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Content: Outsourcing Creativity

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VoicenData Bureau
New Update

When cell phone and video games company, Global Wireless Entertainment (GWE),

needed to create a new motor-racing game, it contracted the services of Paradox

Studios in Mumbai, India.

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The San Diego-based video-games publisher owns the rights to a game based on

the exploits of legendary race driver Mario Andretti. Using Paradox, GWE could

save 40%—50% from its production budget. “People think of India as a place

with good programmers, but they don't realize that we have a very large pool

of creative people as well,” says Salil Bhargava, CEO, Paradox Studios. “We

have a movie industry that is larger than Hollywood.”

The trend of large corporations outsourcing repetitive production tasks such

as data processing, accounting or even computer programming to offshore

facilities is now seeing a change to them outsourcing the creative aspects of

their business such as content creation, video editing and video-games

production. Some of the world's largest media companies have begun the

process, and are outsourcing content creation and journalism to India and the

Philippines.

Creative content is now the new frontier in the outsourcing business.

CNet's Builder.com, a Website for software developers is outsourcing about 40%

of its content, while Reuters has hired over 300 journalists to cover 3,000

small and medium sized U.S. companies from its offices in Bangalore, India.

These efforts, largely unreported by mainstream media, are blazing new territory

in these service-delivery areas; yet paradoxically enjoy the benefits of

trailing edge adoption curve when it comes to governance. In short, no one is

having to re-invent the wheel when it comes to managing these processes.

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Seeking Contentment



There's a bevy of so-called big media companies such as Reed Elsevier,

McGraw-Hill and LexisNexis that have been looking abroad for more and more of

their content-creation needs. Now cellular companies, television production

companies and even video-games developers are outsourcing everything from mobile

content for the cell phone, to video editing to companies in India. Most are

characteristically shy about talking about outsourcing their content, lest

customers and investors regard them poorly.

Even so, the advantages outweigh the disadvantages, and the cost savings can

be great. “Companies can save between 40%—60% from their production cost,

streamline their production process and mitigate the risk of relying too heavily

on one region for all their content needs,” says Mike Maziarka, director,

InfoTrends, a consultancy in Weymouth, Mass.

For example, GWE contacted Paradox last year, and the Indian wireless company

gave its employees the task of researching on the life of Mario Andretti. Two

weeks later, there was a proposal in San Diego.

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Once that was approved, a game-design document was drawn up by Paradox. “In

the alpha stage, we do the basic programming and develop the graphics,” says

Paradox's Bhargava. “Then by the beta stage, we have a playable demo.”

The whole process takes between three to six months. Now Mario Andretti is

available on the Verizon platform.

Bhargava stresses on companies securing their intellectual property by

working with reputed companies when outsourcing creative content. “Our

computer labs have no USB ports, zip drives, CD burners or access to the

Internet,” he says.

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The editorial services outsourcing (which includes editing) market is also

growing, and is pegged at about $500 million in 2006. This is expected to grow

to over two billion dollars within five years, according to InfoTrend's

Maziarka. Of that sum, about $300 million is in the scientific, technical,

medical and text book market place, a sector well suited to regions such as

India and the Philippines.

Dealing with Challenges



Donald Mazzella, editorial director, Information Strategies, an

editorial-services company based in Palisades Park, NJ, is not a fan of

outsourcing content offshore. “English is tribal language,” he says.

“It's best to find writers from your target audience.”

Key

Issues In Content Outsourcing

  • Typically, content

    production outsourcing works best for domain-specific areas such as

    the scientific, technical and medical sectors as it relies on people

    with graduate degrees rather than cultural, social or geographically

    specific backgrounds

  • Quality control is

    perhaps the central issue when outsourcing content, as plagiarism is

    common in the editorial business.

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His company provides Website content and corporate newsletters for small to

medium sized companies.

Mazzella says that he looks closer to home when finding his writers. He has a

stable of about 30 freelance writers. Many are former journalists and

stay-at-home moms.

While they charge higher rates than their Asian counterparts, Mazzella

believes that he saves money in the long term. “They know the business, never

plagiarize and know the difference between cents and pence,” he says. Mazzella

cited a recent case where an advertising agency in New York was sued for a

million dollars, because one of its advertising copywriters had plagiarized an

entire ad. Content purchasers should therefore ensure that their contracts

indemnify them from plagiarism.

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Mazzella also advises that the customer develop a clear idea of what they

hope to achieve by adding content to their Website. “The editorial product

should enhance the company's message. Most companies want to post content that

benefits the company, when they should really be posting content that benefits

the customer,” says Mazzella.

