Monday 30 January 2017

Introducing Content Enrichment as a strategic publishing capability

photo Sam Herbert
In this post, Sam Herbert discusses the benefits to be gained when publishers introduce content enrichment to their business processes as a strategic capability.

Content enrichment is the application of modern content processing techniques like natural language processing, machine learning and Artificial Intelligence (AI) to add structure, context and metadata to content to make it more useful to humans and computers. It is a key enabler in the array of techniques, skills and know-how needed in order to successfully complete the transition to digital, data driven organisations. In the digital environment, content enrichment unlocks the potential to get the best out of all parts of the publishing lifecycle.

So far, most publishers have only dabbled in using modern content processing tools or they have implemented spot solutions for specific needs that do not deliver value across the organisation. We have seen that when content enrichment projects are done separately and in isolation in different parts of the business, even though some of them prove to be very successful, very few leverage the success from previous work or build a capability that can be reused. Isolated projects often also use different technologies to achieve similar results and because there is little coordination between the projects there is wasted effort, unnecessary repetition of work and little shared learning. Therefore, these initiatives do not take the business forward.

To maximise the business benefits of content enrichment, it should be introduced as a strategic organisational capability comprising people, processes and technology. When implemented strategically, rather than as individual features within single products, content enrichment delivers multiple benefits. For example, introducing the capability to create semantic fingerprints for pieces of content can deliver a peer review recommender tool, but it can then also deliver other features like a relatedness feature, a smart notification feature etc.

Our work with publishers has identified benefits from content enrichment in every part of the organisation (editorial, content production, product development, IT, sales, marketing, and finance). Implementing content enrichment as an organisational capability ensures that any investment delivers value across the whole organisation as well as delivering more value to customers.

To remain relevant, increase efficiency and deliver new revenue streams every publisher should be developing a plan for how they will utilise modern content processing techniques and tools.

For more information about how to take a strategic approach to building your core content enrichment capability and how to use it to achieve strategic business objectives, take a look at our white paper, Content Enrichment: an essential strategic capability for every publisher.

Sam Herbert is Client Services Director and co-founder of 67 Bricks. Founded in 2007, 67 Bricks is a software consultancy specialising in content enrichment.

Thursday 26 January 2017

The Challenges of Outsourcing Part Four: Supplier selection (top tips 6-10)

photo Lorraine Ellery Matthews
In this post, Lorraine Ellery Matthews continues to share feedback from leading scholarly publishing professionals focusing on practical advice and further top tips (Tips 6-10) to consider when selecting a supplier to outsource your product or service.

The first post in the series identified 10 key drivers to outsource and the second post outlined Stakeholder Engagement.

Part three identified five top tips for selecting a supplier

1. What impressions do you have of a supplier?
2. Ensure effective communication
3. Forge positive relationships
4. Engage in early collaboration
5. Look under the hood

In this post, she outlines top tips 6-10:

6. Consider time and resources

"When moving suppliers you need to have built in sufficient post-implementation time to ensure that the quality of the core service is at least as good as it was before the change. The call on time and resources and the resultant loss of momentum should not be underestimated - you want to be able to reassure your customers, and ideally involve them in the ‘live’ test phase." Daniel Smith, semi-retired Publisher and Consultant, previously Head of Academic Publishing at The IET

7. Obtain recommendations and feedback

Requesting references from a supplier should be a given and once received, ensure you ask for feedback from different roles within the organization that deal with the supplier, including those that deal with the day to day communications. Ensure you ask the supplier’s customers how their transition went and their current experience.

Obtaining recommendations from a trusted source of your own can also provide you with a more in-depth insight than relying on those references supplied alone.

In conversation with Simon Laurenson, Operations Manager at Bioscientifica about the switch to a new eCommerce supplier, Simon shared some helpful advice:
"It's important to speak to other publishers and get as much advice as you can, with lots of society owned publishers our size we have the opportunity to exchange notes." 

A word of caution, however. When talking to another publisher/organization you need to consider that at the time of talking with others, they may have been optimistic so it's best if you do not rely on this feedback alone.

All the publishers I spoke to will provide clear feedback if asked by the suppliers once the RFP/Tender process has ended, recognizing the time and effort invested by the supplier and to aid continued improvement. At the end of the selection process do also ask suppliers for feedback from their perspective too. For example: How did your RFP compare to others they have seen and what other questions could have been asked?

8. Expect the unexpected 

Expect the unexpected cartoon of jack in the box

Even with good planning, it's hard to know exactly what to expect back from a supplier.

