Friday, December 22. 2006
Sirsi Corporation merged with Dynix Corporation in June 2005. Now SirsiDynix has announced that Vista Equity Partners is investing in their company.
Let's take a look at Vista's investment philosophy:
We invest in companies that uniquely leverage technology to deliver best-of-class products or services.
I wonder if Vista confused "most market share" with "best-of-class" in their analysis. Given SirsiDynix's two flagship library systems, Unicorn and Horizon, it seems unlikely that they're talking about Unicorn here. True, you could say that Unicorn has "leveraged" decades-old proprietary technology, but it is Horizon that seems to be getting the real facelift these days based on modern technologies like Lucene.
Our investment philosophy is to enable good businesses to achieve their full potential. This starts by selecting well positioned companies with attractive market dynamics, aligning the interests of management with those of shareholders, and reducing unnecessary distractions.
Hmm - "enable good businesses to achieve their full potential". Well, at least Vista recognizes that SirsiDynix could be doing better. But wait: "attractive market dynamics" suggests that Vista sees SirsiDynix as holding the most market share in a relatively small market with institutions that are seen as having deep pockets (gee, look at all the books those libraries buy and electronic resources to which they subscribe--they can afford a 10% hike in support fees per year!) and a reluctance to face the pain of migrating to a different software platform. In short, SirsiDynix's customers are ripe for the picking. And, quite possibly, Vista sees opportunity to acquire a few more customers from shakier library products like Voyager. At least, those customers who have not already decided to join forces with an open-source solution like Evergreen.
"Aligning the interests of management with those of shareholders" suggests that SirsiDynix management hasn't been doing a good job to date of delivering profit and growth to their shareholders. Well, you can increase profit by offering a leading product that enables you to grow your market share -- or you can crank up the margin on your existing products by increasing prices and cutting overhead... overhead like customer service people, or developers. Now, it seems that SirsiDynix isn't a publicly traded company, so it doesn't really have shareholders at the moment. I can't imagine that Vista would be trying to prep SirsiDynix for an IPO -- there just isn't enough potential for growth to justify shareholder interest in this company -- so I'm going with "plump up the profit margin in preparation for a takeover". I'm basing this largely on the last bullet in the last category of Vista's investment philosophy (from Who we fund):
While our portfolio companies need not fit a specific profile, many of our prospective investments have some common characteristics including:
The most pertinent characteristics here are probably "recurring revenue business model" (the revenue from annual support fees are certainly attractive), "favorable customer characteristics" (due to our service focus, most libraries are pretty conservative about foisting a new search interface on our users and therefore unwilling to turn to a different product simply because the fees our vendor charges will increase), and "potential for high margins" (read: charge what the market will bear, just short of extortion).
You heard it here first: expect lots of news from SirsiDynix in 2007. I'm predicting more service fees (100% confidence), increased annual support fees (100% confidence), and the beginning of the end of Unicorn with an announcement that Horizon is the strategic product for new development efforts going forward (75% confidence). I'll go out on a limb and say that a merger or acquisition of SirsiDynix in 2007 is unlikely (33% confidence), but after proving their new business strategy and the nice spikes on their revenue and profit charts, I'll say that it's quite likely in 2008 (80% confidence).
Now, if I had the deep pockets of an equity firm, I would be investing in the Evergreen team; there's a core organization with low overhead (4 developers!), a proven product, and amazing potential for growth in the library market. But alas, I'll just have to cheer them on from the sidelines
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Interesting how many "Anonymous Coward" postings there are at the discussion of the Evergreen project on Slashdot today:
Any chance some of that is your work, Dan?
Heh! While I did read the Slashdot article last night, I didn't post any comments to it until this morning. Something about wanting to spend time with family -- a.k.a. Lynn finally started playing Heroes of Might and Magic V and I wanted to hang out with her as she went into battle. I had to post comments this morning, though, as the level of cluelessness on display was way above normal for even Slashdot standards. Oh yes, and I'm horrified by your accusation! I don't think I've posted anything as Anonymous Coward since, like, 1999 or something. Merry Christmas -- may Santa put a nice OSS library system in your family's stockings!
Nice translation of corporate bs, Dan. There has definitely been a shift in focus away from development and the help desk since the Dynix acquisition, and nothing I've seen makes me think Sirsi is going to change that. Add venture capital, and I can only conclude that my beloved libraries better get out the lube.
When a company looses their focus, or shifts it from customers to money, they open up the field for the next thing. Gee, wonder what that might be (hint: probably not anything from San Francisco).
