The library information technology services sector provides solutions that help libraries manage their daily operations. The largest industry players are Ex Libris, Innovative Interfaces, Inc. (III) and SirsiDynix with additional competition from smaller players that specialize in specific geographies and library types. The current industry dynamics are the result of a wave of consolidation that took place over the past decade and created an opportunity for a new type of product to enter the market.
Recent Library Journal surveys of libraries indicate that ~43% of academic libraries reported themselves as somewhat or completely dissatisfied with their current Integrated Library System (ILS) or Library Services Platform (LSP), which represents a significant increase from 28% of libraries who were surveyed a year prior. Existing systems are expensive, complex, and recent consolidation has left customers with limited alternatives to consider.
The Future of Libraries is Open (FOLIO) Project was started to develop a new ILS/LSP system that would be cloud-ready, multi-tenant, scalable and built around an open knowledge base. The system would be supportive of linked open data and capable of both electronic and print resource management. The project was initially spearheaded by the Open Library Foundation and Index Data. With such monumental goals, Index’s and OLF’s limited experience in ILS development and their limited capital budgets presented a significant hurdle to overcome.
Understanding that accomplishing this goal would address known customer pain points and thus open up a large commercial opportunity, OLF decided to employ a community-based development approach to leverage the capabilities and knowledge of existing players in the ecosystem. The initial announcement of FOLIO in 2016 described the project as a collaborative effort amongst libraries, vendors, developers and other related entities to leverage open source technology and a community-based effort to redefine how libraries operate and build a pathway towards changing the library experience in the future. Initial FOLIO partners included EBSCO Information Services (who continues to provide the majority of the project’s funding) ByWater Solutions, SirsiDynix, Frontside, Stacks, Global Open Knowledge base (GOKb) and Qulto.
While this differs slightly from a pure play open innovation approach, the combined expertise from ecosystem participants should allow for a product to be developed while avoiding the pitfalls associated with building a product without incorporating feedback from users. Pursuing this path also allows OLF to compete with the significantly larger players in the space who have had multiple decade head starts despite not being as well capitalized. OLF initially hoped to release its product to the market by 2018, but that timing has already slipped to 2019 for when a beta product will be launched with select partners.
While early signs seems promising, significant questions remain around the long-term efficiency of this chosen method. As prominent industry expert, Carl Grant, highlighted, building an ILS from scratch is a complex task that historically has taken established players many years to get right. Currently, it appears that OLF is relying on part-time developer capacity from participating libraries who can spare resources. One suggestion I might make to management to address this would be to cast a broader net to leverage the skills of developers from unrelated fields, a technique that was tremendously successful for InnoCentive, whose participants found success solving problems that they themselves had weak ties to.
The other key factor that needs to be considered is the mechanism that will align incentives and motivate each of the participating groups. It is clear why libraries have jumped on board as they view open-sourced systems as the most flexible products that can fulfill their needs, however the same cannot be said for the vendors and developers. To be successful in the long-term, OLF will need collective buy-in from these groups and as of now they seem to have received it through funding and partnership commitments.
With the competitive landscape continually evolving, the industry awaits the full-scale launch of the FOLIO project. Will the arrival of FOLIO dethrone established industry players with this new product development approach or will existing players further cement their positions? Will this development approach be able to contend with the fact that the competition continues to invest in their respective products? Will OLF and its partners be able to remain flexible and adjust priorities as the marketplace does?
 ‘Company Profiles’ (2016) Library Journal, 141(6), pp. 42–44. http://ezproxy-prod.hbs.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=bth&AN=114242915&site=ehost-live&scope=site ;(Accessed: November 10, 2018)
 Matt Enis, “Open Future | Library Systems Landscape 2017”, Library Journal, https://www.libraryjournal.com/?detailStory=open-future-library-systems-landscape-2017; (Accessed November 10, 2018)
 “Introducing FOLIO — A new collaboration bringing libraries, service providers and developers together to speed innovation and redefine the future of library automation” FOLIO Press Release (Boston, MA, June 24, 2016)
 Karim R. Lakhani and Jill A. Panetta, “The Principles of Distributed Innovation”; Innovations (Summer 2007)
 Carl Grant, “FOLIO, acronym for “Future of Libraries Is Open”? I’d suggest: “Fantasy of Librarians Inflamed by Organizations”, Thoughts from Carl Grant, http://thoughts.care-affiliates.com/2016/11/folio-acronym-for-future-of-libraries_55.html; (Accessed November 10, 2018)
 Jeff Howe, “The Rise of Crowdsourcing”, Wired.com (2006), https://www.wired.com/2006/06/crowds/; (Accessed November 10, 2018)