Library Management Development in the Sunshine

Well what a great surprise to come back from holiday to find the sun still shining in Britain at the end of September! Even more pleasing to my eyes is the progress we have made developing new code for the Soutron system.

What does future-proof mean? Can it be a realistic goal for the development of software solutions?

When we started out creating the new Soutron Library Management system we had in mind a totally-web application, one that addressed all functions for a library service, and one that would not need to be replaced every few years. Instead one system maintained and kept up-to-date for at least 15 years.  In my own career we had replaced the library system four times in 12 years at one firm with all the associated costs and upheaval.

We knew that the performance of Internet Explorer would be a limiting factor and the available bandwidth was equally restrictive. IE Version 6 was in use by about 90% of all corporate clients at the time and this was the version we had to code against. The bandwidth that we had available was seriously restricted so the performance was always going to be less than the Windows systems we were replacing.  But we also had faith that:

  • browser technology would improve – it has
  • bandwidth would expand and be faster – it has
  • processors would be faster to process code – they have
  • servers and storage would be faster and more reliable – they are

We chose to stay with Microsoft technology where SQL Server database would be progressively developed too. And it has!

Taking a step forward to embrace mobile technologies

By 2013 mobile devices were being adopted with a fury so we wanted to take advantage of the new development technologies to meet this demand. It focused our attention on a new Search Portal and the need to do the change in stages. We needed to re-engineer the entire Search Engine. Development now only uses the latest Microsoft MVC and HTML5 technologies that are tuned to mobile and the impact is impressive.

A client whose public facing web site will give access to library, archive and picture based material is about to go live this month and will show off the impact that this new approach and new code makes. This same technology is now part of the upgrade of Soutron Library Management System available to everyone.

So what’s next?

Now that the Search Portal is appearing as a strong new component, we can turn our attention to address system management and library work-flows. (I should emphasise that we don’t see Search as being finished – development and new features will continue to be added, it’s a continuum).

What excited me today is seeing the first fruits of this new development environment at work on the loans functionality. The fast performance and ease of use was so exciting to see and feel, I just had to write and share this news.

We cannot change the entire system at once to use the new program code. There are hundreds of thousands of lines of code and we need to redesign and test to make sure we do it in the best possible way. We do however have a strategy and development program that will replace every part of the system over the next two years with new forms designs, streamlined processes and much faster performance. So this loans function is the first part of the library staff functions that will be introduced.

Why is it important to do it in stages?

Not everyone can take advantage of the new web browsers that use this new technology. We will continue to support clients on the older programs and make their transition to the new systems painless and simple.

Secondly we are addressing each of the functional areas in a logical sequence so that we put the emphasis on delivering added value. We don’t simply want to replace, we want to re-engineer and improve systems and this takes time to work through.

Third it means we learn as we go. New technology in software development is appearing all the time and we can make sure that we keep up to date by doing things in stages and learning what we can as we do each new stage.

I wish I could show everyone what I have just experienced at my desktop when testing a new function within Soutron with the loans module.

Definitely a great move forward!

It’s just a few months away for this new loans functionality to be in production – some more programming, some more testing and we can introduce it into the system for release the New Year. The sun may not be shining in winter in quite the same way, but we will definitely bring a smile to people’s faces.

Author
Graham Partridge – Graham has worked in academic, public and special libraries. His passion is to apply database technologies to make life easier for those working behind the scenes in libraries and serving users. More posts by Graham.
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