Here is the first of two posts. This went to the Open-ILS discussion list a couple days ago. OBTW, sorry for the run on, but how do you get LF's in the text?
"Evergreen was made in the US, whereas Koha was made in (I believe) Zimbabwe."
I think you mean New Zealand . Its not impossible that some great FOSS was developed in Zimbabwe, but given the economic and political climate of that country the last 20 years, unfortunately its unlikely.
A way that Koha and Evergreen are a like is that both lack serials control "modules" (for lack of a better word). I think Koha has some acquisitions functionality though. Its not clear that either product has an adhoc report writer, either. None of this is good or bad, just a matter of the designer's choice to meet some customer need. Its difficult to imagine acq and/or serials products that would work in a big consortium like PINES...too many political entities, with too many different, disparate ways of handling money.
Lack of these products (acq, serials and adhoc reporting) might make Koha and/or Evergreen, and smaller players like Emilda and OpenBiblio, a tougher sell in an enterprise environment. Georgia PINES had a very particular problem they were trying to solve, and commercial vendors didn't have a product (or sufficient interest in, or incentive to create a product) that would meet the very particular needs of a large, state-wide consortia. That doesn't mean all commercial products are crap. It also doesn't mean commercial products can't be replaced by open source products, even those with (comparatively speaking) with less or different functionality (in a very specific sense).
I think the energy and interest in the market is more towards things like portals (in the strict sense - meaning JSR 168/JSR 268-compliance and support for WSRP, and in a broader, behavioral sense - meaning a starting place os some sort), digital libraries, electronic resource management, open URL link/resolvers and federated searching. I'm not saying acq & serials are unimportant, but there's no sense in having a functionality complete ILS by 1976, 1986 or 1996 standards if the needs in 2006 (and later) have completely changed. What use is a perfect serials control system if no one uses print any more (ask your local health science librarian about this sometime).
Additionally, with the collapse of the ILS marketplace, and the merger of remaining vendors, I look for innovative thinking on places like this list, the Code4lib gang, Dan Chudnov's podcasts, the folks who built Evergreen, anyone doing R & D (funded and supported or not) in library technologies, anybody hacking commercial ILS products, places like that. I don't look to libraries at large or the remaining vendors for innovation (though I do check around to make sure I haven't missed anything).
What would be REALLY cool is if one or more of the existing ILS vendors took one of their products open-source. There are reasons why this won't happen, of course. No one has penciled such a move out to see if it would be profitable. Some commercial products are themselves based on commercial parts & pieces which are NOT FOSS. Replacing a commercial text search engine with, say, Lucene, in a commercial ILS is a non-trivial task and may not be cost-effective (and yes, I know Koha recently added IndexData's search engine, but alas there is no serials control in Koha - yet), but I digress....
A final thought: the Catch-22 in further use of FOSS products to replace commercial ILS's goes something like this: no body will scrap their commercial ILS until FOSS products are at least equal in functionality to the commercial product. But until somebody (actually somebodies) leap, and pay for the required development to get things like acq, serials and/or an adhoc report writer, some critical functionality will always be missing. Unless somebody volunteers to do it, or it becomes their job to do it. Sorry 'bout that.
My 2 cents worth.
PS - I just saw the post on the Open ILS blog that the University of Windsor is looking into an enterprise, academic accounting package and Evergreen. I'm interested into how that work fits into thinking about:
- Serials Control
- Ad-hoc reporting
- Digital libraries
- Electronic resource management
- Open URL/link resolvers
- Federated searching
- and everyone's favorite gripe: documentation & training
A final thought: markets abhors a vacuum. My strong sense is there is a groundswell of dis-satisfaction with the current, surviving product offerings from the current, surviving vendors. To those vendors reading this list I strongly suggest you get busy or get passed by.
Sorry about the formatting thing, Mark. I turned off the NL2BR conversion that this blog software used to automatically do "for" me about a year ago because it was messing up the formatting of my posts; I turned it back on today and was pleasantly surprised to find out that I was able to limit the conversion to just comments. Everyone wins!
Thanks for the comments. I too am being pried away from the keyboard but hope to get back to you in the next day or two
Here's the second of two posts and, again, sorry the for rotten formatting. This went to an internal discussion list, but there are no state-secrets here, just my own, poor speculation.
My past experience with things like this is that certain financial and organizational decisions are held fairly close to the vest by management. The last thing a manager in any organization wants - for-profit, non-profit - is to scare people. What do people want? Freedom AND to be included in major decisions. What scares people? Uncertainty. People who are scared by uncertainty vote with their feet - they decide not to participate. When push comes to shove, "scary" and uncertainty are bigger motivators than freedom and inclusion. That's just human nature.
