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.

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