Once the message is established, a clear editorial procedure needs to be

specified: Who approves the copy? Should the content be permanent,

semi-permanent or updated regularly? An editorial style guide needs to be

developed specifying how the message should be communicated. An animation

company may employ humor, whereas, this would be inappropriate for a military or

medical devices company. Finally, a budget should be allocated and a publishing

schedule should be established.

Depending on the type of business, Mazzella recommends that companies turn

their customers and prospective customers into a newsletter list. This builds

brand loyalty and keeps the company on the customer's radar.

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Familiar Territory



Innodata Isogen is a Hackensack-based outsourcing and technology provider

that caters to the media and information services market sector. Its customer

base ranges from the New York Times, to the McGraw-Hill publishing company and

the Library of Congress. It provides a range of editorial services from data

entry to XML-tagging from any one of its nine facilities in India, the

Philippines and Vietnam. Recently, it finds that its customers, who at one time

only required data-entry services have moved up the production line, and are now

requesting data analysis, synopsis of technical documents and content creation.

“We're working with a number of magazine and journal publishers to

produce rich data products,” says Jack Abuhoff, Chairman and CEO, Innodata

Isogen. “In most cases we can provide cost savings of somewhere between

40%—60%.”

A proportion of that can come from lower wages and less costly real estate.

However, with 10%—15% wage inflation in Bangalore, according to a report by

DiamondCluster International, a consulting firm based in Chicago, wage

advantages while significant may be short lived.

In fact, Abuhoff says that wage savings are only part of the equation. “We

re-engineer the content-production process,” he says. Innodata Isogen turns a

production process into a manufacturing process by breaking it down into its

individual parts, eliminating any unnecessary stages and introducing new

technology.

The first stage examines the current production process at the level of

individual steps. For content creation, the company examines how the editors

assign a topic to the writers; how the employees collect data; how they source

subjects to be interviewed; how they analyze the data; what are the constituent

parts of an article or essay such as the introduction, statistics, body of the

essay or article and conclusion; how is the article edited and who carries out

quality control. These steps need to be documented so that the knowledge can be

transferred to workers outside the company.

The next step is skills remediation. For example, what skills are needed to

write an article on Java, and how is it possible to bring the new employees up

to speed; do they need to be re-educated; can existing employees train them and

so on.

Shipping

back content electronically from anywhere, makes more sense than getting

pullovers in containers from China

A project-management methodology is then defined. Then the whole process

needs to be examined to see if there are ways to streamline the production,

eliminate any unnecessary stages so that costs can be cut. Once this process is

complete, the technology platform can be re-designed to suit the application. So

it's not just the cost saving but also the manufacturing process and risk

mitigation that attracts major publishers.

In short, the outsourcing companies are attempting to do for content

production what Henry Ford did for automobile production.

Furthermore, following the Asian Tsunami disaster, many large companies do

not wish to locate all of their content creation in an earthquake or

natural-disaster area. For example, one technique is to “co-locate work” in

India and the Philippines.

Multimodal Strategy



InfoTrends' Maziarka, adds that these days companies also need to realize

that the creation and delivery of content are inextricably linked. “Content

creators need to understand that the content has to be used across a number of

platforms such as the Internet, DVDs and smaller devices such as cell phones,”

says Maziarka. “It's incorrect to think of the cell phone as just another

Website. It requires different navigation, and one has to be conscious of

creating verbose content.”

He suggests that companies consider moving toward a single source or

repository so that a technical manual is repurposed for the Web, repurposed

again for DVD and repurposed yet again for a PDA or cell phone.

The offshore content companies such as Innodata Isogen have made it their

business to develop these content repositories. In the television and film

production business, however, the process is a little different. Dean Thompson,

President of OMI Business Communications says that his company will frequently

work with a producer or production company in other parts of the world. OMI

produces Internet, DVD and video content for the large corporations such as

American Express. However, OMI always sends one of its own people from its head

office in New York. “British production companies tend to be the easiest for

us to work with but we always send one of our own people to oversee the

production.

There seems little doubt that cities like London, Paris, New York and Los

Angeles will retain their positions as the major hubs for content creation, but

we are certainly beginning to see these functions traveling to other parts of

the world. And why not? Surely it makes more sense to write a story in Scotland

or create a video game in India, and ship the bits electronically back to the

USA, than it does to manufacture a pullover in China, pack it in a container and

drag it 3,000 miles across the ocean.

The bottomline remains that corporations should go beyond cost arbitrage to

re-engineer the content-production process, mitigate risk by dispersing the

creative regions geographically and re-design the technology. That way, a

long-term benefit can be achieved.

Niall McKay



vadmail@cybermedia.co.in




Republished with permission from Global Services


(www.globalservicesmedia.com)

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