The big news this month centers on the long anticipated sale of SirsiDynix to new owners. The acquisition of SirsiDynix by ICV Partners brings to close a fairly dramatic chapter in the history of the library technology industry. When Vista Equity Partners acquired SirsiDynix in December of 2006 the company was still working its way through its merger. Both Dynix and Sirsi Corporation were large and complex companies with multiple products under their charge through their own development efforts and via previous acquisitions. Any of a variety of courses of action seemed possible.
Sirsi Corporation had acquired DRA, which had previously acquired MultiLIS and INLEX/3000. Sirsi's own Unicorn ILS, DRA Classic, MultiLIS, and INLEX/3000 were all actively used in libraries at that time. Dynix had developed its original Dynix ILS and Horizon, and was working toward the completion of a new product called Corinthian. DRA Classic, INLEX/3000, and Dynix Classic were based on older technologies that could no longer be supported and were gradually being phased out as those libraries migrated to newer products. It was less clear what to do with the two flagship ILS products of the two companies, Unicorn and Horizon or the new Corinthian product.
Vista Equity Partners wasted no time in establishing its plot line. Corinthian was doomed. The new ownership did not have confidence in its technical underpinnings and it would have meant new migrations for the entire customer base once it was ready for full deployment. Both Unicorn and Horizon had been well proven as stable products with rich functionality and each found use by similar numbers of libraries. Unicorn emerged as the foundation for the company's new flagship product, which was shortly branded as Symphony.
It's an understatement to say that this scenario was not well received by the library community. Unsurprisingly, many libraries using Horizon decided to move to other options. Despite their system emerging on top within SirsiDynix, some libraries using Unicorn likewise fled. The open source ILS movement was at that time just getting underway and the distrust of vendors fueled its flames. Commercial firms such as LibLime and Equinox Software benefited these libraries seeking open source ILS products that would not be tied to any single vendor. Polaris was a company that was particularly successful in attracting libraries moving out of the SirsiDynix fold. All of that is a familiar story by now, but it leaves out important context.
The movement of some libraries moving away from SirsiDynix must also be seen in through the perspective that the vast majority of libraries using its products stayed the course. While there was some painful leakage, most libraries using Dynix Classic, Horizon, MultiLIS, and DRA Classic ultimately moved to Symphony. I observe that libraries remain loyal to its current vendor even when it is less than pleased with its performance. Factors include the simplicity of sole-source procurements versus the much longer RFP process, financial incentives provided by the incumbent vendor, and a view that other vendors and products are not likely to perform substantially better. This “devil you know” attitude favors incumbent vendors.
Even during this difficult period, SirsiDynix continued to attract new library clients in respectable numbers, especially on the international front. While the growth of the company may have been below projections, I have no doubt that the company remained profitable. Vista's business integration strategy produced a company that was mostly centralized and operationally efficient.
SirsiDynix seems to have mostly weathered the storm. Its story has taken a more positive turn in recent years. In 2013 its sales performance topped the charts. Horizon lives on. The company now emphasizes that it will continue to support Horizon and that all new development and add-ons will work with both of its ILS products. While no new sales of Horizon are expected, other than libraries joining existing implementations, the flow of libraries moving away from Horizon has slowed and most of those are opting for Symphony. SirsiDynix has embarked on a development agenda that hits a lot of the right notes as far as a modern technology platform and addressing some of the pressing needs of libraries, especially in e-book management and access.
It seems to me that Vista's chapter of the SirsiDynix legacy finishes with a tone of optimism. The company is strong, with broad international reach, and has some interesting directions in product development. Its tarnished reputation seems to be recovering. The stage is now set for its next chapter, with few clues that reveal whether its course will continue mostly as set, or if there will be some more dramatic twists of plot.