Monday 14 November 2016

The Challenges of Outsourcing Part One: 10 Key Drivers to Outsource

An organization outsources many different services and processes to experts and those who offer specialist tools and systems to support their requirements. In the first of a series of guest posts, Lorraine Ellery Matthews outlines what the key challenges are when thinking about outsourcing. In this post, she considers what the key drivers are for a company that can lead to outsourcing. These articles are based on interviews conducted with experienced scholarly publishing professionals in 2016.

1. Strategic

Ask yourself, are you are a technology company or are you a publisher, library, etc? Do you want to be both or do you want to be one; what’s the balance, what’s the return on investment?

The key reasons for outsourcing for the first time can be a strategic one, based around where you wish to continue to invest your time and money and if you already have - or not - the necessary resource and in-house expertise to provide a quality service to your internal and external stakeholders.

You may still decide that there are strong competitive advantages to developing your own custom solution, however, in weighing up the pros and cons you may decide that it makes sense for your organization to focus your time and effort on your core business and therefore will seek a trusted partner that you expect to deliver a cost-effective quality, scale-able and timely service.

2. New technologies

The potential that changes in technology can provide will prompt a review into previous decisions. You may need to re-work you platform, re-work your strategy, remain flexible and re-invest.
APIs and open technologies create new opportunities: it is no longer necessary to host all your content on one platform as independent silos and systems can be integrated and meaningful content relationships created.

However, as one commercial publisher I spoke to who undertook a supplier review when their current hosting agreement was up for renewal, found that if you have already invested heavily and you are happy with your current supplier then despite the advantages that new technology may bring the potential up-front cost of decoupling your content and migrating to a new platform, particularly if you have specialist content hosted in a monolithic system may act as a major barrier to change.

3. New entrants

When you have already settled on outsourcing a services you may find that players in the space change over time, new entrants come into the market or there are other approaches to now consider, this can lead to the need to review that space and the cost of moving suppliers.

4. How much time and resource do you have available?

Consider whether you have enough experts in the organization to cover everything at once. Sometimes it is not just a cost based issue, but how much change you can manage, in how many places, and how many resources you have internally from an expertise perspective. The lack of availability of resource is a key driver when reaching a conclusion to outsource, particularly if you are heavily involved in a large in-house platform project.

5. Forced to move

The verdict to review and select a new supplier can sometimes be forced upon an organization, for example, through mergers and acquisitions. The time constraints associated to implementing changes in policy or the undertaking of an acquisition can provide huge challenges. The planning normally invested in the process of outsourcing is dictated by the situation rather than by you and more often than not will come at a time when not all stakeholders are available to provide their input into the strategic and tactical decisions that need to be agreed before deciding to enter into the process of evaluating and selecting a new partner.

6. Stability of your supplier

If there are signs that a supplier is becoming unstable, it is good business practice to undertake due diligence to ensure you are informed about the issues concerned and are fully aware of the options available to you if in the event you need to re-negotiate or exit your contract.

7. Breakdown of relationship

You may decide to review your options if you increasingly find that your supplier is no longer in tune with your business goals, are unable to communicate effectively, unwilling to consider your requests or are not delivering the agreed service level. The supplier may no longer offer an appropriate value proposition, may make promises they do not keep, or are not developing their service offering to keep up with market developments and requirements and standards. A combination of or even just one of these scenarios will be challenging and may even lead to a breakdown of relationship that is not always recoverable.

8. Company policy and/or best practice

You may have been with your current supplier for a number of years and would like to ensure you are aware of what the competitors offer so that you can be confident that you continue to receive value for money. Many organizations will have a company policy in place to ensure there is a constant review of all suppliers and the services they provide. This may happen every year or every two to five years depending on the complexity of the service and the organization’s internal policy.

9. Ensuring you are offering a good service to your customers

Many decisions are usually motivated by the desire to ensure you are offering a good service to your customers. In one example, a publisher was tasked with looking at their publishing set up, the systems and processes they were using currently, and over time, with the main objective to consider how these could be more efficient and how the organization could offer a better service for their authors and reviewers. Once their board approved the recommendations, they reached an agreement to look at their peer review systems, production systems and other related services.

10. Adopting a hybrid approach

You may decide to continue holding onto the reigns and not to outsource, but to develop your services in-house. You may also decide to in-source additional skills and technology components by partnering with specialists in their field. Rather than outsourcing this allows you to develop a hybrid solution and to share the cost of ongoing development for your service offering with your chosen partner.

Lorraine Ellery Matthews is the Proprietor for Ellery Matthews Consulting. She is writing a series of posts on The Challenges of Outsourcing on the ALPSP blog; the next will focus on The Process of Outsourcing. Sign up using RSS or email above. You can also read them on the Ellery Matthews Consulting blog.

Lorraine will present on The Challenges of Outsourcing sharing further recommendations from leading publishing professionals on Wednesday 7 December at 2.15 p.m. on Stage 1 at the London Info International exhibition. Attend and join in the discussion – book your place here. Exhibition visitors can register for free.

Tuesday 8 November 2016

Using ethnography to understand user needs and behaviours

Paul-Jervis Heath is a Designer and Innovation Consultant at Modern Human. At the Digital Marketing Skills for the Future seminar he explained how ethnographic design research gives us a way of developing a deeper understanding of our users.

You need to find out what users really need, not what they think they need. Design is a set of modes: Immersion, inspiration, imagination and invention.

