Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Consortium, franchise, branch network or what?

The LMS Interim User Group has been doing some great work in looking as where decisions will have to be made to enable the smooth running of a consortium utilising a shared LMS.  Underpinning the group’s work has been some principles or assumptions that then drive the findings of the group.

In discussions with some members of the group and a range of others I have been struck with the diversity of views about what the consortium will be & how it will operate.  Some have a view which would see the whole network operating as a multi-branch system with almost everything being identical while others have a vision which has much more local flexibility.  So I figure it is time to have a discussion about the way things will/could work.

Below is my perspective & I'd love to have a conversation (on this blog or elsewhere) with others about this.  Of course there will be formal channels to further resolve these issues.

I’d like to use a few analogies to illustrate my sense of where we are heading. 

The Commonwealth Bank is a single entity with multiple branches.  Policy is decided in head office and whichever branch a customer goes into they will get identical terms and conditions for their loans and deposits.  All of the brochures will have been designed in head office and will be identical.  There is some localism, whereby particular branches engage with their community by supporting a local netball or football club, but that is about the most diversity you will see. 

In library terms such a model would see identical loan periods, and other borrowing rules. It would see centrally set policy down to the smallest parts of the operations.  This model is as far away as possible from where I think we should be aiming for.

A different model may be to look at a hotel chain like the Novotel, which has hotels in different locations.  You wouldn’t even think of them as branches.  The Novotel in Queenstown NZ has drying rooms and lockers for ski gear and a number of bars with open fires in them, while the Novotel in Fiji will have 4 swimming pools and evening lovos on the beach.  The rooms in the two hotels will be differently decorated and priced, but certain aspects of quality would be assured.  But someone who had stayed in one Novotel would know what to expect in terms of quality, price, service etc, even though service delivery altered to match local circumstances.  They would know what to expect.  It isn’t a Sheraton or a Peppers or Country Comfort, but a Novotel.  There is a understanding of what to expect from this  brand name which means that if people like the brand they will visit another Novotel hotel with confidence.

I think this is more where we are headed.  Under the trusted brand name of “Public Library” there will be different iterations that will meet the needs and circumstances of the local communities they serve.

One of the arguments for the “Commonwealth Bank” model rather than the “Novotel” model is that customers need to be assured of what they will get, and this should come right down to every last detail.  I’m not sure that this is advisable, much less workable.  I believe we should be looking at service standards rather than prescriptive rules. 

So, rather than saying that the borrowing rules in every library have to be identical we could set a service standard which said, “Every customer who borrows items will be provided with a receipt which states what has been borrowed, where it was borrowed and what the due dates for each item are.” 

Such a service standard would provide for local flexibility around loan periods, but avoid customer confusion or uncertainty by providing the information the customer needs.

This is only one small example, however I trust that it illustrates the philosophy that I believe we should be striving for.  Service standards, rather than rules should govern most of what we need to do to make a consortium work. 

One of our staff described my position as “defaulting to localism rather than centralism”, and I think that is a fair description.  I believe we should only set consortium-wide “rules” where we either have no choice, or there is a compelling reason to do so.  Other than that – let managers get on and manage, providing services to meet the needs of their local communities.

Any comments???


  1. I agree to a certain extent with you view Geoff. However I do feel that it is in the best interests of our customers for us to try and standardise our loan conditions as much as possible to lessen confusion.

    I'm not necessarily advocating a 'Commonwealth Bank' approach, but it would be ideal for customers to know for example that books are a month, cds and dvds are a week/two weeks etc no matter where they choose to borrow.

    We need to maintain as much localised identity as possible by all means - but we also need to approach this project from the 'ideal customer perspective' and make that happen as much as possible in my opinion.

  2. James Kemperman1 June 2011 at 12:13

    I agree Geoff. This seems to be the most sensible and workable way for all involved in order to achieve what we aspire to have in place.

  3. Geoff Strempel1 June 2011 at 12:15

    Yes Ben - quite where we draw the line will be interesting. The purpose of this post was to begin to get people thinking about it, because as a network we are all going to have to reach some decisions in the near future.

    I don't really mind where the line is drawn, though as I have said, I have a preference for localism. But your slant towards customer certainty is also a very valid point that we need to take into account when making these decisions.

    I will be happy to facilitate the decision making on this, and also to implement the consensus view. But I think it is importnat that I let people know where I stand now. Of course my views may well be modified by persuasive arguments as we move towards implementation.


  4. Ian Hildebrand1 June 2011 at 15:18

    Service Standards - Good
    Rules - Bad

    I'm for a localised approach but also sort of agree with Ben. I think 1LMS is an opportunity to, at least attempt, to identify some key areas of uniformity - loan periods, membership criteria & processes, etc to create the ideal customer experience. Having said that, I believe that the vast number of library users are reasonably parochial in that they use their local library and that is all and so a significantly localised approach is not going to mess with the heads of too many people. Those who already use multiple libraries are accustomed to the differences between them, Nonetheless, I agree that there is value and a golden opportunity for us to look at some key ways that the network can be uniform in the delivery of its services.

