The recent emergence of a genuine marketplace for third-party services has prompted a change in the approach organizations take to deliver digital preservation. Only a decade ago it would have been inconceivable for core preservation activities to be fulfilled by a commercial entity on a short-term contract with closed source applications and off-site data storage. Much has changed in ten years, including the growth and maturation of commercial solutions, the emergence of a competitive marketplace and the paradigm shift to cloud computing. As a result, many DPC Members have quickly moved to outsource elements of their preservation activities – or at least moved towards dependence on commercially developed repository applications.

This dramatic change has brought considerable benefit. A professional digital preservation capability can now (at least in part) be bought off the shelf and implemented relatively rapidly. The growing number of third-party providers has generated a variety of effective products leading to new competition, which has stimulated growth and development.

The emergence of the commercial digital preservation marketplace also brings new challenges and risks. Mitigating these risks requires staff to gain new skills and understanding in managing outsourced work, including areas such as: renewed attention to quality checking; dedication to maintaining effective communication with third parties; and an awareness of (and preparedness for) the common problems that might occur.

Feedback from both DPC Members and Supporters suggests that procurement activities are complex, challenging and very time consuming. Members typically find slow moving procurement projects frustrating and feel unsure if these resource intensive activities will be successful in making the right procurement choices. Supporters are frustrated by the need to produce bespoke responses to long Requests for Information (RFIs), despite an obvious core set of questions that appear from one RFI to the next (albeit with different wording).

Once the procurement process itself is complete there are further challenges to navigate in the implementation phase. Both DPC Members and their suppliers will want a smooth and painless transition to a production system with effective integrations with existing systems and rigorous testing. Effective communication and clearly assigned roles and responsibilities will be required for successful implementation.

How to use this toolkit

The toolkit does not provide a guide to procurement itself, but rather aims to provide a variety of resources that will help make a procurement process more effective. A central part of the toolkit is the Lessons Learned [link] section which describes an array of hints, tips and potential pitfalls derived from the first-hand experiences of DPC Members and Supporters. This includes generic procurement advice as well as specifics on the procurement of repositories, web archiving services and digitisation services. It is well worth digesting this guide before embarking upon a procurement process. There are pointers to activities that may be particularly beneficial to consider at an early stage. For example, testing is often only considered after a contract has been signed, but it might be beneficial to build a test plan at the beginning and integrate this into various procurement stages. The Common Requirements section aims to remove redundant work from a requirements gathering process, and make the organisation and communication of requirements much more straightforward. Additional resources from our Supporters and from the rest of the digipres community complete this Toolkit.

Future development

For the moment we are considering this Toolkit as somewhat of a living document that we would like to continue to develop, update and enhance over time. There is significant potential to develop the Common Requirements section but there is also an opportunity to add new sections on areas that Members feel would be useful. Two areas that might be valuable to explore in more detail are system testing and the multitude of work that happens after a repository system has been procured and is up and running. Ongoing relationship management can be critical, but also sometimes challenging.

Currently the toolkit provides the most detail on the topic of repository procurement. The sections on web archiving and digitisation could be developed further.

We’re particularly keen to continue adding lessons learned from DPC Members experiences, so please get in touch if you’ve recently completed a procurement process and would like to help out. Specific examples that we can include would be excellent, but so are broader hints and tips and any pitfalls to watch out for.

Discussions on procurement and the development of this Toolkit will continue to draw on Member feedback via our annual DP Futures and Connecting the Bits events, as well as discussion in the Research and Practice Sub-Committee.

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