Category Archives: Executive Views

Do What You Do Best and Outsource the Rest

On September 14, 2013, I ran a “Savage Race” in Pennsylvania. The distance was only five miles, but the course was loaded with 25 difficult-to-surmount obstacles. I was one of the older participants. I am proud to say that I finished the course, but I was not on my own. I was fortunate to run the race with a group of people who all relied on and trained with one another. As the race neared its conclusion, I came face to face with an eight-foot wall that I––tired, muddy, wet, and cold––could not scale. It took my teammates working together to pull me over that daunting obstacle so that we all could cross the finish line.

The principles of teamwork––working together, pooling resources, recognizing strengths and weaknesses––apply to running both races and businesses. There is a correlative lesson to be gleaned from the words of the late Peter Drucker, a business consultant who famously said, “Do what you do best and outsource the rest.”

As a communication professional, a portion of my career was spent on the agency side, and for the past ten years I’ve worked with a company that specializes in marketing communication solutions. Outsourcing is all about creating the right relationships, ones that involve partnering with others who can use their talents to support your business model and philosophy.

At Vanguard Direct, we’re about creating ideas, solving communication challenges, and meeting our clients’ goals as effectively and efficiently as possible. To do this, we study and specialize in successful communication strategies. The more closely we understand our clients’ customers and master our ability to communicate effectively with them, the greater our success.

Today’s rapidly changing communication landscape forces us at times to become media agnostic. At the same time, to deploy and execute our strategies and to achieve stellar results, we must remain agile. Working with carefully selected and vetted outside teams––ones who have the same buy-in to our approach––is essential.

What’s more, outsourced partners can provide an objective opinion and often add insight to the development of a particular campaign. The core benefit of this symbiotic relationship is gaining access to a talent pool that can develop creative ideas and provide the added energy that’s often needed to execute a specific project.

Creating mutually advantageous, respectful relationships with outsourced partners will always net positive results. The bottom line: In today’s business environment, it’s difficult to imagine how a company can win the race with just its own resources.

Author: Paul Wry


Managing: Production vs. Digital

When you are providing management oversight in this industry, it shouldn’t matter what type of job it is, correct? Well, that’s very far from the truth. When the company shifts from a production (print) environment to a digital one, project management has to take on a whole new role. Let’s start with some basic differences between production and digital.

The end result of a production job is tangible––you can touch it, see it, feel it. Also, you are generally on the same page with the customer or vendor when you agree on the paper, color, quantity, size, and binding. The proofing, or verification, phase is straightforward because you––and the client––can touch it, see it, and feel it.

Digital jobs are intangible. These jobs are generally process implementations, computer programming and software development––things you don’t touch, see, or feel. These jobs are usually something new for the customer or an upgrade to an existing system. Although customers know what they want, their needs are conveyed in general terms. The verification stage becomes a testing phase where clients may decide that it’s “not exactly” what they meant, or decide that something “a little” more is needed. At this stage, you will also encounter differences in opinion––for example, when you agree with the client that you are going to provide documentation, does that mean a “how-to” user manual or a “blueprint” to rebuild the program from scratch? This is where the real negotiating usually comes into play, but proper planning can avoid this pitfall.

There are five basic project management phases: initiation, planning, execution, monitoring, and completion. These phases should be followed for any type of project regardless of the final output. The planning phase is probably the most critical for any project and ensures that both customer and vendor agree on the final output. In a production job, planning includes negotiation and agreement with the client on the paper, color, quantity, size, and binding for the final product. In a lot of situations, a sample or proof is created so that there is no misunderstanding––again, you can touch it, feel it, see it.

When you are dealing with an intangible deliverable, the planning phase needs further expansion. The creation of a sample or proof is generally not feasible, and the final output will not be realized without a majority of the work being completed. Therefore, “enhanced” planning  is required when you have a project in the digital arena. You will need to create a detailed, step-by-step approach from concept to completion. In addition, you must avoid using general terms (which could lead to divergent expectations, as illustrated in the documentation example above) and be as specific as possible about the final product, as well as its limitations. You can’t read the client’s mind, so you need to be more inquisitive and document what you discover so that both of you can “see” what the client meant.

