Innovative Interfaces, known for its evolutionary approach of its product development strategy, has begun laying the groundwork for the next phase of its product family, introducing a new multitenant platform that will gradually be phased into parts of its product family. This platform, which it calls the Open Library Stack, provides interoperability among new patron-facing interfaces to Innovative's existing applications. Increasingly, it will be used to deliver the applications themselves. This new platform can be seen as the latest example of Innovative's stepwise moves into new technology architectures, a pattern repeated many times over the company's history. A look at the history of the successive generations of Innovative's products places this into perspective.
The development strategy of Innovative has been one of evolution since the earliest days of the company. This approach has continued even through the changes in management and ownership. Innovative has introduced each new product in a way that retains existing functionality and introduces new technology infrastructure and adapts to current architectures. We can also see a steady progression from entirely closed and self-contained products to increasingly open architectures.
The original product created in 1978 by founder Jerry Kline and Steve Silberstein was a “black box” interface to connect circulation systems such as that from CLSI to OCLC's cataloging service. This product filled an important functional need for libraries to avoid re-creating cataloging records that were available on OCLC. Also, it was an important step in integrating modules of functionality that were previously delivered as separate stand-alone systems.
Four years later Innovative introduced INNOVACQ System 100 as a stand-alone acquisitions module running on a mini-computer. Its display terminals provided a text-based interface for library staff to operate the software. An optional serials control module was added in 1985. INNOPAC, introduced in 1987, included a terminal-based online public access catalog to a more complete set of features for technical services, with online circulation capabilities added two years later. INNOPAC had evolved into one of the earliest fullfeatured integrated library systems and was based on the host-terminal computing model prevalent at that time. INNReach was introduced a few years later, based on the development done for the OhioLINK statewide network of university libraries.
The host-terminal model of computing on which INNOPAC was based eventually gave way to the era of clientserver computers. Display terminals could display text limited to 80 characters by 24 characters and they depended on mainframe or mini-computer hosts which many organizations were phasing out by the early 1990s. Client-server computing takes advantage of the desktop computers, with processing power rivaling many central computer systems and with monitors capable of supporting graphical interfaces. Operating systems such as Windows from Microsoft and Apple's Macintosh popularized a generation of interfaces allegedly more intuitive than the text menus and command codes of the previous era.
The context of the broader technology shift to clientserver computing imposed an expectation in the realm of library automation systems. Sirsi Corporation (now Sirsi- Dynix) launched its new WorkFlows clients for its integrated library system, written directly for Windows. Voyager was a new ILS initially developed as a client-server application with Windows-based clients. Dozens of products were either developed in this architecture or were re-engineered from earlier systems. Though most relied on Microsoft Windows for their graphical clients, others, especially those used in K-12 schools, were written for Apple computers.
The era of client-server computing eventually waned and was supplanted by services-oriented architecture, web-based computing, and cloud computing technologies. In many areas of business and consumer software, the need for software installed on individual computers gave way to services accessed entirely through a web browser. The server components related to functionality and data management were deployed on software created for a highly distributed environment.
Innovative made its initial foray into a new generation of technology through Sierra, which introduced a new architecture surrounding the functional logic of the Millennium codebase. The functional capabilities of the software had increased through constant development. Consistent with its evolutionary strategy, Innovative encapsulated existing programming around new technical layers. Sierra included new layers of database infrastructure, replacing Oracle and its proprietary transactional database with the open source PostgreSQL and MySQL. New service layers were added to enable the Sierra server to communicate via APIs (application programming interfaces) with new software clients or external systems. Staff functionality was deployed through a new comprehensive Sierra Java client, replacing the modular Millennium clients.
Sierra represents a significant modernization of Innovative's flagship product. While Millennium was essentially a closed system, Sierra follows a services-oriented architecture, designed to more easily participate in a library's overall environment through modern APIs. Its public-facing interfaces did not change substantially, including WebPac PRO and Encore. These products have themselves continued to evolve. With Sierra, Innovative took some steps forward, but also retained some aspects of its client-server flavor. Sierra continued in an architecture oriented toward deployment on institutional servers, though increasingly hosted by Innovative. Libraries or consortia continue to install the Sierra server components individually, in contrast to products such as OCLC's WorldShare Management Services or Ex Libris Alma, where all organizations share the same codebase deployed on a global multi-tenant platform. Sierra continues to use a Java-based graphical staff client, which must be installed on the computers of library staff members, rather than using web-based interfaces.
Innovative's evolutionary approach is not without its benefits. Libraries moving from Millennium to Sierra have relatively lightweight migration tasks with little need to retrain staff members. Libraries migrating from Millennium to Sierra bear a significantly lower cost relative to purchasing a new product from another provider. The functionality and workflows that Innovative has developed over three decades has been continually enhanced, providing libraries with a very rich and sophisticated automation environment.
The initial release of Sierra also did not completely fulfill the transition to the modern technology architectures of multi-tenant, web-native platforms. Though making substantial progress, Sierra retained installable staff workstation clients rather than web-based interfaces and retained the concept of server-oriented software that must be constantly patched and updated for each installation. This approach appeals to some libraries that may not yet be ready take the full plunge into cloud computing.
Innovative's evolutionary approach to functionality brings both advantages and disadvantages. Carrying forward functionality and workflows through multiple generations of software can result in very detailed and complete capabilities. But this conservative approach can also reinforce workflows that may no longer align with changing library priorities. Developing entirety of a product anew allows for engineering completely new workflows based on a fresh analysis or an ideal view of how libraries can manage and provide access to their collections in the current era. But by carrying forward its functionality through multiple generations of technology, each new product is launched with mature functionality. Innovative has seen an extremely strong response in sales for Sierra, especially from its existing Millennium customers, but also with new customers, demonstrating resonance with its evolutionary approach.
In this issue of Smart Libraries Newsletter we take this historic view of Innovative's product evolution into the present. The company has recently announced its Open Library Stack as a new cloud platform and an initial set of products based on its services.