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Vendors are people too... ...or so we're told
Today, I attended GUGM 2005. GUGM stands for "GIL User's Group Meeting", and, unless you happen to be from the State of Georgia, you probably have no idea what that means. "GIL" stands for "GALILEO Interconnected Libraries" which is fancy name for the consortial deal the University System of Georgia has with Endeavor's Voyager. All 34 USG schools use Voyager and we have a big, happy union catalog and universal borrowing and the whole works.

So once a year USG and Endeavor throw GUGM, which is a hodge-podge of Voyager semi-related sessions intermingled with Endeavor rah-rah propaganda.

I was in attendance because I was asked to do a presentation on WAG the Dog. I probably wouldn't have gone otherwise. There were very few automation type sessions and learning about the problems with ILL and cataloging aren't the best way I can spend my days.

Still, I actually had a pretty good time. I carpooled down (to Macon) with Crit Stuart and we had pretty good conversation - amazing since we left GT at 7:30AM. The keynote speaker was Kris Biesinger on GACollege411. This is a really pretty incredible service for high school students in Georgia to help track their path to college. Bravo! I certainly wish something like that had existed when I was in high school (and I wouldn't have wasted a year and a half at UTC).

This is not the point of this posting, however.

The first session I attended (by process of elimination) was one of the aforementioned Endeavor rah-rahs given by Dave Richter, VP of Global Sales. It was a mostly dry overview of the "state of the company" and whatnot, but what stuck with me was an air of humility that permeated from his PowerPoint.

We have gained of reputation of being less responsive to our users.

We need to act more like partners with our customers.

We need to become technological innovators again.

Granted, this was coming from the VP of Global Sales, so if anyone should be able to cry crocodile tears it was he, but still, there was something to these admissions of culpitude that one rarely sees from a vendor, especially one associated with Reed-Elsevier.

He went to describe the dilemma of being a library vendor in that one may have to go the "novel" approach of working with another vendor to deliver a particular product. That this sort of "radical" thinking was what you sometimes "had" to do, but what to do if this particular deal would possibly favor a competitor's product over another you or your parent company offers?

Here is where I had to interject. I tried to hold my tongue as long as I could and I kept telling myself, "Don't sound confrontational... Don't sound confrontational..."... but I think I sounded confrontational.

I said something along the lines of:

I understand that you have a business to run and you have to think of the bottom line across all your divisions... but ultimately that hurts us. We can't expect any one vendor to supply all of our information needs, so therefore we need you to play nice with each other. Further, we need to be able to do anything we want with our data and the data we're paying for. When we license Voyager from you, we don't want proprietary features that make WebVoyage do things that we can't do in any other way. We have ideas of what we can do with our database, and the limitations you set on what we're able to do with it forces us into little silos of data. And that's good for no one.

I went on to say some more about "speaking for the library developer community at large" (sorry library developer community at large) that we need vendors to relax a bit and open up their products more to us.

I talk a lot, I realize, but the crux of this is: We have to treat each other as "partners". We (the libraries) are reliant on the ILS and database vendors to accomplish our tasks as libraries. Vendors are reliant on libraries to even have their freakin' business. We both need to address the reliance we have on each other and actually work with each other as symbiotic entities.

Also, Memo to library vendors: Don't worry so much about losing our business to a competitor. There is no reason to be overprotective. An ILS migration is probably the biggest nightmare that faces a library organization, so it would take an incredible act of negligence or bankruptcy to drive us away.

One last note. If you want to regain your place as a technological innovator, perhaps you should start fostering and endorsing a development community among your customer base. It could only serve to make your product and company stronger.


At 1:14 PM, May 20, 2005, Anonymous Paul said...

Ross, did Dave have a response to your interjection, or did he seem to stand by his initial statement?

At 4:12 PM, May 20, 2005, Blogger Ross said...

Paul, I actually talked to him later at lunch about it (and apologized a bit for coming off a little strong in the session) and he said I was absolutely right. We must start working with each other as partners. That was nice.

Unfortunately I didn't think of the later part of my post until the drive home.

At 1:22 AM, November 09, 2005, Blogger Antonio Hicks said...

I was just browsing various blogs as I was doing a search on the word poster, and I just wanted to say that I really like what you've done with your blog, even though it wasn't particularly related to what I searched for. I appreciate your postings, and your blog is a good example of how a blog should be done. I've only just recently started a Posters website - feel free to visit it when you get a chance if you wish. Much success, antonio.


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