The digitization practices described in earlier leaflets can be accomplished two ways: through in-house digitization or by outsourcing tasks to vendors. Depending upon the size of the project, the complexity of the process, the time frame in which the project must be completed, and the experience of the organization, the decision to utilize outsourcing may or may not be an initial consideration. But unless an organization owns a large, in-house digitization facility, there are valid reasons to include outsourcing considerations during digitization project planning.
In an interesting bit of irony, people and institutions experienced with digitization projects are more likely to outsource components of such projects than are those who lack experience. For most people new to digitization projects, however, a prospective project is equated with an opportunity to learn new skills. Therefore, the initial urge is to accomplish everything in-house. First projects are also seen as an opportunity to acquire the technological equipment necessary to support the first as well as later projects. Outsourcing any component of the project is often viewed as a lost opportunity or even loss of control over the project.
While these are understandable considerations, the reality is that digitization projects encompass a wide range of choices, activities, expertise, and responsibilities that may be best accomplished and mastered over time. Before making firm decisions about a project and certainly before writing a proposal, one should consider all of the needs outlined in other NEDCC preservation leaflets, as well as the following information.
One of the biggest fallacies is that an institution either outsources a digitization project or does it in-house. In reality, such a dichotomy does not exist. There will always be in-house components of any digitization project. Tasks such as selection, determining user needs, benchmarking (establishing required quality specifications for digitization), and quality control and verification are best done by staff members who know the collections. In some cases, metadata or descriptive activities also need to be accomplished by the local institutions. And for very large projects, organizations may choose a hybrid approach, outsourcing some digitization services while simultaneously accomplishing some in-house. In fact, in the fall of 2000 and the spring of 2001 researchers from Glasgow University’s Humanities Advanced Technology and Information Institute interviewed people involved in 36 major cultural heritage digitization projects. More than half reported that they both digitized in-house and used commercial vendors (NINCH 2002).
Upon closer consideration, institutions will find that many complex and time-consuming tasks need to be accomplished in-house as a part of the project. How large is the project staff? How much experience do staff members have? What is the duration of the project? Does the staff have time to accomplish the in-house tasks and manage the learning curve associated with digitizing collections? For smaller institutions, the only feasible and timely way to accomplish the digitization may be to vend out certain components to experienced professionals. For others, vending out certain aspects on the first project may allow a more reasonable learning curve, coupled with a successful first project; acquiring hands-on digitization experience can be reserved for the time when other aspects of project management have already been mastered.
Regardless of an institution’s experience level, it is important for its staff to understand the pros and cons of both the in-house and the outsourced approaches.
Why Digitize In-house? The Advantages of Keeping It at Home
As Janet Gertz stated in the Handbook for Digital Projects, “The primary argument for digitizing in-house is that it gives the institution close control over all procedures, handling of materials, and quality of products. There is no need to send valuable or fragile originals off-site and no worry about working with a vendor who turns out to be incompetent, provides something other than what was required, or goes out of business” (NEDCC 2000). This advice reflects tried-and-true experiences of most preservation projects and is certainly relevant in the higher-stakes process of digitizing cultural heritage materials.
But there are other reasons why institutions may choose to complete all digitization components in-house. They include the ability to
So while you’re learning by doing, you also face the downside of essentially setting up your own imaging facility. You should also expect that the anticipated learning curve may grow to become a series of learning walls over which you must hurdle. How prepared is your organization to face the following disadvantages?
A digitization facility is more than a table with a digitization device and a computer. Many organizations do not own the appropriate hardware and software necessary for digital projects. Organizations considering tackling all aspects of a digitization project must ensure that they have the proper staff, facilities, equipment, and supplies before beginning a digitization project of any size. Failure to do so may lead to a variety of problems throughout the duration of the project and yield digitized resources either not worthy of the time and effort needed to create them or unable to meet the needs of users.
So what does it take to set up the in-house digitization facility? The following factors must be addressed to support the full digitization chain:
The issues above are just a sampling of the components necessary to support the in-house digitization chain. These are time requirements and costs that must be borne by the organization.
