Behind the Scenes: A glimpse at partnered product development

Ever wanted to build your very own software? Ever wanted to plan, design, develop, and see a solution built from the ground up? Does talk of coding make your heart skip a beat?

Ok, maybe not. We understand that we might be a little dev-nerdy over here at SD. We get excited about the process and final product. Even if you find software to be about as exciting as free bran muffins in the breakroom, we thought you might enjoy a behind-the-scenes look at the process involved in developing a large BC app like BC Acquisitions.

If you follow the BLUEcloud roadmap, you know that BLUEcloud Acquisitions is in development, and gearing up for general release in 2018. It is being developed in partnership with the South Australian Public Library Network (SAPLN). This has been a dynamic and rewarding partnership. Through our long-term collaboration, SAPLN has helped us to build an acquisitions solution that can generate significant cost-savings for many of our libraries.

An important step in any development process is the alpha release with strategic partners. This blog gives you a brief glimpse into our November training sessions with SAPLN staff as part of the BLUEcloud Acquisitions alpha release.

Background

Revolutionizing the Acquisitions Process
What problems did SAPLN notice with their acquisitions business model? SAPLN found a number of inequalities, inefficiencies, pricing pains, and vendor relationships that left something to be desired. Like the good librarians that they are, they did their research and were able to put exact dollar costs on the pain points they were feeling. Interested in the specifics of SAPLN’s pain points, cost research, and solutions? Keep your eye out for more information about BLUEcloud Acquisitions. More details coming your way later this year.

SAPLN is a consortium of 140 libraries working collectively to provide service across a broad region of South Australia. The BLUEcloud Acquisitions development partnership began in the heart of the SAPLN system. Prior to 2000, SAPLN noticed a number of problems with the business model of their own acquisitions process. They studied their pain points and eventually developed a clear understanding of the flaws within their system. As a result, they upgraded their own bespoke software solution named P2, designed to resolve these issues and fulfill acquisitions needs. P2 served SAPLN for many years, but eventually the system aged. As it grew time to build the next generation of their acquisitions system, SAPLN chose this time to reach out to software development specialists: their ILS provider, SirsiDynix. In August 2013, we formed a development partnership and, together, we have been building an acquisitions solution that empowers collection development and procurement processes for SAPLN, and eventually for libraries everywhere. SAPLN and the BLUEcloud Acquisitions team have been working together ever since.

Though on opposite sides of the globe, the two collaborating teams have worked hard to propel this project forward. The teams have traveled great distances to work face-to-face. Twice the BLUEcloud Acquisitions team at SAPLN have made the trip to Lehi, Utah to collaborate in the SirsiDynix Technology Centre and twice Product Manager Mike Hilmo and Senior Software Developer Craig Schmidt have travelled to Adelaide, South Australia to collaborate with the project team at SAPLN. Outside of the face-to-face meetings, the two collaborating teams have kept in close contact via weekly teleconferences. These weekly meetings have helped provide the development team constant feedback on progress and scoping decisions. Additionally, SirsiDynix provided SAPLN a dedicated testing environment with weekly build updates allowing SAPLN to test BLUEcloud Acquisitions through its maturing iterations, and access to SirsiDynix’s internal issue tracking systems to report software issues and bugs. Overall, the combination of these project strategies have allowed the project team at SAPLN to provide valuable feedback to the development team at SirsiDynix which has been instrumental in guiding the direction of BLUEcloud Acquisitions as it advances in functionality of the solution.

“BLUEcloud Acquisitions is so easy to use.”-SAPLN staff, post-training survey comment

What happens as the product progresses toward GA and partners work together to build a powerful solution? At our most recent meeting, the partners gathered for a training at the State Library in Adelaide, South Australia.

Meeting of the Minds
The SAPLN team has been working with the evolving versions of BLUEcloud Acquisitions for a long time, but in August 2016, the team had the opportunity get their hands on the alpha product for the first time. After a couple of months of testing, SAPLN decided to take the product live to their consortium in December. At this stage, the SD executive team was looking to help pave the way for a smooth implementation.

“We wanted to make sure SAPLN was fully enabled,” said VP of Product Management Berit Nelson. “So we sent Mike Down Under.”  

To help the staff hit the ground running, Mike Hilmo traveled from the SirsiDynix main campus in Lehi, Utah to Adelaide. Along with training SAPLN’s selection and acquisitions staff to use BLUEcloud Acquisitions, Mike set out to understand and set priorities for additional functionality to be implemented in BLUEcloud Acquisitions.

