Aaron Terrell: How to craft a North Star for better business decisions


Some people reflect on important decisions in the shower. For Innovative VP of Engineering Aaron Terrell, when he needs to meditate on issues he goes into the ocean. It’s there on his surfboard that many of the complex systems behind Innovative products get sorted out.

“I do love the metropolitan nature of the Bay Area—the diverse culture we have. It’s such a broad spectrum,” Terrell said. “And I love the opportunity to get into the ocean as often as I possibly can and commune with nature.”

Terrell had already had a diverse career before arriving at Innovative, now part of Clarivate. Perhaps it was inevitable that in his 20 years in San Francisco Terrell would find himself working in the Silicon Valley startup scene. The fast pace and experimentation required for small, nimble teams intrigued him.

“What I found exciting was that it’s a world where nobody knows the solution to the problem before you go into the conversation,” Terrell said.

In the startup world, Terrell learned to appreciate the complexity of the cloud and large-scale deployments.

“My area of focus was around quality and operations,” Terrell said. “Not really how you build the thing, but how you measure successful delivery and validate that it’s working and performing as expected.”

It was while working for an ecommerce platform for independent bookstores that Terrell first dipped his toe into the library and book industries.

“I loved their mission,” Terrell said. “Their investment to help local mom and pop book shops in their efforts to maintain relevance in a world of change.”

Since joining Innovative in 2013, Terrell has found that his tenacity for exploration with startups naturally carried over into his work with public libraries.

“That’s often how we thought about what we do at Innovative with libraries,” Terrell said. “What I learned working with small companies naturally lent itself well to our development of Vega.”

Libraries, like startups, have a significant obligation to their user base. In Terrell’s experience, the startups that took the time to identify user problems and invested in their solutions were the ones that thrived. At Innovative, the development of the Vega Library Experience LX suite has essentially functioned as a startup within the organization. One that has pushed Innovative to explore new SaaS territories.

“We are a mature enterprise within the industry, and the decision to develop Vega caused us to rethink how we conducted ourselves,” Terrell said.

Vega LX is a suite of cloud-based tools for Polaris and Sierra that are designed to empower staff and patrons to engage with library data and collections in a whole new way. In late 2020, the first module of the Vega LX suite, Vega Discover, hit the market.

Vega Discover is designed to create an engaging library experience and encourage further exploration through enhanced discovery tools powered by Syndetics Unbound’s enrichment content, such as series data, reader reviews, browse by reading level and more.

Improvements to Vega Discover roll out every two weeks, even as Terrell’s team of engineers dutifully continue their work on the platform’s other four modules.

What takes Terrell into the ocean isn’t just the challenges his team of engineers find, but often the critical observations made by Vega Development Program partners.

“We have customers directly involved in the process,” Terrell said. “With us user testing with patrons, our engineers are able to incorporate feedback from libraries immediately. We’re not simply shipping a packaged product where we promise to get to customer needs eventually. We work on it constantly in each sprint.”

Now, work is underway to launch Vega in the southern hemisphere. This investment will allow for even more libraries across the globe to have immediate access to Innovative’s full suite of product solutions.

Terrell jokes that Polaris—the North Star in the northern hemisphere—will not be visible in Australia for another 13,000 years, but thanks to bringing Vega to the southern hemisphere, Vega, which is the next north star in line after Polaris, will be seen by Australians in 2022.

While 13,000 years is far away, Terrell is optimistic about the immediate future for library technology.

“I’m looking forward to the fact that through the Vega platform, we will be able to give libraries comprehensive capabilities to interact with their end users,” Terrell said. “Today, libraries have to do everything in a piecemeal fashion. They use three or four different tools to email, text, and communicate with patrons. We are bringing all of their tools into one technology stack, and one set of product offerings.”

Terrell notes that it isn’t just about creating a compelling, unified end-user experience. When all of your tools live under one integrated umbrella through your core business application—the ILS—it enables libraries to see the full breadth and depth of their impact.

“Not only do we want to make the best user experience, but we also want to give libraries the ability to understand their patron behaviors and trends and be able to make informed business decisions about their operations,” Terrell said.

In this scenario, libraries would only need to access one ecosystem to pull circulation data, program and promote services, pull event attendee lists, manage donor relations, and more. While not a North Star, the ability to make data-driven decisions is crucial for every organization.

“With Vega LX, we’re establishing a new paradigm. One that is centered on the user experience,” Terrell said.

Contact Innovative today about scheduling a discussion and demo of what Vega can do for your library.