A race can start where both customers and staff can bail out. Once those types of bleeding start they are hard to stop, and they feed off each other. Staff bail and customers may say "Gee, I can't get the service I'm used to, so lets look at other products." Customers bail and staff say "Gee, why should I push this rock up hill anymore - I'm not getting paid any more, and the work has gotten harder, with no relief in sight." An internal dynamic can start between developers and support people, too, where if a programmer leaves, and takes a lot of historic knowledge of a product with them, support folks get demoralized, 'cause the only person who can fix long-standing problems just quit. Conversely, if support folks leave, other staff may be pressed in to service they didn't sign on for. So they are de-motivated and start to look for work.
Then there's management, or perhaps I should say "leaders with managerial skill." A leader has got some handle on the following:
Evaluation (in industry you'd evaluate by the numbers, on at-least a quarterly basis, and annually).
Into this mix I'd put "resource allocation," maybe between Planning and Management. Assigning resources to the plan, dates and dollar amounts - both expenses and income - to dates - begins to give you some idea of what you need to do to make money, and how much money you need to achieve a specific milestone, milestone-by-milestone. Total those numbers up by quarter and year and you begin to get some sense of grose & net income. Of course once all this hits real people in the real world, it all goes to hell. The first casuality of warfare is The Plan....
I look for business people who have their eyes on the ball DAILY. They know exactly where they are going. They have a very good idea of how to get there. They have plans A, B, C, D and all the way to Z. They are not too open about all this - competitive market and all. They know how to impart a feeling of confidence to customers and staff with a feeling of ease and competence. They are open about mistakes and publically rectify them. I've never met anyone perfectly like this. Lord knows its not me!
After 9 years in industry I try to take people at their word; I keep my ears open and my mouth shut (well, most of the time). As for any conspiracy theory, most people I've met are not smart enough or dumb enough to engage in a decent conspiracy. As for the truth of a situation, its usually right in front of us, is it not? Its an open secret that the ILS marketplace has collapsed. The market has decided that there were too many vendors and too many products. Vendor consolidation has proceeded apace; product consolidation is about to proceed apace. So what's going to happen? Beats me. I think about this stuff daily, if not hourly , and I've been a student of the ILS market since 1986. My educated guess is something like this:
III - Will continue to flog Millenium and add functionality to it. Yeah, there's a certain measure of arrognance to Innovative, and I've always understood they run a body shop in Emmeryville, which is why I never wanted to work for them. But they are an arrogant body-shop which seems to delivery some semblance of working product on time, and they make money.
The Ex Libris Group - they have two similar product lines in Aleph 500 and Voyager. Only one will survive. I don't know which one.
SirsiDynix - the company has several aging products (the dregs of DRA Classic and the Dynix ILS, maybe bits and pieces of MultiLIS. Certainly no Inlex/3000 sites left (may its memory be a blessing to us) to contend with. There's also three enterprise products - Horizon 8, Cornithian and Unicorn, and a host of add-on products. I'll bet you a beer at SuperConference that somebody has penciled out income-changes-over-time for each product, and has rough idea of how long each product will remain profitable. Once a product costs more to support than the revenue it brings in, it does nobody any favors to keep an old product around.
Most places I worked went out of their way to keep old products around long past the "expiration date" and for good reason: uncertainty drives customers away, and who needs to give revenue to the competition? This was more of a problem when the ILS market was bigger, but with so few players now, revenue pressure - pressure a library can use to put pressure on their vendor to do or not do something, pressure against migration to another enterprise ILS system, pressure on a vendor to suffer a certain amount of customer loss or work hard to prevent it becomes tougher to parse. Why? Migrating from one enterprise ILS to another is an expensive, time-consuming process - I'd guess $1 million and 2 years for libraries of a certain size. I'm not saying such migrations are impossible, only that they are a Great Big Deal. I've been through these things on both sides of the library/vendor "divide." They are no longer fun. Would I NEVER do it? I can't say - that's not my decision. I can say I take a long, hard, cold jaundiced look at the ILS market every single day to see what my options are, and my options are fewer with each successive corporate merger.
