Mind the Gap
Plugging the holes in Marketing and Creative Production Workflows
In today’s typical creative agency environment, there is art, science and a bit of magic behind producing, managing and distributing the multitude of assets demanded by clients. At the heart of the ecosystem is the all-important workflow, essential for making sure everything runs smoothly. But as we’re all aware, there are always challenges and nothing runs perfectly all the time.
This is particularly true when there’s a lack of coordination between all the systems within that greater ecosystem. To put that into perspective, marketing and creative agencies depend on a number of large software programs to help them manage their workflows, from digital asset management (DAM) systems and finance apps, to task tracking and product information systems. Each system contains data about the same projects, but the disconnect comes when these pieces of software aren’t integrated, you can’t seamlessly switch between them, and more than that, they don’t actually communicate with one another.
While the goal is streamlined management, the challenge is most definitely a lack of unification. So what’s the best solution? Get rid of all the software bits in favor of one omnipotent system that does everything? The answer is no, for several reasons. First, there has most likely been significant time, effort and money invested in existing programs. People know how they work, are comfortable with their capabilities. Second, completely overhauling the workflow means a lot of disruption for the business, causing delays, staff demotivation and possibly loss of revenue. Third, these individual pieces of software are specialized; they have particular focus and are good at what they do. So why mess with that formula?
The answer, then lies in bridging the gaps that do exist. But how? Let’s first consider the scope of the problem.
Square pegs, round holes
Your organization uses a few key enterprise-grade software solutions and there are definite holes. But how do you go about identifying them and fixing them?
In a nutshell, if you’re inputting data more than once – there’s an issue. Large systems are good at what they do; that’s why you invest in them. They also include other functionality that may be useful — for example, a finance system responsible for generating invoices (something it’s been specifically designed to do well) can also track jobs. You may be tempted to use the finance for tracking, but given that this software isn’t integrated with your overall task tracking solution, the odds are you’ll need to re-enter that data.
If you are using knee-jerk programs like Adobe Reader or Microsoft Excel to perform a task within your marketing or creative workflow, there is likely a wider problem. We’ve all done it; used an Excel spreadsheet to track something or added comments to a PDF to communicate changes. In isolation these examples aren’t necessarily bad things, but when viewed as part of a workflow, they’re not ideal.
If your organization is using dedicated staff whose sole purpose is to shuffle data between these systems, you have a gap. You shouldn’t have too many people involved in a manual process; it’s demotivating, there is a huge margin for error, and it’s inefficient, both in the time spent doing it and in the delay it can create in getting the information into the workflow.
The danger of having a gap is that as soon as something doesn’t work properly, and the existing ecosystem isn’t meeting the needs of the user, staff are more likely to adopt different ways of doing things, leading to divergent practices, duplication of work, and introducing potential sources of error as a result of the disparity.
Once it’s evident that there is an issue, the natural reaction is to try close the gap as quickly and cost effectively as possible. That’s where you begin using spreadsheets, annotating on PDFs, throwing people at the problem, and using bolt on software.
There is also the tendency to invest in a new piece of software to bridge the gap; but often this software can be too big to solve the simple problem. It’s a workflow tool in itself, or it includes a lot of the same functionality as the systems you already have, so you’re stuck with the same problem of duplication of functionality and data. In addition, the more software you have, the more complex your ecosystem becomes and the more issues you’re likely to experience.
The best approach is to fix the gap, but to do it properly. Not a short-term solution or an ad-hoc fix, but something that adds value and is fit for purpose. Importantly, you need someone in-house to take the time to go through your requirements, the functionality of your existing software, across the organization, and properly scope out these holes. It may take some time, but the long-term benefits — think productivity and efficiency — are well worth it. Your internal champion will also keep an eye on the health of the system going forward, a further advantage for your business.
The next natural stage here is working with a third-party workflow expert that can help you implement a tool, solution, fix that meets your requirements. What the gap is and where it exists will influence how to bridge it. For the most part, having an objective, second set of eyes to analyze your ecosystem and point out faults, can be invaluable.
Ideally, you should bridge the gap without interrupting the user, without introducing another UI, and be able to move data seamlessly and automatically between programs, with no time lag. One of the most likely solutions will involve development of some kind, getting a team of developers to tweak the APIs of your existing software to get your systems talking to one another and plug those gaps smartly.
Once this is done, there’ll be an increase in efficiency and you’ll decrease the time spent using the different pieces of software and duplicating data, using the time instead for the creative problem solving and productivity that your FTEs should be engaged in.
Towards coordinated communication
From the very inception of a product or asset, through to its development and distribution, your organization needs to map out the process, using information from varied sources and departments. The key to success here is making sure the systems you use are aligned and work together. When gaps do exist, they can place strain on your resources and even your output. But it’s not all bad news. Realizing you have gaps in your ecosystem can actually present an opportunity for your organization. Identifying and ultimately plugging these holes is key. Getting these disparate systems to talk to one another, passing data between them automatically and seamlessly, and having a software environment that works the way it should, will give all users the tools they need to be more efficient, effective and productive.