  5. Thanks Ian. I am not against trying to get some commonalities, but only where it makes absolute sense and there is genuine commitment to it. So we may find some areas of agreement and just adopt them, while leaving other areas to evolve.

    Interestingly, people who have worked in consortia elsewhere tell us that there is a gradual consensual evolution towards agreement on a range of things over time. But there is not merit in trying to force change which is not absolutely required.

    So - perhaps we will do what is necessary and what can be quickly and simply, and then work through the other issues over time.

    But Ben is right - Customers should be in the centre of our planning and thinking!

  6. Hi Geoff
    I heard you speak in Perth last week, and am very interested to see how this project progresses.
    As much as I like a localised approach, I too feel consistency for the customer is required.

    Good luck!

  7. Ian Hildebrand2 June 2011 at 08:05

    Evolution is good too.

  8. hi Kelly,
    Thanks for your post from afar!

    For me this is not an either/or, but we will need to make many decisions which will fall along a continuum from 100% consisitent in some areas, but greater diversity in others.

    A couple of examples for me are around borrowing rights and membership ID.

    One small library with a small DVD collection may allow you to borrow 2 DVDs for 4 days and have no reservations on the collection. This is to allow effective sharing of this scarce resource in a small country library. But a larger library with a big collection may allow 10 DVDs for 2 weeks, and they are reservable.

    Both sets of rules meet the capacity of the local collections to serve their community. Imposing either of the two libraries policies on the other would be unfair.

    However because customers will use multiple libraries the consortium may wish to establish minimum requirements for the ID prospective members much produce to join any library. So this would be an area of a standard policy across all libraries.

    the Interim User Group is about to release their paper which has attempted to document all the places where decisions will need to be made to enable informed sharing. I am sure that this document will help us to think through these issues.

  9. Interesting discussion so far!

    One point that will need to be clarified is that will our customers have the choice to join only their local library and not the statewide system? (which would of course limit resources they have available to them). This is providing the customer with what library services and resources they wish to access.

    As at some point in time, the one LMS will be sharing information between all of SA councils. The training and reinforcement regarding registration processes will be a vital part of this project, it may make sense to use a standard registration form (which many consortium do).

    I also think the depot's that some library services have may make it difficult for all resources to be shared.

  10. What doesn't seem to be addressed is the complexity of the human factor. Once customers get an understanding that it is 1 library card/ 1 system, I think they will be expecting one set of rules regardless of what they are currently used to. This is before you go into things such as fines and what happens if 1 service does and 1 does not. What if we do and they borrow our item from another service and a fine is incurred, then what?

    If that small country library doesn't allow reservations then as a country borrower I'll just reserve it from my city cousin. If the system won't let me then why not?

    Its these questions that are much more difficult to tackle than any question about the best LMS.

  11. Craig - yes you are right - it is the human factor for both staff and customers that will need to be addressed. And yes, sorting through the way that the consortium will work is a very complex cultural change process which will take considerable input from people right across the network.

    This is why we already have the Interim User Group in place to identify the areas where decisions need to be made, we are about to engage a change manager to be full time dedicated to this work, and we will have a formally created user group to work through all of the implications of any possible options that people may want to adopt.

    So it is good to start the informal discussion but also to have a formal mechanism for considering and resolving these issues over time.

  12. The area that hasn't been picked up on as much is the idea of shared Service Standards across the State. I think this is a key area to explore and the area we should be striving for commonality in. Much more so than shared loan periods or loan limits.

    The Customer Service Group has had many discussions around the desirability for shared Service Standards and it looks like it may well be the time to place more emphasis on moving forward on this area.

    Wouldn't it be great to walk into any library in SA and receive the same level of quality customer service delivered by educated staff regardless of how large or small the library and it's collection was.

    The recent Mystery Shopper pilot run by the C/Service group identified that the majority of libraries have taken on or at least been exposed to the concepts of retail design principles and on the whole have great collections which are mechanised well. But unfailingly across the board each Council Service you enter has very different levels of customer service - ranging from brilliant to still in the dark ages. Customer Service is the next key area we need to look at as a State and Service Standards are a great way to start the discussion on how we best address this.

  13. Dionne I totally agree about the benefits of shared and actively implemented Service Standards. And I am aware that the Customer Service Group has discussed this.

    So perhaps it is time to engage with the CSG as part of the next part of the work that the Interim User Group is doing. I will discuss this with the LMS Steering Committee next week & see where this heads from there.