Modernizing Library Automation: New Code and New Designs

Modern Library Automation

The BIALL (British & Irish Association of Law Librarians) conference in Bournemouth, UK brought together law librarians from across the world and the SLA (Special Libraries Association) meeting in Cleveland, Ohio, USA saw similar international attendance this month (June 2019). These gatherings are good platforms to introduce our Modernizing Software Agenda: a strategy to modernize and streamline library automation workflows across the entire Soutron Library application using completely new code and designs.

We road tested our message a month earlier, introducing it at Soutron User Group meetings in Oxford, UK and Dublin, Ireland. The strategy was enthusiastically welcomed and supported by existing users.


Why introduce a Modernizing Software Agenda?

In 2015 we looked at the library automation landscape. Little had changed in terms of competitive library automation systems from 2010, when we first launched our new software. The majority of systems that we compete with are populated with add on functions to an existing code base (programs). The development effort is solely about giving users fixes and small enhancements to existing programs. Essentially living off the back of old, legacy code.

Software gets bloated after several years, the code base is written using old technology and it’s more difficult to maintain. The result is that rather than helping staff perform tasks more efficiently, the software confuses and is difficult to learn.

Both our front-line team, who implement and support the application, and the development team felt that we could do more and do better. Client feedback suggested that the pressures to control content and costs with fewer staff were not abating.

Always Listening

We try to listen to and speak to clients every day. Significantly, our very own Travelling Librarian, Graham Partridge, saw first-hand the need for greater streamlining of workflows. Most of all, the simplification of the software is needed. Librarians and Archivists clearly tell us that they need to find new ways to process more data. We heard from Librarians using other systems that they invariably lose features from one release to another or they can’t upgrade because there are barriers.

We asked ourselves the question:

“Knowing what we know now, what would we do differently?”

We made the decision to build from the ground up, completely new software, not using any of the programs that we had built up over eight years. It was the only sensible way to achieve our ambitions to introduce greater efficiencies and introduce modern ways of processing data. A completely new user interface design taking full advantage of Microsoft’s latest SQL and programming technologies, HTML5 and new web browser technology. The result: more friendly and useable software, future proofed for the next 10-12 years.

The philosophy behind our software is very important to us and our clients. There are two strands. First, we release code to clients as soon as it is developed and tested so that productivity gains can be immediately received. Second, once a feature is in the system it remains in place and the upgrade does not affect the configuration settings that each client will have applied.

It was necessary, therefore, to combine the new designs and functionality with the existing system programs. This meant grafting old and new together until we had replaced all areas of the system. This would make the transition easier for clients and put the new, really good stuff, in their hands sooner, instead of the old way of waiting years before bringing out a completely new product and having users migrate to it.


Modern Library Software

In making this decision, it has meant we can bring much needed modernization sooner to corporate librarians. This is exemplified by:

  • simplified workflows
  • faster processing of data
  • less need for training
  • single form data management
  • total flexibility in design and layout
  • faster performance – search and retrieval and screen refresh
  • fewer keystrokes
  • 360-degree access to data
  • easier to maintain and enhance
  • easier to customize
  • easier to integrate

Soutron’s Modernizing Software Agenda brings benefits to the corporate library in terms of time, data accuracy and the ability to better serve their users and organizations.

The development process has involved existing users at every stage. Agile Development is a methodology that allows us to test assumptions. Where something is not quite right it’s reworked until it’s exactly right. This takes longer to deliver sometimes but the results are impressive and garner greater user acceptance. If it’s easier to learn it has to be easier to perform a process or workflow.

Our development team is very excited. They are using the latest technology (which all programmers like to be working on) and we can implement ideas we have had an eye on for years but could never before deliver in the old software. The speed of development and testing using new program development tools is a major factor. A modern development environment delivers reliable and robust functionality faster and makes it possible for multiple releases during the course of a year to put into production ideas of the moment. There have been three releases this year and we are only halfway through 2019.

Software Support

Our support team, who implement systems and support users, have found that training time is radically reduced and, with the help of a modern 360 design, everything is readily to hand. Daily tasks are just more efficient. Screen displays are more informative without being overloaded. Support is easier to provide and everyone benefits.

Our plans are to modernize every aspect of the system, including functions we perform in the background to deploy systems on servers and integrate with third-party systems. We still have a way to go but we are energized and heartened by the reaction from users and prospective clients alike to our modernizing agenda and ideas.

Everyone wants a better system and better ways to manage their daily tasks.

Continual improvement is in our DNA and in this our 30th year, we remain as committed and as motivated as ever to support our clients’ interests. If you would like to take a look at our new application today, request a demonstration online.

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