Consider choosing an automated library system based on the post-installation support the vendor will provide. You can evaluate the support by calling existing customers and by determining the customer support ratio, that is, the ratio of support staff to the number of installations.
To calculate the customer support ratio, divide the number of installations by the number of support staff. These figures are available from the vendors or by consulting the annual industry summary issues of Library Systems Newsletter. (See February/March and April 2000 issues.) Vendors differ greatly in the customer support ratio from one to another, and many vendors' support ratios are slipping. The vendors of multiuser, multifunction automated library systems using UNIX and other open operating systems had an average customer support ratio of 1:15 in 1999, which slipped from 1:9 in 1998.
The following table summarizes the major vendors' 1999 data (1998 data in parentheses):
|Vendor||Ratio of Support|
Several vendors have ratios of 1:5 to 1:10-all good. Don't give differences in ratios among vendors that fall within this range much weight because those ratios can reflect the size or sophistication of the customer base. Large sites may demand more time than the average account, but sophisticated sites may take less time than the average account. Customers with aging systems also tend to demand more time. The mix of customers affects a vendor's ratio.
While CARL's ratio of 1:1 is excellent, it reflects the unique composition of the customer base, which is almost all large libraries and consortia.
A vendor with a ratio poorer than 1:10 may not be able to be as responsive as one with a ratio better than that. To augment the statistical data, make calls to existing customers. Investigate vendors with a ratio poorer than 1:20 with special care. How can a support staff responsible for two or more times as many customers adequately serve customers? But don't assume anything: An ISCI survey of 102 libraries did not establish a consistent correlation between customer support ratio and the customer satisfaction level. Among the exceptions to the pattern was a vendor with a seemingly poor ratio, but it has sold software only to some clients, so those clients don't call the vendor for hardware problems.
When calling an existing customer ask if the library has upgraded its hardware platform in the last three years and has loaded the latest release of the software. Unhappy customers often contribute to their own unhappiness by not keeping up with new releases.
If at least one of the first five customers called rates the vendor's support as poor or fair, make additional calls. Consider two or more unhappy customers out of 10 a warning signal.
Make at least 10 calls to existing customers when the ratio is greater than 1:10. Again, do not assume that the responses will be disturbing; they may well be reassuring.
The customer support ratios for vendors that sell PC- and Mac-based systems to smaller libraries, especially school and special libraries, are different from those of the previous type of vendors. Follett had a ratio of 1:875 at the end of 1999; Companion had one of 1:437; Sagebrush (including ita newly acquired Winnebago) had one of 1:3t3 and SIRS had one of 1:2 45. Only Brodart at 1:16 had a ratio comparable to that of the vendors that sell systems using UNIX or another multiuser operating system.