Understanding the Costs of Digitisation, JISC Report

JISC’s Understanding the Costs of Digitisation (full report and briefing paper) offers an excellent summary of some of the core difficulties facing budgeting for digitization projects.
For those not already mired in digitization project operations, the graphed cost estimates for different projects on pages 44-47 are perhaps the best place to begin. In 3 of the 5 examples, overhead amounted to twice of the actual digitization costs.
To ensure we don’t suffer similar overages, we develop prototypes to estimate costs and associated requirements for projects. In doing so, we still encounter overhead – pushing technology is equal parts exciting and frustrating – but the overhead is manageable.
While the projects themselves have lower overhead through planning, there’s still a good deal of overhead needed to report on and explain project costs because digital projects aren’t comparable, unless designed specifically to be.

Digitisation projects are distinct, and it is not possible to provide a formula (or even approximate figures) to cost a project. […] Attempting to compare these two projects quantitatively is unhelpful – the numbers could be generated, but without full consideration of the context, they would be meaningless. (page 7)
This document does not contain a formula into which you can input details of your collection and output the cost of the project – there is no standard digitisation project. (page 8 )

It’s nice to see the JISC Report explain what digital folks do on a regular basis – that digital projects are difficult to cost, and that the costs aren’t fungible. It’s also delightfully wonderful that it includes, “Plan the service, not just the project” (briefing paper, page 2). Service should be seen as a core component for any technical work. However in a strictly project-production model, it’s overhead and loss – something to be reduced and prevented. I don’t think anyone disagrees with the importance of service, but it does further complicate the cost model by mixing more discrete (at least on a single project basis) production costs with less quantifiable service costs.

1 Comment

  1. I think the volume of Overhead shown in their report is a little bit of a red herring. It merely was the dumping ground for any costs which did not comfortably fit into the other categories.
    So, for instance, the LBC/IRN overheads figure include significant amounts paid to me for consultancy for their EU tendering process and outsourced rekeying of catalogue cards. There was also another consultant who did metadata advice to this project.
    These don’t seem to be overheads to me! I think the report would have benefitted from a wider coverage of projects, plus a more robust and closer look at the finances of those projects it did look at. My sense is that the quote “attempting to compare these two projects quantitatively is unhelpful” is not a statement of fact but a statement of the consultants inability to do that task meaningfully…
    It has managed to come up with results that are both unsuprising and yet possibly misleading at the same time.

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