By: Matthew Bagshaw on June 4th, 2020
Streamlining Marketing and Creative Operations: Filling The Gaps in Digital Production
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.
How to identify the gaps
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 resources whose sole purpose is to shuffle data between these systems, you have a gap. You shouldn’t have many people involved in a manual process; there is a huge margin for error, and it’s inefficient, both in effort and in the time it can take getting the information into the workflow.
The danger of having a gap is that as soon as something doesn’t work properly, it effects the entire ecosystem and staff are more likely to adopt different ways of doing things, leading to divergent practices, duplication of work, and introducing potential new sources for errors.
Using the right tool for the job
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 also a workflow tool, or uses same functionality as the systems you already have, so you’re stuck with another system and still have duplication of data. In addition, the more software you have, the more complex your ecosystem becomes by introducing more potential points of failure that can be exposed.
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 either in-house or an outside consultant, 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.
By working with an outside technology expert to help with your workflow discovery and identify the right technologies required, you now have a partner who should also be able to help you implement a tool/solution/fix that meets your needs. 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.
Ensuring continued success
From the very ideation 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.