April 1, 2019

How to select a digitization partner

3 critical criteria and (lots of) questions for success

Cultural heritage institutions rely on partnerships with outside companies to build successful digitization programs. Selecting the right company is often a daunting task, fraught with lengthy procurement processes and compressed deadlines. Finding the right partner is an important exercise that requires many considerations – and a long list of questions – to identify who you should collaborate with.

Three critical criteria come up repeatedly in the conversations I have with national and state libraries, publishers and museums around the world as they share what has gone well, what has been a challenge, and the ‘would have, could have, should haves’ of their digitization projects and programs.

1. Will you receive excellent customer service?

At the foundation of any successful partnership is strong customer service. Without it, things can, and will, have a propensity to go awry. A great way to dig into this area during a search for a digitization company is through expanding reference checks and interviews during your assessment.

Asking more questions is always better.

Dig into how (or if) the company goes above-and-beyond for its customers.

  • Are they responsive and communicative?
  • Detail-oriented?
  • Proactive?
  • What is the service culture of the organization?

These questions will help crack the surface on the DNA of the company and staff that will be at the center of your work together and provide a sense of what they are like to work with.

By choosing a partner with a culture of service, you will reap the rewards in account and project management – and enjoy working with an organization that puts serving your objectives first.

2. How experienced are the company and staff?

The top-to-bottom level of expertise of a partner’s staff is another major indicator of success. A more experienced team will provide a much deeper value to your organization over the life cycle of a project.

Partnering with a digitization company that has a strong bench of technical expertise, thought leadership, and hands-on experience enriches the quality of work, deepens your staff’s own experience, and provides a safety net to handle unforeseen complications that could arise.

Basic questions to gauge expertise include:

  • How long have they provided the requisite services?
  • Do they have an array of relevant capabilities that complement the specific needs of your program?
  • Are staff involved in contributing to standards organizations and/or thought leadership?
  • Beyond the production staff doing the work, do your day-to-day contacts have experience managing similar projects at the same scale?
  • Can they troubleshoot?
  • Can they, and will they, roll-up their sleeves and jump in head first to lend guidance, advice, and recommendations based on their experience and expertise?

Selecting a partner that has capabilities that exceed the scope of your project, and has been doing so for a significant amount of time, is beneficial. Some of this can be evaluated in a proposal, but doing your homework with client references shines a bright light on the way in which expertise and experience will be put to work for you and your team.

3. Do you trust the company’s quality assurance process?

An organization’s approach for building quality assurance into the fabric of their processes, systems, and personnel training is critical.

Quality is never something that is, or can be, inspected into a product. The presence of a methodical approach that identifies and manages for qualitative risk is something that separates the very best companies from the rest of the pack.

When evaluating a digitization partner, ask about quality:

  • How do they ensure what they create meets or exceeds their clients’ accuracy requirements?
  • Who performs quality checks?
  • Are quality checks performed by a separate team of people who have created the product?
  • Or worse, is it the same staff checking their own work? (yikes!)

The ratio and type of rework a company has to perform is a key performance indicator that tells a big story on what you should expect. A low price vendor may double the amount of time and effort you have to invest in managing the project due to the amount of rework and quality review you and your team must perform.

Ideally, finding a partner who has a robust approach to quality assurance will pay dividends.

Ask the right questions and you will find the right partner.

These questions are worth asking as you get to know potential digitization partners. Without performing due diligence in these areas, you are exposed to the substantial risks of headaches, roadblocks, and struggles.

Deliberately, these questions are designed to force you to dig into the weeds. The answers can serve as a helpful guidepost for planning and executing on your next digitization project.

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