What about FOSS products? Well, its still a product, and the folks who create them, as altruistic as they appear to be, are not entirely full of the milk of human kindness. Software is a tool, a tool that solves a problem. The most widely used FOSS offerings in the ILS world - Koha and Evergreen - are not functionality complete compared to "mature" products. There's a lot of ferment in the market place re/FOSS products, especially in the digital library, archive and respository niche. Turning that into something that solves a problem without daily doses of do-it-yourself brain surgery is not easy. In 1986 there might have been as many as 20 ILS vendors. Now there are 3 in North America. I have personal experience with three of those now-defunct companies. Most of the dead ones died because they couldn't negotiate the shoals of "no serials, acq, adhoc report writer (insert your favorite missing functioality here)" on one side, and "relentless market change on the other" - with "failure to execute" somewhere in the middle. But I digress. The fact is that Koha and Evergreen occupy very small, very specific niches in the ILS market. Do those products solve problems and work? It appears so. Do they work well enough to so solve MY problem? It appears not at the moment.
Weighing all this, if I were a CEO, I'd say its not necessarily a bad thing to have more money in the bank. Even if its someone elses money. Even if I'm borrowing it and have to pay it back someday. Like a venture capital firm. I'd rather have money (or access to money) and not need it than need money (or access to money) and not have it. So perhaps doing business with Vista Equity Partners is like the credit card in my sock drawer that I Promise Never to Use (heh, heh).
In the end, those who know ain't takin' and those who are talking (or typing, like me) don't know. My wife just said she's going to throw dynamite over to couch to get off it it, and my hands off the keyboard.
As 2007 comes to a close I'd say "Lets all take a deep breath and relax." Everybody's got a role to play. Vendors have a role. Customers have a role. Products have a role. Some things change. Some things - doing a good job for our customers, representing our employers well, being fair & kind to each other - don't change. Maybe somebody will drop a bomb shell at ALA Midwinter and/or the SuperConference. Maybe not. In either case, lets have a beer at the bar, not get too excited, and keep our eyes on whatever ball is ours to focus on.
My 2 cents worth.
Just a quick follow-up on "Migrating from one enterprise ILS to another"...as the "Great Big Deal.."
There is truth in that observation, but there's an important nuance to this discussion that is constantly overlooked, and that is the question of how much this "Big Deal" is a "Big Deal" because we're stuck in a deeply proprietary marketplace?
The fact that not one of the vendors yet supports a fully (or even partially) modular, open architecture is enough for me to suggest that more of us need to plan to drop SirsiDynix, leave Endeavor/ExLibris, or get out of III as fast as we can.
Migration Pain is The Big Excuse for not taking responsibility for the marketplace mess that we have in the Big 3. I bet, for example, that a migration from an Evergreen system to Koha, or a Koha system to Evergreen is about 25 percent (or less!) of the cost to migrate between any of the Big Three. An therein lies the problem (and possible solution with the caveats you mention) to The Big Excuse.
We keep pointing to this problem ("the Big Deal") as a barrier to change, when in fact it ought to be The Reason for Change
It's kind of like someone has their hands around your throat and we complain about the pain of reaching up to loosen the grip on our throat!! Of course it's painful to reach up, but it's better than this slow judgment-impairing asphyxia we're experiencing now...
One additional comment re: the comparison of costs b/w Big 3 proprietary migration versus an OSS migration is the fact that with open systems, the need for complete migration (and the source of the Big Pain) is potentially significantly reduced since there wouldn't be this all or none bet on a single system.
In the hypothetical example of a need to migrate from a Koha to Evergreen (or vice versa with any current or future OSS ILS), this scenario would be mitigated by the fact that you would actually have options to migrate or incorporate innovative pieces from anywhere in OSS land into your ILS.
So the Big Pain dynamics can be reduced to a more manageable series of desirable, exciting and more willing R&D cycles, rather than the single track "bet on one horse" vendor stream we have now.
The private equity companies want a quick return on their investment and probably hope that libraries can be sold discovery tools and other add on modules, or migrated to a single favored ILS (as the others are phased out) in time to build up profits for their inevitable cash-out.
But that could leave us with weaker vendors and fewer choices at the next wave of challenges. Bad for vendors and bad for libraries.
What the industry needs is for some vendors to embrace an open source ILS in the same way Novell has embraced Linux, plugging holes in functionality (with GPL'd code), selling support services and migrating their customer bases from proprietary products.
This way the expense of developing state-of-the-art software could be shared between various vendors and also those users that are able.
Thanks for all of your information, I noticed this blog because Library Journal quoted your worry(increasing service fees ), I also talk about it in my blog
Happy New Year
Vista is the worst thing to have ever happened to SirsiDynix.
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