Ove Kähler, Director Product Management & Global Distribution at Brill speaks about proposals he received back from suppliers:

"We didn't expect to get responses back that were close to 150 pages long. Also, the diversity of proposals and different aspects of pricing made it difficult to compare them. We tried to prevent this by providing vendors with the Excel version of our requirements. Even though they filled in the sheet and highlighted what was in scope and what wasn’t, it was still a challenge to get a good easy overview of how the proposals compared."

9. Quality assessment

In discussion with Jeremy MacDonald, Director of Technology at Pharmaceutical Press, quality assessment was raised as a key undertaking when developing an APP and he emphasised the importance of selecting a supplier that can get the data right first time:

"There are multiple internal challenges that arise when trying to present data that needs to be clinically correct. People are using this data to make important decisions about other people including children so there is a high level of responsibility for you as the publisher to get it right. When developing an APP, you are having to create your content set in different media so have to ensure quality assessment has been undertaken before presenting the data.

Getting an App to work across different platforms is a challenge with the different versioning of devices e.g. IOS 5 and IOS 10 - things evolve forward and therefore you need to ensure the App can continue to work with different devices and platforms. Upgrades are open to error and we have to continually test and modify the code base."

Testing partners
It's not always possible to test different versions of iPhone for example within your organization. Therefore, the publisher found test partners who were able to undertake the testing for them. Everyone in-house at the publisher runs Windows 7, therefore a SaaS partner was also needed to test their browsers and Apps on different desktops.

10. Planning

Finally, if things do NOT work out it can be really painful so it is important to ensure you have agreed on a project plan with you supplier that is prepared for every contingency. A good project plan will allow you to monitor the stages of a project development, make adjustments where necessary and maintain a momentum with your supplier through to implementation and beyond.

Daniel Smith, in discussing hosting services noted "A properly formulated project plan would allow at least 6-12 months of post-implementation activity to ensure that the service is fit for purpose and where it is not, there is time and resource to put it right."

It is important to be realistic with your timelines. If you have to change supplier at short notice, you need to be accommodating in terms of what you expect of the new supplier. If you are pushing a tight deadline on them, you need to be aware this may cause longer term problems.

Effective communication and forging good relationships will go a long way to ensuring a successful project and outsource partnership. However, to avoid frustration, don't forget also to plan for the expected as one publisher suggested: "Everything can stop for Christmas!".

cartoon illustrating everything stops for Christmas

Do you have any further tips or thoughts on this topic that you would like to share?

Join Lorraine Ellery Matthews who will be chairing the Outsourcing Challenges workshop at the forthcoming Research to Reader Conference in London on 20 and 21 February 2017.  The workshop poses the following question to the wider community:

Which aspects of the scholarly communications process can be outsourced, how can risks be mitigated and how can outsourcing be most effectively managed?

Register here for the 2017 Research to Reader Conference.

Friday 20 January 2017

The Challenges of Outsourcing Part Three: Supplier selection (top tips 1-5)

photo Lorraine Ellery Matthews
In this post, part three of the Challenges of Outsourcing, Lorraine Ellery continues to share feedback from leading scholarly publishing professionals focusing on practical advice and tips to consider when selecting a supplier to outsource your product or service.

This follows the first post in the series identifying 10 key drivers to outsource and the second post outlining Stakeholder Engagement.

1. What impressions do you have of a supplier?

You may have already undertaken an early RFI (request for information) from a supplier, carried out your own research or commissioned a competitor analysis of the supplier landscape. However, to really get a good impression of the supplier, you need to consider how they are positioned and what they can bring to your business. You may find you need to engage in a more formal RFP (request for proposal) or tender process.

The RFP/Tender process should provide a framework that allows you to obtain a clear impression of the supplier; the product and service offering they provide; how they will address and meet your requirements and a clear indication of how they stand out from their competitors. The following key questions need to be answered before reaching an outsourcing agreement with a supplier:
  • Can they understand my business? 
  • Can they meet my requirements? 
  • Can they offer service reliability? 
  • Customer service, can they carry through on their promises?
  • Budget and ongoing costs, are these visible and agreeable? 
  • Have we agreed on critical value objectives
  • What is their value proposition, is this measurable?
  • What is their track record in servicing similar organizations?
  • How will their location affect me and my organization? (onshore or offshore) 
  • Do they have the ability to communicate effectively? 
  • Will I have Insight into their product/service roadmap? 
  • Are there signs of instability? 
  • Will our external auditors accept them?

