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The evolving library automation business environment: implications of the Ameritech developments

Computers in libraries [September 1994]


Copyright (c) 1994 Meckler

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Abstract: On Jun 22, 1994, it was made public that NOTIS Systems and Dynix had merged to form Ameritech Library Services. The automation systems that will be developed by Ameritech are discussed.

By far the biggest story at the American Library Association's 1994 annual conference in Miami, Florida, concerned developments with NOTIS and Dynix. Announcements were made concerning the organization of the companies involved and the automation systems that will be developed.

Organizational Shake-up

Just prior to ALA, on June 22, information was made public that NOTIS Systems and Dynix would further consolidate under the direction of Paul Sybrowski. These two companies recently merged to form Ameritech Library Services. Ameritech purchased NOTIS Systems, Inc. in 1991 and Dynix in 1992, but until now it has allowed them to operate with relative independence from each other. As the two companies now merge, Jane Burke, president of NOTIS Systems exits while Paul Sybrowski, formerly president of Dynix, takes the helm as president of Ameritech Library Services. The NOTIS operation in Evanston, Illinois, will remain as the part of the Ameritech Library Systems that supports academic libraries. NOTIS vice presidents Mary Beth Ward and John Coleman continue to hold their positions within the new organization.

The sunset of NOTIS Horizon

At the 1994 ALA midwinter conference, NOTIS Systems announced the appearance of Horizon, their new automated library system designed from the ground up on client/server technology. Horizon was conceived especially for the large academic libraries that NOTIS traditionally serves, but it was seen as a system that could be scaled to smaller systems as well.

The development of NOTIS Horizon was abruptly terminated as of June 22. Dynix Marquis, also built on client/server principles, will become the focus of development within the new organization for academic libraries. Marquis, originally designed for corporate libraries, will be enhanced with many of the features that were slated to be included in Horizon. NOTIS staff formerly working on Horizon will now direct their efforts to producing the academic version of the Marquis client/server product, which Ameritech Library Systems expects to deliver about the second quarter of 1995. Further confusing the situation, Ameritech indicates it will market the academic version of Marquis under the Horizon name.

Although NOTIS Systems has previously announced that it would maintain the IBM mainframe-based Library Management System (LMS) only until the year 2000, it now maintains that it will support this system indefinitely. NOTIS will continue to develop and enhance this product as long as there is a sufficient customer base.

The products of Ameritech Library Services will be offered according to library type. NOTIS, as the academic branch of the company, will continue to support the mainframe-based LMS and will develop, market, and eventually support the academic version of the client/server product. Dynix will continue to focus on public, special, and school libraries. Public libraries will be offered the Unix host-based classic Dynix product as well as Marquis. Dynix will market Marquis to special libraries, and Dynix Scholar will target the K-12 school library market.

Such are the basic facts of this latest episode in the evolution of the library automation business. As I formulate and express my opinions, I am careful to balance many concerns. As part of an institution that has been a longtime customer of NOTIS, and one that planned to implement Horizon, I have developed a basically favorable rapport with this company, though tempered with a candid, critical perspective. My bias has generally leaned toward NOTIS, not against it. Another part of my professional life involves thinking and writing about the world of library technology. I strive to see individual events and developments in the larger perspective.

With my prejudices and biases out in the open, I must express my concern about this turn of events.

Trend toward fewer automation systems

The consolidation of Dynix and NOTIS into Ameritech Library Services stands as but one example in a larger movement in the industry toward fewer automation companies and fewer choices in automation systems. I am concerned about the trend toward fewer library automation systems in the hands of even fewer automation vendors. It bothers me that the locus of control for the development of library automation software rests increasingly with large corporate interests.

A tension between conflicting interests seems to be surfacing. On one side I see librarians embracing the view that technology serves as a tool to further the ideals of their profession: the uncensored dissemination of information to the widest possible audience. On the other side, I see vendors motivated by financial interest: sheer corporate survival, profitability, increased market share, an expanded customer base. As I observe the library technology industry, I worry that the corporate developments may not be in sync with the long-term interests of libraries.

Out of the corporate struggle in the Ameritech group, one--if not two--library automation systems has fallen by the wayside. The not-yet-completed Horizon system was abruptly--and in my opinion--prematurely abandoned. The mainframe-based NOTIS LMS will surely not enjoy any future sales. No library today is likely to purchase a mainframe-based system. Though the Dynix products may be enhanced to accommodate the large academic libraries traditionally served by NOTIS, with the demise of the Horizon product, there are clearly fewer choices now than there would have been otherwise.

Look at Data Research for another aspect of the library marketplace trend. This company now controls both the INLEX and MultiLIS systems in addition to its original product line. Will these systems continue development and enhancement, or will their customer base be urged to migrate toward DRA's flagship products? The acquisition of CLSI by Geac also comes to mind. Though Geac continues to market the LIBS 100 plus system in addition to its primary product Advance, will this effort be sustained?

Libraries are losing more control of how library automation systems are developed. A smaller number of larger corporate interests is gaining control of more library systems. Without doubt, the library automation business is becoming a much more commercial enterprise. An increasing portion of library automation dollars ultimately goes toward subsidizing the various vendors' expanding budgets for marketing and advertising. With the rise in these types of expenditures, fewer resources remain for development and support.

Why am I concerned with the way that the library automation business is shaping up? Isn't this simply characteristic of the larger corporate environment? Novell and Microsoft seem to gobble up increasingly larger numbers of competitors and their products. We also see fewer, but more powerful, corporate interests winning the day.

My concern with this environment is that it leaves the libraries as consumers of automation products in a less powerful position in relation to the providers of automation technology. It is an environment that allows abrupt changes to be made in the marketplace as the result of business decisions made by large corporate entities. We have learned the hard way that these decisions may be at the expense of the libraries involved. It is an environment where the number of automation systems will likely decrease even further. It is an environment where start-up companies with new products are unlikely to be successful.

I'm not suggesting that there is anything that can or should be done to change the situation. The library automation vendors are doing as they must to survive in a very competitive business. But libraries must stay aware of the prevailing business climate and make their automation decisions accordingly. In my view, this awareness means a higher degree of skepticism toward the claims and motivations of automation vendors. As the vendors consolidate and as system choices diminish, libraries must weigh their options all the more carefully.

View Citation
Publication Year:1994
Type of Material:Article
Language English
Published in: Computers in libraries
Publication Info:Volume 14 Number 8
Issue:September 1994
Company: NOTIS Systems, Inc.
Ameritech Library Services
Products: Horizon
NOTIS Horizon
Subject: Library automation -- business perspectives
Record Number:1247
Last Update:2012-12-29 14:06:47
Date Created:0000-00-00 00:00:00