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The Cost of Doing Business

July 21st, 2010 · No Comments

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A recent question posted on the AMP blog, “Is preservation cost-prohibitive?,” made me think about costs related to archives in general. As a former corporate archivist, I am painfully aware of budgets and bidding out work! Now that my shoe is on the other foot, and I am consulting in the field, the issue is even larger for me. When I was the “client” and was requesting bids for work, I (and my coworkers) were always concerned by the process. We knew many vendors were underbidding to get the work and that could pose a financial risk for them if they got the project. We also were forced to consider those bids because there was quite a bit of paperwork to do if the lowest bid was not selected. In the end, we could often work around it by choosing the firm with the most expertise in an area as long as their bid was not too much higher than the lowest one.

It’s easy for a client to forget about the hidden costs of operations related to projects. There are often random emails with questions, monthly or more frequent conference calls, technology testing or review, on-site meetings or visits, etc. All of these items take up staff time – and not just a little bit of it either – it really adds up. I think many clients might be shocked if they realized exactly how much time. Often a fair amount of this time can be billed back as project management time, but only if the client is willing or that category has been built into the project.

I recently took on some work that was priced out on a per-item basis. This method really made the most sense since there was a huge quantity of digital files to review. As any vendor would, I priced the project as low as I could while still hoping to cover any time required for emails, phone calls, meetings, technology issues, etc. Luckily for me, so far my pricing seems to be working for me and for them.

The project brought up another interesting financial concern though. The quantity of items is so high and the quality isn’t always great, that the client and I started to wonder if there was a better way to upload fewer items so as not to flood their database with useless information. I think I have found a workable solution, but the main issue with trying to cull out the bad items was the time required to do it and the cost associated with that. It’s a pure and simple appraisal issue along the lines of “More Product, Less Process,” although this time it’s “More Process, Less Product!” It’s been a unique budgetary issue for me and my client in that it could easily be cheaper for them to add thousands of images to a database rather than to review the images and pick the best ones – or more importantly, to delete the bad ones.

In the end, I employed some digital photo software that allows quick-ish review and refoldering of files so that I can at least remove the “worst of” images for the client. The system isn’t perfect, but in the end, I needed to present a plan to the client that would save them money. It didn’t make sense to have the project cost more money to give them fewer images even when fewer images was more desirable. Now the project is a mix of hourly review time and per item upload time (engineered never to exceed what the total upload time would have cost if no review was done), but the client is left with better quality images and a slightly cheaper overall cost.

Back to the question at hand: Is preservation cost-prohibitive? I guess it certainly can be – as can any archival procedure, but in the end, that’s what Archives are for – preserving and making available items of historical importance. Let’s just hope that all the holders of the purse strings continue to agree!

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Category: Archiving Challenges · Skills with a Capital I and T