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This article is part 1 of a 4-part series on managing the digital evolution of information. First and foremost, outsourcing digital information management functions doesn't have to be all or nothing. The outsourcing of many library and information management services is already an accepted and common practice today in the public sector, as well as private and legal repositories. Most executives and IT managers now approach outsourcing from the perspective of a long-term strategic business practice to reduce costs and increase workflow efficiency while enhancing service levels for their customers and other stakeholders. Outsourcing IT functions is an invaluable option available within the library services industry, allowing businesses to not only jump over new technological hurdles much faster, and at a reduced cost, but to better control the massive cultural change when transitioning from a traditional to digital library. One of the biggest challenges is deciding which business functions to contract out, and which to maintain in-house. According to 2011 benchmarks by Outsell, the most commonly outsourced activities fall into the following four categories:

One of the most difficult decisions faced by executives today is how to properly evolve your business into the digital environment, while maintaining control, security, and varied levels of accessibility to a multitude of users, all while protecting the integrity of your information assets in the virtual marketplace. Part of the evolution involves decisions around who will do the work. Can existing staff be trained? Do you hire to get the necessary skills? Or do you go with a third option and outsource the work to professional firms that specialize in managing digital information assets? Outsourcing skilled information professionals, instead of hiring them, is often a controversial subject. While advantages like a major increase in workflow efficiency can save money, that money is not always seen in dollars and cents but in the increased value of your business, and the value you provide to your customers, employees and partners alike. On the other end of the spectrum, many executives and IT professionals share a common and valid concern about loss of internal controls by contracting asset management work to an “outsider”.

Digital Asset Managers (DAMs), also known as: Digital Archivists and Digital Preservation Officers are essentially the new hybrid Librarians of the 21st Century. Digital Asset Managers or I'll call them DAMs for the purposes of this entry, like their traditional predecessors, still possess exceptional organizational dexterity, and an unrivaled commitment to the preservation of our history, now coupled with technical expertise and proficiency, necessary to properly organize, and manage our virtual resources. According to The New York Times, there were over 20,000 people working as Digital Asset Managers in 2009, in a rapidly evolving digital market, where the demand for these new skills is expected to triple over the next decade. In addition to the time and effort required for organizing and protecting material in digital form, virtual librarians or DAMs also: handle copyright issues; license technology; serve as database administrators for our virtual-reality-networks (VRNs); and, they evaluate, purchase and manage digital and on-line content from vendors, including web content and on-line marketing tools.

My “cons” list for the digitization of your assets is a bit shorter, especially considering the last 20-years of my life happened simultaneously with the digitization explosion, also known as “The Digital Age”, not only of the World Wide Web, but of document imaging, digital photography, on-line videos, Facebook, Tweeting and Blogging, on-line books and magazines, and Google’s digitization frenzy of every person, place and thing. The truth is digitization requires an upfront investment in technology, staff and time (money), with a measurable Return-On-Investment (ROI) dependent on successful implementation, and usage. We are all digitized, in almost every aspect of our lives today, so the benefits of increased operational and end-user efficiencies and are still realized. However, the appearance of those savings in our P&Ls may not be as significant as we would like, or even need.

I am surprised more often than not, that so few in our industry recognize, and/or promote the obvious and significant “Green” aspect of digitization. By eliminating the necessity for producing excessive hard copies of our intellectual properties, digitization is changing our very relationship with the Earth, by dramatically reducing the amount of natural resources we consume on a daily basis. The business “pros” of digitizing assets, also include: more effective (and free-flowing) communications - internal and external - accelerating customer and client service levels;  asset preservation; assets are more accessible and attainable to your entire staff, and all clients, partners and prospects; images and data are available faster, for a multitude of users, from multiple locations, at the same time; assets are stored in the form of a functional back-up copy; and, the digitization of your assets streamlines processes, and increases operational efficiency by saving you time, and money.