Highlights, lowlights and what next
Guest Blogger: Sharon Penfold, Bloomsbury LMS Project Manager (Project website: http://www.blms.ac.uk/)
Report from BIC’s Battle of the Library Systems, 28 November 2012
The House Motion: “Open source is about distributed innovation and will become the dominant way of producing software”
Over 40 delegates were presented with a well-paced set of cases for and against using open source software.
There were no surprises, and this wasn’t so much a battle as a mostly civilised debate. Overall, excellent points were made by all parties, and all appeared to have fair floorspace.
The open team was fundamentally higher education related; the proprietary team fundamentally public library. A more equal balance of academic and public, open source and proprietary will be needed to robustly explore the themes raised – but I suspect would add little new at a high level apart from equal representation.
As more of the content is covered elsewhere, I would just like to highlight a few more strategic aspects – and flag the question, what next?
Public libraries v Higher Education
An interesting division condensed during the ‘Battle’ – nothing to do with technology, everything to do with public library and council culture compared with that of higher education.
Public libraries were presented on the proprietary side as truly driven by risk avoidance and the legal safety net of Service Level Agreements and contracts.
A culture of innovation and responsiveness in higher education was the strongest theme on the open source front.
Does this imply a very simple market shift so that providers and suppliers most sensitive to public library drivers make the most of their market strengths there – and similarly for higher education?
Badges and solutions
A particularly constructive proprietary angle came from Jim Burton of Axiell, emphasising that the important decisions should be made based on the system doing what you want and meeting your needs – not on badges of open source or otherwise.
At the other end of the scale on the proprietary side was the illustrated limerick “William McGee and the car built for free”. This likened OSS to the result of a bunch of enthusiasts building a car, so ending up with a multi-coloured ad-hoc monstrosity.
Said limerick however did highlight an important point. Development of open source systems does require robust underpinnings to mitigate the risk that it traditionally brings.
However, where proprietary suppliers are concerned, the risk argument is a double edged sword.
Building their customer base purely on fear, uncertainty and doubt aligned with extreme risk mitigation is not a 21st century partnership way of working.
It’s certainly not a 21st century higher education way of working.
It’s even less about the driver that really matters in universities in the current climate – student experience.
Successful risk management is understanding the appetite of the organisation in the first place, and working within that strategic and operational context.
Simplistically, confusion reigns at present. Votes before and after the battle were significantly split between for, against and undecided. Many would have spoiled their ballot papers in their uncertainty. They are not remotely alone.
Constructive and balanced approaches to selecting fit for purpose solutions will be needed to support the organisations seeking next generation library technology. Proprietary or open source in that context is irrelevant.
For a wider viewpoint, recommended are:
Mick Fortune’s summing up: http://www.mickfortune.com/Wordpress/?p=963
Andrew Preater’s commentary: http://www.preater.com/2012/12/01/free-and-open-source-software-and-distributed-innovation/
Nick Dimant (PTFS)
Mark Hughes (Swansea)
David Parkes (Staffordshire)
Andrew Preater (Senate House)
Will Blackburn (Civica)
Jim Burton (Axiell)
Paula Keogh (Capita)
Anthony Whitford (Capita)
Brad Whittle (SirsiDynix)
Mick Fortune (consultant)
Karina Luke (BIC)
Martin Palmer (Essex County Council)