If you are happy with your current supplier then you may not wish to spend time in going out to tender (unless you are obliged to do so) or in progressing with a formal RFP process. It is, therefore, advisable to first consider the opportunity cost involved!

2. Ensure effective communication

It is very important to mitigate against misunderstanding and incorrect interpretation usually caused by poor communication.
Cartoon illustrating importance of effective communication

I asked "is stakeholder engagement key to effective communication?" in my last post and wish to add that it is advisable to ensure you have agreed a clear project scope and selection criteria with relevant stakeholders before you reach out to suppliers. Whether this is before embarking on an informal or formal tender process, the preparation will take time, but this investment will ensure your objectives, goals and requirements are clear, assist you in managing expectations, provide a frame of reference and help take the emotion out of the supplier selection decision.

Clear expectations
Caroline Burley, Journals Operations Manager, Publishing Services & Production at the Royal Society of Chemistry shares her thoughts:

"Suppliers may say “yes we can do that” straight away without taking the time to fully understand what we are asking them to do. To ensure the supplier fully appreciates our requirements we try to make the documentation we provide as clear as possible and work through examples with them, providing feedback so that they can understand exactly what we are asking for.

If everyone is clear on the expectations and in agreement, then you should be able to work with the supplier to agree a realistic timeline to deliver the service. If they are not clear on what you are asking them to do, they may have to do additional last minute work that they were not anticipating which may affect the delivery time. Or if, as the customer, you are pushing for a fast delivery, it may be the case that they can't do all of the preparatory work before you go live.

You may need to be accommodating in terms of what you expect of the new supplier if you have a tight deadline, but be aware this may cause longer term problems once the motivation to finish the preparative work is removed.”

Agree to a SOW (statement of work)
The Head of the Journal program for a large medical society which completed several transitions to new vendors in 2016 recommends:

"Publishers and the selected vendor should agree in a SOW (and in great detail) what will be delivered and when with compensation or penalties for non-delivery. This is especially important for key workflow processes and functionalities.

Ideally, the consultant and client staff should document or record meetings with vendors during the RFP process and make sure that all parties are in agreement on what was presented and discussed to minimize disagreements and differences in interpretation at agreement and transition stage."

3. Forge positive relationships

"There is a lot to say for a relationship that is a positive one, and where you and the supplier are clear about your expectations both ways. Not just in a contract or agreement, but in terms of the actual interaction with the people you are working with. As the sales cliché suggests 'people buy from people first', there will be relationships that are particular to the organization and not every publisher is looking for the same thing." Director of Publishing, leading UK society publisher

4. Engage in early collaboration

Collaborating with consultants:
Collaborate with consultants to help distill information and facilitate discussion to allow stakeholders to talk through their frustrations - this feedback can strengthen the value of the final offering.

A consultant can ensure you select and retain the partners that best fit your organizational goals, provide advice and manage all or specific components of the RFP/Tender process, including the following:
  • Early research e.g. Competitor analysis 
  • Project management and advice
  • Support and assist in management of the selection process including creation of the RFP/tender documentation; evaluation of responses received, selection and brokering of agreements
  • Create and manage the implementation of contracts and SLA’s 
Matthew Cianfarani, Director International Business Development, Mark Allen Group collaborated with a consultant when outsourcing their hosting platform. Matthew suggests
"Use a consultant early to shape the whole thing – if you don’t have a large IT team who understand academic publishing you need an outside view of what you do, to communicate to potential vendors."

Early involvement of technical experts  
Sometimes you will find that you are dealing mainly with the commercial staff at the supplier end and it is not until an agreement is signed that the hand over to technical experts begins.

"Involvement of a technical person earlier in discussion provides continuity." Helen King, Digital Strategy Lead at BMJ

4) Look under the hood

Cartoon illustrating Look under the Hood

Before buying a car, you would look under the hood, before buying a new outfit you would preferably try it on. Therefore, why not apply this common sense when outsourcing?

It can take commitment of both time and finance to try a service before you buy, however, it can certainly be worth the investment as Helen King, BMJ found: "Working with a potential supplier to test their services before you decide to move platform can provide you with a large amount of qualitative information about the service and if it will be a good fit."

Sign up using your email to receive blog posts in this series, post four will highlight a further 6-10 tops tips to consider.

Lorraine will be chairing the Outsourcing Challenges workshop at the forthcoming Research to Reader Conference in London on 20-21 February 2017: Which aspects of the scholarly communications process can be outsourced, how can risks be mitigated and how can outsourcing be most effectively managed?

Register here for the 2017 Research to Reader Conference