Author: Tim Murphy

Paper Forms: Only the Tip of the Iceberg

I recently had occasion to visit someone in the hospital. I was impressed by the array of digital equipment being used to gather patient statistics. I was surprised, however, to see that even though hospital technicians used sophisticated digital tools to take measurements, analyze blood, and scan barcodes in the patient’s room, they still wrote the results on a paper form. At first I thought this would be a good opportunity to make that paper form an electronic form and save the data directly to the patient database. Upon further investigation, I found out that the paper form goes to the nurse––who uses the readings to determine if the patient’s medication needs to be adjusted––before going to a data-entry person. The division of labor between the technician, nurse, and data-entry worker, combined with the inability to route electronic documents, created a workflow that was dependent on a paper form. Simply substituting the paper form with an electronic form would cause a breakdown in the workflow. Paper forms are not only needed to record information, but they are an important part of the workflow.

Similarly, an accounts payable department that is trying to automate the receipt and processing of vendor invoices may find that simply scanning, indexing, and storing the paper is not a complete solution. If the workflow includes an approval process, then there must be a way to route the electronic image of the invoice to the appropriate approver. Here again, the paper document serves as a vehicle for moving the data and initiating an action.

If you’re thinking of replacing your paper forms with electronic forms, make sure you examine the business process. Replacing paper with electronic forms is not always the solution for complex business processes. What is needed is a document management system. This should include features like document routing, electronic work queues, multi-level approvals, transaction logs, and alert notifications. The term used today is enterprise content management (ECM).

The title of one online article proclaims, “ECM is a better marketing term than a technology strategy.” This is because a complete document management strategy includes both policies and technologies. These policies include the rules and regulations that govern the use of documents in your organization. Before embarking on a project for creating an ECM system for your organization/business unit, consider the following factors:

1. Your business goals in deploying an ECM system: reducing expenses, increased productivity, compliance requirements, etc.

2. The metrics needed to measure the success of the project and a way to capture them

3. Process and workflow management

4. Interoperability and integration issues with existing systems or databases

5. Retention and disposition of electronic content

6. Security and access to digital document repositories

There a still many technical factors that go into the final selection and implementation of an ECM system. These first steps will help you determine if you only need to convert paper to digital forms or if an ECM system is the right direction for your organization.

Author: Thomas Veneroso

The Last Dinosaur Still Reads Books

I recently visited the orchid show at the New York Botanical Garden in my beloved Bronx. I spent two hours enjoying the beginning of spring by taking pictures and relaxing among 10,000 orchids and 500 like-minded people. Most people were taking pictures with their smartphones or tablets. I was part of the crowd, equipped with my iPad, but by the end of my visit I went to the garden’s bookstore and gift shop.

The books were displayed in a beautiful setting among flowers, plants, and mood lighting, but the store wasn’t busy. This allowed me to compare a few of the flower photography prints in the books to the photos I took with my iPad. The iPad photos were all right compared to the professional pieces, but they did not jump out off the screen the way they did when I was looking at the printed material. I thought about all of the people who bypassed the store to beat the traffic home and missed out on a big part of the experience.

I have been taking photos of popular bookstores throughout New York City the last few months, and I find it sad that they are slowly disappearing. Though many protest, I still find an attraction to the physical printed piece, which always seems to have a lasting impression that its digital counterparts can’t seem to replicate. When the bookstore becomes extinct, both a visual and physical component of reading will be lost. The sense of touch as experienced with textured paper or the smell of a piece straight off the press is just as much of the fun as the content.

I must confess, however, that this blog was written on my iPad and my Botanical Garden photos have all been uploaded to my Facebook profile. There’s no doubt that digital technology makes our lives easier and information much more accessible. If I ever need to look up one of the flowers from the garden, I don’t have to go all the way back to the store––I can find it online.

In my next post, I will be sharing the results of a survey I conducted of younger generations and their feelings toward printed pieces and print aggregators like bookstores and libraries. You know this dinosaur loves his print, but how important is it to the new hands in this industry? Stay tuned to find out.

Author: Joe Corbo