Mike met with a select group of SAPLN staff, known as fund managers and collection development specialists. Over 125 library staff met for the weeklong training at the State Library in Adelaide. This was only about 25% of the total staff that were to be trained. The consortium decided upon a “train the trainer” model for their BLUEcloud Acquisitions training; only 25% of staff would receive formal training, and that 25% would be responsible for informally training the remaining 75%.

Over the course of 6 days, the SAPLN staff sat down with Mike for twelve three-hour sessions. It was important that trainees be thoroughly prepared, as they would be responsible for training the rest of the staff. The sessions focused on Funds Management and Selection, and all trainees were provided ample opportunity to ask questions and participate in hands-on learning exercises

“I found [Selections] was very well covered and I feel confident in being able to do selections via BLUEcloud in the upcoming months.” - SAPLN staff, post-training survey comment

So…How’d it Go?
Participants expressed their excitement for BLUEcloud Acquisitions and the new functionality it would give them. The overall reaction to the training was a feeling of excitement and confidence, with 90% of attendees rating the onsite training session as Excellent or Very Good.

Training
Given the “train the trainer” model, the most important feedback on the follow-up survey is that 100% felt confident in training BLUEcloud Acquisitions to other staff either on their own or with help from other trained staff. The results of the survey let the SD team head home happy knowing that the training had been useful and that the SAPLN team was ready to jump into BLUEcloud Acquisitions like they’d been using it for years.

The positive feedback from the post-training survey and the staff’s enthusiasm about BLUEcloud Acquisitions told Mike that he had accomplished his first goal to equip SAPLN’s acquisitions staff to use BLUEcloud Acquisitions for daily tasks. But what about Mike’s secondary goal to understand and set priorities for the additional BLUEcloud Acquisitions functionality?

“Working with the SAPLN team onsite was great,” said Hilmo. “We were able to explore and gain a deeper understanding of outstanding functionality and feature sets. These discussions are critical because they have allowed me to understand SAPLN’s needs, and have allowed SAPLN to reconsider alternative viable solutions and workflows to their current process in an effort to make the best acquisitions product on the market. In the end, I was able to come home and be in a position to direct my development team through the remainder of the requirements of this development partnership.”

Now that a few trainees from each library have attended training and reflected on BLUEcloud Acquisitions workflows, they have the advantage to do the step-by-step with their other staff in the way that best fits their library. Individual staff are already training their teams to use BLUEcloud Acquisitions for each library’s needs.

“Loved how you can refine searches in selections. Loved how you can see how many other libraries have selected items.” – SAPLN staff, post-training survey comment

Collaboration and Requirements
Reflecting on the collaborative process, Jo Freeman the SAPLN Manager Strategic Projects and Communication remarked, “The SAPLN team really enjoyed working with Mike and the BLUEcloud Acquisitions development team develop a product that not only underpins our business requirements, but hopefully provides new options for other SirsiDynix customers. While we had many of our own ideas about functionality it was the strength of the collaboration that ultimately led to the best solution.”

Associate Director Geoff Strempel believes the partnership approach has delivered a robust and innovative solution for the SAPLN consortium that will stand the test of time.  “While our initial BLUEcloud Acquisitions implementation closely resembles our current workflows we know that the product is highly flexible and will allow us to change and adapt as we explore new ways to develop our collections in the future.”

This alpha implementation and training has been a crucial step in releasing a robust solution to the general library industry. We at SirsiDynix would like to extend a great, big Thank You to the SAPLN team.

SAPLN—a World-Class Partner
SAPLN has been invaluable to the process. “Software development is always a new adventure and never the same rodeo. The process inherently involves challenges and hurdles. SAPLN was an exemplary partner,” says Mike Hilmo. “Rather than focus on the difficulties, they focused on contributing and helping find solutions. They helped prioritize and they weren’t afraid to get in and get their hands dirty either. Maybe we collaborated so well because SAPLN have already developed their own bespoke software, but SAPLN gets it, and because they get it our partnership has been a great success. They’ve been a world-class development partner.”

SAPLN has been an excellent collaborator in this development project, helping us overcome challenges together and sharing their knowledge to make BLUEcloud Acquisitions a better solution for every library. 

Author:

Anna Christiansen
Associate Marketing Writer