Shadowing is one of the key design research methods. It allows you to observe real behaviour. By directly observing participants they are able to get a deeper understanding of their needs. There is covert shadowing where you hide and watch, controlled shadowing where you give people a task, and participatory shadowing where you go along with someone when they do something.
Other techniques including using interviews or following people for the day. There's a nifty tool, a narrative clip wearable camera, that takes a photograph every 30 seconds. If you tap it, video is recording. It's a great way of capturing time lapses to supplement notes that are made, but also for showing stakeholders in the business.

Diary studies record experiences to capture what they think and feel across. Modern Human used this approach to work with researchers who were choosing a journal and submitting a paper. They captured the emotions, the comments, and crucially, deep insights into experience of publishing and the behaviour of early career researchers with DSCOUT (Mobile Diary Study Platform).

Other ethnographic research methods include:
  • contextual interviews
  • expert interviews
  • direct experience immersion
  • analogous experiences (e.g. taking librarians into restaurants to see service plans)
  • guided tours
  • cultural probes.

None of these techniques cost a huge amount: it's more about allowing time for them. Often, the best tools for analysis are a big stack of post it notes and coloured pens.

Ethnographic research typically looks for workarounds: quickly seemingly efficient solutions that address the symptoms of a problem, not the root cause. People's values play an important role in their motivations. Inertia shows situations in which customers act out habit. How can you leverage or break that inertia? Take into account should versus want: the tension between things people crave in the moment and things they know are good for them (you want to eat healthily, but you like to eat cake). Consider how can you help people move from where they are to where they want to be?

Design for goals rather than tasks and you create things that are meaningful to people. You need to capture everyone's observations and understanding of the research. A good insight is intuitive not obvious, generative and sticky. You then need to turn insights into models.

Four modes of human-centred design

You can see this approach in scholarly communications with the development of a knowledge chain (as a pose to a supply chain). The academic system is characterised in a similar way. Ideas are the raw material - driven by institutions, researchers, funders, people, publishers. The lab is the method of production. It turns ideas into knowledge. Knowledge is cyclical and can be recycled (e.g. papers being cited).

At Modern Human they developed behavioural profiles for academics. These were like personas, but helped develop archetypal profiles. They turned them into something that looks like a person to make it easier for designers to bring to life. They used it to create and Research and Publishing map and a framework of discipline publishing cultures. Interestingly, they discovered that disciplines are more similar than they might want to admit!

Paul-Jervis Heath is Principal at Modern Human consultancy, a design practice and innovation consultancy that works with clients to create new products, services and experiences. He spoke at the Digital Marketing Skills of the Future seminar held on 8 November 2016 in London.

Precedent's Cory Hughes provides a practical guide to digital transformation

Digital transformation has become a reality: it’s changing the ways in which we interact with the world around us, the way we consume products and services, and the expectations we have as a customer. Every organization recognises the importance of harnessing the power of digital. But for many, the question is how to begin.

Cory Hughes, Precedent's Digital Experience Director, open the Digital Marketing Skills for the Future seminar by observing we so often get caught up with 'business as usual'.

Transformation has to be embraced at all levels of an organization. It's about culture and effecting change throughout. You have to make sure everyone buys into it to ensure you have competitive advantage. The key is to evolve an organization's way of working in order to continue delivering its mission in the face of changing technology, competition, audience need and behaviour.

There are six global trends that you need to be aware of:

  1. Generation Z don't want what came before them - they want to feel they can be a positive influence for change and for the future
  2. 47% of all jobs will disappear over the next 20 years. Automation provides opportunities (as well as obsolescence for certain roles). What different skills does that bring?
  3. 'Global' is achievable and everyone's a jetsetter. How are you listening to your customers and looking after your channels and nurturing them in a two way dialogue.
  4. We experience life through our devices. If customers don't differentiate between physical and digital space, what can you do to integrate both?
  5. We're about to be blindsided by climate change. How do we deliver our products in this wider context. How can you adapt when conditions are not so predictable anymore. Digital allows you tackle this.
  6. Local, bespoke and personalised are the new Big Business. Look what Coke did with personalised bottles with names on them. Learn what your customer likes and needs are. Use data to provide insight on what matters to them so you can personalise online with technology and tools.

'It should be people first, not digital first.'

How can you do it?

  1. Think big. have a strong, clear mission statement: get a Big Hairy Audacious Goal (think Cookie Monster)
  2. Start small: design iteratively to validate the case for wider digital projects. Keep the minimum viable product idea in mind. Have a feedback loop.
  3. Act quickly: in-flight optimisation helps to create momentum that is driven by awareness and data. 

Hughes quoted John Maynard Keynes

Hughes also quoted the systems theorist John Gall who said 'Complex systems that work tend to come from simple systems that worked.' She also urged delegates to think small, easy steps that you have to hand: use Google Analytics on a daily basis as your starting point for insight and measuring goals.

Susan Wojcicki, CEO of YouTube, has listed eight pillars of innovation that Hughes believes are a great guide to work to:

  1. Have a mission that matters
  2. Think big, start small
  3. Strive for continual innovation, not instant perfection
  4. Look for ideas everywhere
  5. Share everything - internally and externally
  6. Spark with imagination, fuel with data
  7. Be a platform
  8. Never fail to fail
Cory Hughes is Digital Experience Director at Precedent. She spoke at the Digital Marketing Skills for the Future seminar held in London on 8 November 2016.