Wednesday 12 June 2013

Outsourcing: the good, the bad and the ugly. Edward Wates reflects on the Wiley-Blackwell experience.

Edward Wates, Wiley-Blackwell
Edward Wates is Global Journal Content Director for Wiley-Blackwell. He reflected on the Wiley-Blackwell experience at the ALPSP seminar on Outsourcing, providing insights into what to consider when outsourcing and insourcing, as well as lessons he has learnt.

The wider context for outsourcing is the changing environment. We are in a period of rapid change. There is a reduction in growth, digital transformation of business, with growth in open access that means lower revenue per article. There is restructuring and reinvestment in growth and innovation. Wates believes that you need to invest in article enrichment - they want their content to do more, and they want to use it in a more interesting way.

He noted that journal contract renewals is a competitive matter, often associated with improved royalty payments to keep the business. This will be the case for all publishers. All this has an impact on the cost base, so they have a responsibility to think about this.

What can be outsourced? You have to be careful about what you do and balance what you outsource and insource. This starts with redefining core competencies. They insource content acquisition, editorial judgement, sales reach, and purchasing/specification. They outsource: technology development, 'processing activities', customer services, marketing collateral and support.

You should use a range of financial metrics including cost of sale (typesetting, PP&B), plant costs (copy editing, project management), direct expenses (overheads), and releasing funds for investment. Production insourcing at Wiley-Blackwell has an ethos of 'manage more, do less'. They focus on workflow development, specification, purchasing, training and support, relationship management and project management.

Their content strategy is now multi-channel (web, mobile, ebook and print), multi-product, user focused containing multiple combinations. They also focus on discoverability. Underpinning principles set the framework for think about how they deliver these things. Wates was clear about the need to win hearts and minds internally when outsourcing. If colleagues aren't fully on board they can undermine the work.

The benefits of outsourcing include:

  • increased productivity and cost savings
  • redeployment of in-house staff
  • speed to market
  • efficiency
  • access to competencies
  • access to tools.

Often, you may face a challenge at senior level, where there is lack of understanding of process and tools. This has led them to focus on tools for content management. Other areas to consider are the commoditization of production services, how vendor expertise is developing and widening, flexible approaches and ways of slicing the functions to outsource.

Perceived downsides of outsourcing have to be taken into account. These can include concerns around loss of control, quality and time zone factors. The impact of growing economies and exposure to exchange rate fluctuations, staff turnover,  as well as takeovers and company failure are also areas of concern.

And what about quality issues? It helps to pin down exactly what they are: style, language, layout, timeliness – of these, the most critical is XML. Wates also defined the 'scrutiny effect' whereby the extra attention given to outsourced work may require higher quality levels than previously existed.

In the future Wates believes that speed to market, greater consistency and further standardisation will be critical. New media and enriched content will facilitate a move away from a print-oriented way of thinking about outsourcing.


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