of interfaces provides the opportunity to enhance the Polaris APIs and expose a more comprehensive representation of the functionality of the application. LEAP's operation will be entirely based on APIs and not on proprietary mechanisms within the Polaris application. According to Polaris CEO Bill Schickling, the creation of LEAP will result in adjusting the Polaris software to enforce a strict division between the business application and presentation layer functions. The client-server architecture took advantage of the computational capabilities of the desktop clients, including some tasks such as authentication and error handling. Now the product makes a shift to a more pure services-oriented architecture, including the need to deliver some tasks previously implemented in client software to services delivered through the APIs.
The initial components of LEAP will focus on front-line services, including circulation and other tasks that lend themselves to be performed through mobile devices. List-driven services, such as items requested for holds, and other pick-lists for retrieving items from the stacks, are among those seen as especially convenient to be deployed through a portable browser-based application. The specific pricing for LEAP has not yet been fixed.
Libraries currently using Polaris will pay an incremental license fee to receive LEAP in addition to the Windows-based clients. Polaris indicates that it may offer incentives for libraries interested in becoming early adopters.
As it creates this new Web-based product, Polaris has engaged an external firm with deep expertise in user interface design. Rounded (roundedco.com), also based in Syracuse, NY, provided user experience design and guidance to deliver the functionality currently embedded in the Windows-based staff clients through a modern browser-based interface. The development of LEAP has also sparked changes in the way the Polaris produces software. The company has adopted agile methodologies, which involve a more incremental approach, addressing small units of functionality that can be accomplished in short intervals of work called sprints. Polaris has adopted a specific agile framework called Scrum (https:// www.scrum.org), which is widely adopted in many software development firms. Polaris recently hired Mark Eskandar as its Director of Product Management, bringing extensive experience in agile development.
LEAP, in combination with the company's server hosting options, will also provide the company with the capacity to deliver a pure Web-based software-as-a-service solution. With this configuration, libraries would avoid the need to install and maintain the Polaris software on local servers or workstation clients. Polaris, like most companies in the library automation industry, sees increasing interest in hosted services. Roughly one fourth of their current installations are hosted in through their virtual private cloud.
Polaris offers both a dedicated virtual private cloud, where it hosts a server on behalf of the library, providing command line and SQL access to the same extent that would be possible for a local installation. Polaris also offers a shared virtual private cloud arrangement, where the library's instance resides on a shared server, with data and collections partitioned. The shared virtual private cloud, consistent with multi-tenant SaaS, does allow customer access to the command line of the operating system or direct SQL access to the database, but channels access to data and programmatic functionality through the APIs.
The announcement of LEAP represents an important step for Polaris. Its Windows-based automation system has proven itself in the market and has seen strong momentum in the US public library arena, winning a high proportion of the ILS procurements in this arena. As libraries increasingly expect Webbased products, LEAP gives the company yet another key asset in its suite of offerings.