Accurate budgeting of time and cost requirements is difficult without experience, so organizations should factor in a generous curve in expectations for both between project start-up and production. Organizations should also understand that the requirements and questions above are not one-time issues; many of them are ongoing, requiring ongoing time and monetary investment. There will be annual equipment costs, maintenance licenses, system-monitoring costs, replacement costs associated with technological obsolescence, and certainly the costs associated with the preservation of the digital files created during the project. Is your organization ready to take on all these commitments? If not, outsourcing at least some components of the project should be considered.
A variety of services can be outsourced throughout a project. The need for any of these depends on the nature of the materials to be digitized, the technical and staff capabilities of the local organization to meet those needs, and/or decisions made in relation to local priorities and project needs. Some examples of available outsourced services include the following:
Advantages of Outsourcing
With the variety of outsourced services available, there are compelling reasons to consider taking advantage of the services offered. In fact, the broad range of services and options available is one of the main advantages of outsourcing at least some components of a digitization project. Other advantages include these:
Essentially the risks associated with many of the digitization processes and their related activities are shifted to the vendors. This alleviates many expensive and time-consuming activities that an organization would otherwise need to establish and manage. Consideration of phased learning and skill building is important. Utilizing outsourced services — especially during an organization’s first few projects — may be a wise decision that allows for a gradual digitization learning curve. After expertise has been established in other areas, services previously outsourced could be reconsidered. Based on needs and local capabilities at the later date, these services may be assumed by the local organization. Still other organizations may continue to utilize specialty, outsourced services so the local organization can focus on other project components that require its expertise.
Disadvantages of Outsourcing
Outsourcing may not be the best answer for some collections or organizations. As with most choices, some disadvantages must be factored into a decision about outsourcing components of digital projects. These include the following:
As noted by the points above, there can be some disadvantages to outsourcing some components of digitization projects. Many of these can be mitigated through carefully worded contracts, clear lines of communication with the vendor, and the use of a trusted service provider. The trick is to choose outsourced services and vendors wisely.
Before engaging a vendor for services, it is important to understand how your needs can be met by a vendor. And equally important, what is the cost to do so? Some vendors may provide a range of services within the same physical location. Still others specialize in specific areas. Others may advertise services that appear to meet organizational needs until clearer inspection reveals an inability to do so. Not all vendors are equal! Choosing the correct vendor for the services required can be the determining factor between a well-done, timely project and a nightmare of delays and poor-quality digital files.
Major difficulties associated with outsourcing services can arise if project goals are not clearly defined by the organization and communicated to potential vendors. The responsibility for communicating those needs lies solely with the contracting organization (Kenney, Chapman 1996). The identification of potential vendors can be done only through careful analysis of the proposed project and solid understanding of requirements for each component. Are digitization (conversion) services being sought? If so, what are the benchmarking (technical quality) requirements for the digitization? Are any post-processing services desired? OCR? Encoding? To what standard(s)? What are the expected deliverables? How are expectations to be communicated to vendors? How can responding vendors’ claims be evaluated?
Locating Potential Vendors
There are two main issues involved with locating vendors. For the purpose of digitizing cultural heritage materials, there is an important differentiation:
Finding qualified vendors is not as difficult as it may seem. Consider calling colleagues (friends, organizations with a similar project underway, organizations in the same geographic area, etc.) for recommendations. Other potential vendors may be identified by searching the Internet for final reports from digitization projects (grant requirements often demand a final report covering all aspects of the project, and organizations generally make these available on project websites).
Another useful mechanism for locating potential vendors is a Request for Information (RFI). An RFI can communicate specific requirements to potential vendors and seek information on their ability to meet those needs. RFIs can also be used by institutions with less firm plans, unsure of what services they can and/or may want to outsource. In these cases, a more open-ended statement can be compiled to solicit suggestions about services that vendors may be able to provide. The responses to such RFIs can help organizations clarify the tasks they must perform in-house while providing options for services to outsource.
The Request for Information (RFI)
The RFI should be considered part of a screening process to identify potential vendors. As stated earlier, not all vendors are able to provide all services. The RFI should be considered the “casting net” — a tool to locate a number of interested vendors interested in and capable of responding to the next stage of identification, a Request for Proposal (RFP, or bid).
