Want to know exactly what's on the shelf?

 

It’s a breakthrough that librarians have been longing for – Peter Cleary’s Book Pod System removes the need for library staff to reshelve returned books, and it has won him the 2012 Accenture Leaders of Tomorrow Award

‘FOR AN INNOVATION to be successful, there has to be two sources of creativity: innovation from the entrepreneur in terms of generating new information and turning it into new products and services, and innovatively-minded people receiving and acting on the information in order for it to move beyond the embryonic stages.

“This group often influences whether or not an innovation is successful but it is not always clear if they are qualified to judge an innovation.”

These are the heartfelt words of entrepreneur Peter Cleary, who has developed the SIAR (self-issue and return) Book Pod System which removes the need for library staff to laboriously reshelve returned books. Cleary’s bright idea won him the 2012 Accenture Leaders of Tomorrow Award and, as part of the prize, he will now spend six months working with Accenture preparing his system for market launch.

The Accenture award puts candidates through three tough rounds promoting and defending the viability of their ideas. Cleary found what he says was “a quite daunting process” to be very beneficial.

“The presentations and elimination stages were really useful because they allowed me test myself and the feasibility of my concept in front of professionals,” he says.

“One of the most important developments to come from entering the competition was meeting Kieran Desmond, another finalist and absolute technical whizz, who has agreed to help me develop my idea.”

Cleary is a mature student at University College Cork where he is finishing an MSc in business economics.

As a young graduate, he left Ireland for the United States where he served his time as a carpenter. He returned to Ireland in 2007.

To support his young family while studying, Cleary has been working two jobs, one of which is in UCC’s Boole Library. College libraries always come under intense pre-exam pressures, and restacking returned books is a full-time job. During a particularly busy period in April 2011, Cleary decided there had to be a better way. “The Boole Library is the largest in Ireland and is technologically very advanced. I began to explore how its technology could be used to remove the time-consuming burden of reshelving while also enhancing the borrowing experience,” he says.

“SIAR is an inventory and a central, real-time catalogue. It works in any situation where you want to know what’s on your shelves, who put it there, who took it off, and you want this information remotely accessed by tablet, smartphone or PC.”

Cleary’s project began with a library focus but, as development has continued, more potential applications have been unfolding, from supermarkets to warehouses. It is relatively inexpensive compared with current alternatives and taps into existing technologies such as RFID (radio frequency identity devices), barcodes and Bluetooth.

Most libraries use the Dewey cataloguing system in which every book has a specific place on the shelves. Cleary’s system allows libraries operate random shelving – any book on any shelf – or a more controlled system whereby books on a particular topic are located together. The sweet spot with either is that students reshelve the books and the whole borrowing and returning process is electronic.

The Boole Library has agreed to run a pilot in its open reserve section in the coming academic year. “A working system in Ireland’s biggest library will enhance the credibility of the system and will be a great selling tool,” Cleary says.

He has taken a very structured approach to developing his idea and has been highly proactive in dealing with the obstacles that typically slow start-ups such as funding.

“I had three immediate targets,” he says. “To partner with someone technically minded. To secure funding. To get an expression of interest from a customer. All three have been achieved.”

Flying in the face of conventional wisdom that ceding equity should be a last resort, Cleary has chosen it as his first.

“I’ve decided on private funding although I’ve had to give up a greater share,” he says. “However, I’ve a performance-related ratchet-back clause written into the contract. The main reason for not going with Government-backed support was time.”

Cleary has also resisted the prevailing view that patenting should be an early priority. “It’s expensive and takes time and my idea has changed dramatically in a few months. I could have filed a patent on the very first prototype but, after meeting potential customers, it became evident that it needed to be changed. Why patent something no one will buy?

“We have since redesigned the system and have a very saleable product. The dilemma now is do we patent, which could take two to five years, or are we better to be a first-to -market product?”

Cleary also disagrees that bright ideas are best kept quiet. “Talk to everyone,” he urges. “You’ve more to gain sharing it and hearing unbiased feedback. Use failure as a learning experience and treat a ‘no’ as a ‘maybe’. Listen to potential customers; if they don’t like your concept, why persist with it?

“Innovation is the buzz word in Ireland. However, in my experience, while everyone is keen to tell the entrepreneur how great they are, they are very slow to commit to anything. This is incredibly frustrating. Getting a solid expression of interest was the hardest part of the process.”

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