Q: Do you believe implementing workflows result in requiring fewer editorial staff?
A: The workflow improvements we have been looking at will allow staff from all related departments to spend more time on their actual job rather than repetitive, time-consuming, administrative tasks. Automation of background tasks will free up time and make the staff feel more productive and valued. Productivity will increase, as will staff retention. Financial errors will be reduced and the overall cost of contributions will therefore decrease. These are the huge benefits of implementing workflows that will impact on all departments involved in the contributions process, from editorial through to finance.
Q: My team is very possessive over their work and quite resistant to change. Any change to their working practices is seen as a negative. Any tips for selling changes to them?
A: Many teams are. It is very natural. I've implemented new workflows across a variety of departments and the ones that are most successful have full buy-in from the team. So, get them on board from the start. Identify the person who is the ‘go to' for system or procedure questions; most departments have one. Ask them for their ideas about how to reduce the admin their team is burdened with. Set them up as a ‘project contact' and you will usually find they are eager to help. They will be able to identify the pain points in their current procedure which can be discussed with your solution provider. Having them work with you will be invaluable as you will have a good overview of the current workflow, and you will have a strong influencer in your corner. We would also recommend that team members have the business significance of the project reinforced by having senior members of staff, such as the CFO and editors attend the initial meeting.
Q: If all communication is automated, isn't the relationship with the contributors compromised?
A: Automation should never take the place of real contact. Its best use is for administrative tasks, like confirmations. Even sending the briefs in a templated email could be done after having a discussion with the contributor. The email is the confirmation in writing. Never rely on automation alone to enhance the relationship. It should be used to free up time for more productive communication.
Q: In your experience, what is the average time saved by using an editorial contributions system like this?
A: It would be impossible to quantify the time saved, as the impact of implementing a system is huge. Errors are reduced, therefore the time spent rectifying them is reduced. Productivity is increased as the editorial team is more motivated and positive. Contributors are more likely to submit their commissions to you, as they have a good, established relationship with your team; therefore, commissioning editors will spend less time finding a suitable contributor. In finance, there is no rekeying of contributor or commission data. Managers are able to access key business indicators at the touch of a button, rather than spending hours collating data from various departments. Finally, HR spend less time recruiting new staff, as the present staff feel valued in their role and are less likely to leave.
So, in conclusion, the time saved in all departments will have a huge impact on your business.
Q: What are the key benefits of commissions being managed in a central location from a finance POV?
A: Managing commissions in a central system mean that payment runs can be automated or manual. As payments are coming from one source, the ability to write back and forth between the systems becomes available and more information can be shared: ie. transaction references, payment due dates etc. Errors are greatly reduced as there is no re-keying of financial data. This also reduces the workload in the finance department as they do not have to credit and reinvoice errors.
Q: How do you deal with self-billing (ie. Contributor sends in their invoice for billing and payment)?
A: We find that most companies we speak to are moving to bi-monthly payment runs. All contributor payments will be made during these payment runs and the need for self-billing is not required anymore. This also allows editorial / finance staff to control payments more strictly and requires less workload raising individual payments for contributors. However, our solution (ConTextual) can be amended to work with a self-billing workflow, subject to specific requirements.
In addition, finance is also able to assign budget usage per brand or department AND track this upon demand whilst offering speedier reconciliation and an improved (by being more accurate) cashflow. Finance is also better able to make commissioning editors more accountable for their predicted spend as well.
Q: How easy is it to set up an interface with editorial systems?
A: This would depend upon the two systems involved. Make sure you clearly define what fields / metadata and content need to be sent to the editorial, or indeed finance system. You should ensure this data is captured as part of the workflow. Specific entries from drop-down lists are always recommended over free-flow text fields. This makes the mapping between the two systems simpler and therefore more cost-effective.
Q: Are you able to report on how contributions vary from year to year?
A: Once you have been recording the value of contributions for a year, yes, you will be able to make year on year comparisons. Make sure the details required are recorded in the database from day one. Then, after a year, you will be able to run a comparison report. Also, if you have accurate figures from a previous year, there is always the possibility of importing these in from go live, giving year on year comparisons immediately. It is imperative that any figures imported are accurate, otherwise, the reports are invalid. It is also essential that reports are specified accurately at the start of the project. It is always worth speaking to your teams to establish what reports would help them and prioritise implementing these.
Q: One task that takes up a lot of time for us is entering the invoice details, how would you recommend this is handled?
A: By importing the contributor name, address and payment details into the finance system from your contributor database. Having the central database as the master of changes will enable a single point of entry. Any updates will be made in here and we would recommend an interface is used to send the relevant fields to your finance system. Interfaces do not need to be complex, and in some scenarios importing an Excel file from one system to another will suffice.
Q: How would you compare the financial cost of internal and external contributors?
A: This depends upon on how you want to assign costs against internal users – eg. would the intention be to commission internal as well as external contributors, or would there need to be a mechanism for the system to self-generate internal costs based on information coming from the editorial system? If it’s to be automated self-generation then a suitable algorithm can be used – eg. Word count based for articles, default or entered cost for images etc. Either way, you would need to add a cost to each internal contributor within the system to enable effective reporting.
Q: How can a central database enforce syndication and ensure copyrights are adhered to?
A: This is about the availability of relevant information. A central database cannot enforce, but it can provide information. The details of any agreements should be highlighted on the story or the contributor. Once this is entered on one system, ideally it should flow through all other systems, such as editorial / DAM / syndication sales solutions depending on solutions in place. The aim should be to avoid the need for double keying. This is where the interface comes in again, and why it is essential that important information is transferred between systems. When the information is entered and is automatically updated in all relevant systems, you are no longer relying on an individual manually entering it. The commissioning editor will enter the details once, and then all members of staff will have access to it, saving time and eliminating the chance of an error or omission being made. T&Cs are part of the sign-off process so knowing that the contributor can clearly see and has digitally accepted your conditions on the usage of the asset is fundamental to the process.
Q: Do you know of any database software that can be purchased to implement this automation of admin with close to immediate effect?
A: Yes – Media Systems’ solution, called ConTextual.
The software should complement your chosen workflow. We will be able to advise you of 'best practice' and guide you through workflow ideas, and concentrate on the main pain points in your current procedures. We can set the system up encompassing automated admin workflows and reporting in the way that best fits your business.
Q: Can you suggest any content management systems to use as a single submission portal, to which everyone can access content and apply metadata etc?
A: Yes, complementary to MSL’s contributor management system, ConTextual, we are also able to provide WoodWing’s Enterprise CMS and Elvis DAM solutions that can be used as input portals, with whatever metadata required. These systems are open to all required internal users of course, but can be accessed by external contributors too, with their system usage controlled via highly configurable access rights modules.