An RFI should include a brief description of the proposed project, including important specifics such as quantity, timing, and desired products. Vendors should be asked to respond to general questions about their digitization (quality) capabilities, the kinds of materials they can handle; production capabilities (how many shifts, turnaround time, etc.); and other specifics about potential services. The RLG Model Request for Information (RLGb)is a good example of an RFI for digital-imaging services and may be adapted for other services.
Instructions to vendors should solicit contact information for a dedicated staff member if the RFI response generates questions. Make sure to allow three to four weeks for vendor responses!
The Request for Proposal (RFP)
Once vendors capable of providing necessary services are identified, the next and most important step is the creation of a project Request for Proposal (RFP). The RFP is not the same thing as an RFI; it is a detailed description of the project and detailed information about the tasks that will be outsourced to vendors. The main goal of an RFP is to convey the terms and conditions of an institution’s digital-imaging project to potential service providers. It also provides formal documentation that will be a key component of the final digital-imaging service contract.
RFPs should address the specific requirements of each project. They should be broad enough to allow for different vendors to propose alternative methodologies where appropriate, but specific enough to ensure that vendors understand the standards that they will be required to meet related to the services they perform. An RFP should include
Within the RFP, organizations should also include information about general institutional guidelines related to proposal submission instructions and formal conditions. Submission instructions should explain that vendors need to provide detailed responses to all questions within the RFP. Providing a set of questions or points to which all vendors must respond makes the process of evaluation and comparison much easier. Gertz (2000) provides a fairly comprehensive list of issues that should be addressed in a vendor response:
Organizations distributing RFPs should budget at least four to eight weeks for responses. Four weeks should be considered minimal and eight weeks should be considered minimal around grant deadlines. Remember, qualified vendors receive many RFPs for their services. If you want reliable, careful responses from vendors, make sure you allow them time to prepare them. And don’t be afraid to telephone the vendor with questions. Vendors may have questions or require clarification on items within the RFP. Organizations must include contact information for the project manager in the RFP to facilitate this process.
The creation of an RFP is time-consuming and may seem onerous, but this critical document will be relied upon in establishing a relationship with vendors. As with RFIs, many examples are available to organizations to utilize when crafting their own. They include the following:
The purpose in developing a comprehensive RFP is to obtain as much relevant information from vendors to allow for a fair, impartial evaluation and decision-making process. To do so, the RFP must contain planned, objective criteria against which vendors can be measured. These criteria are reflected in the list of issues to be addressed by vendors named above.
Organizations may wish to develop a semiformal rating system. Within that system, organizations may weight the value of critical tasks or services over others. Regardless of its form, a system should be used that enables the organization to compare and contrast skills, services, qualifications, and other factors in an unbiased way.
Here are some issues to consider in evaluating RFP responses:
In addition to the questions above, consider the following:
After a vendor is selected, the contract can be drawn up. For most institutions, this means a complex legal document that specifies rights, responsibilities, obligations, deliverables, specifications, and pricing agreed upon for the services to be performed. If it is an organization’s first digitization project or first project with a particular vendor, the contract may be highly detailed, outlining all expectations.
As legal documents, contracts normally begin with sections covering the legal obligations of the two parties and a description of the work being contracted. Details, such as procedures, agreed-upon work flows, and relevant standards to which the vendor’s products should adhere, can be attached as appendixes.
Although complex, thankfully much of the needed information can be drawn from documentation created for the RFP. Project specifications are part of the legal obligations assumed by the vendor, and therefore are a focal point for the contract. Other items to outline in the contract include
Within the long list above are some very important concepts that must be included to protect the organization, its original materials, and document processes for remedies of disputes. Do not assume anything! Once the contract has been prepared, have the contract reviewed by the organization’s legal department (if applicable) or a staff member familiar with contracts and licenses before signing it! The vendor should have an opportunity to see and amend the contract, as necessary, before official signatures are recorded. Copies of the signed contract should be maintained by both the organization and the vendor.
As both Gertz (2000) and Serenson Colet (2000) have said, the keys to a successful project are flexibility and constant communication with the vendor during the project. The clearer and more open the communication between institution and vendor, the better the project is likely to be. Utilize the direct contact provided by the vendor. Call with any questions that arise and encourage the vendor to so the same.
