Perhaps the biggest question facing the AT is its sustainability. With only one or two releases left, the AT is soon approaching the end of development. What does the future hold?
At SAA in San Francisco last year, the AT group reported that it had begun to work with a business consultant to formulate a business plan for the AT after Phase 2 of development ends in 2009. Options at that point included institutional affiliation, subscription-based service, or the pursuit of another Mellon grant. Also briefly discussed was the related need to develop a community governance model for guiding the direction and future development of the AT. Although initial steps have been made to address the governance model thanks in part to the SAA AT roundtable, little has been said yet as to the AT business plan. This post will explore the pros and cons of the three options on the table at this point.
Institutional affiliation/hosting is one option for the AT. The main challenge of this approach is the reality that few institutions are capable of taking on this responsibility, not only due to limited technical expertise and infrastructure, but also because the current economic situation is precluding many of us from taking on outside projects. Without a commitment of significant resources it seems likely that this model will only allow for ongoing support and not any additional development. Given some of the needs addressed in the AT user survey, ATUG-listserv postings, and other forums, however, this option seems in the end the least beneficial to the archival community as a whole.
A second option is subscription or fee-based AT support and development, either by individual consultants or a single software firm. Although this option would incur costs on individual institutions, this approach does allow for continued development, especially for institution-specific needs. The central challenge for this approach is that not all institutions have the resources to commit to development and so might not have a say in the future direction of the AT. Bigger institutions with bigger budgets would drive the agenda. To prevent this disparity an effective governance model would have to evolve to lobby for community interests and manage ongoing development for all interested parties.
The third option is to pursue another round of Mellon grant support. This would obviously allow for continued development of specific needs voiced by the archival community in the AT user survey and other requests posted to the ATUG-l. Given the demands on the project staff, our current economic situation, and the little traction this option seems to have garnered up to this point, it seems unlikely that this will happen.
So where does that leave us? The AT project is coming to end, sooner perhaps than we would like. Sure we'd all like a few more bells and whistles before then, but whatever business model is ultimately adopted, the AT will at least be supported for the next few years. Will Archon, ICA-AtoM, or other products, open-source or proprietary, sufficiently evolve? It's hard to tell at this point. The one thing we at least in MSSA know is that we will be much, much, MUCH! better off to have undertaken the work to get into the AT. No amount of my blogging can sell this enough. I'm sure many institutions would agree. And we thank the AT for that.