Encourage regular communication with and from the vendor. Closely monitor local quality-control responsibilities so that any problems can be identified and reported as soon as possible. If significant problems are discovered during quality control, increase the amount of local inspection/review and notify the vendor immediately. Recovery from problems is generally much easier and can be addressed more economically the earlier they are noticed.
Be fair to the vendor. The vendor is contracted to maintain a specified production schedule. Organizations must also stay on schedule and deliver materials to the vendor as articulated in the contract. If unavoidable delays arise or changes in shipment contents occur, the vendor should be informed as soon as possible. A vendor’s schedule is built around multiple contracts and production capabilities. Organizations should be prepared to shift the entire project schedule to accommodate the vendor’s production schedule if the organization is at fault. Organizations may also need to renegotiate terms or be very flexible with the vendor if delays or production variations affect the vendor’s schedule.
With the increasing availability of qualified vendors to meet the needs of cultural heritage organizations, combined with the emergence of best practices and guidelines for digitization, outsourcing digitization has become a much more attractive and economically viable option. Outsourcing one or more components of a digitization project should be a consideration during the planning phase of most projects.
The advice to seriously consider vendors applies most directly to organizations with large projects that require substantial manual work (original materials preparation, rekeying, markup); projects that require expensive, complex hardware, software, and expertise (audio and video digitization); and to organizations that are engaging in their first digitization project. Opting to use the skills of qualified professionals should not be equated with a “loss of control” in a digitization project. Instead, outsourcing appropriate components of a digitization project should be considered a wise choice that allows an organization to focus on it owns strengths while leveraging the expertise of others.
Gertz, Janet. 2000. “Vendor Relations.” In Handbook for Digital Projects: A Management Tool for Preservation and Access. Maxine K. Sitts, editor. Andover, Mass.: Northeast Document Conservation Center (PDF version, http://nedcc.org/resources/digitalhandbook/vii.htm, pp. 150–163).
Indiana University. April 2001. Request for Proposal for Digital Imaging Production Services. http://www.dlib.indiana.edu/services/digitalProjectPlanning/CushmanRFP.pdf
Kenney, Anne R., and Stephen Chapman. 1996. “Outsourcing Imaging Services.” In Digital Imaging for Libraries and Archives. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Library.
Library of Congress. 1996. RFP96-18: Digital Images from Original Documents, Text Conversion and SGML-Encoding. Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress. http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/prpsal/rfp18.pdf
_____. 1996. RFP96-5: Conversion of Microfilm to Digital Images. Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress. http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/prpsal5/rfp5.pdf
_____. 1997. RFP97-9: Conversion of Pictorial Materials to Digital Images. Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress. http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/prpsal9/ rfp9.pdf
_____. March 2001. Audio Transfer and Image Scanning Specifications. Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress. http://www.loc.gov/rr/mopic/avprot/audioSOW.html
National Initiative for a Networked Cultural Heritage. 2002. The NINCH Guide to Good Practice in the Digital Representation and Management of Cultural Heritage Materials. Washington, D.C.: National Initiative for a Networked Cultural Heritage.
RLGa. 1997. RLG Guidelines for Creating a Request for Proposal for Digital Imaging Services. Mountain View, Calif.: Research Libraries Group. http://www.rlg.org/en/pdfs/RFPGuidelines.pdf
RLGb. 1997. RLG Model RFI for Digital Imaging Services. Mountain View, Calif.: Research Libraries Group. http://www.rlg.org/en/pdfs/RLGrfi.pdf
RLGc. 1997. RLG Model RFP for Digital Imaging Services. Mountain View, Calif.: Research Libraries Group. http://www.rlg.org/en/pdfs/RLGModelRFP.pdf
Serenson Colet, Linda. 2000. “Planning an Imaging Project.” In Guides to Image Quality in Visual Resources Imaging. Washington, D.C., and Mountain View, Calif.: Council on Library and Information Resources and Research Libraries Group. http://www.rlg.org/legacy/visguides/visguide1.html
Written by Robin L. Dale