Category Archives: Business models

**New SCA/ Ithaka S+R report and videos: Sustaining Our Digital Future**

Our lives are transformed as a result of technological innovation, with digital content being delivered across continents to millions of users via thousands of devices in hundreds of languages. But how long can we guarantee access to and use of this ‘gold rush’ of content? What lessons could be learnt from comparing and contrasting these distinct endeavours that are united in their desire to serve the public good whilst trying to adopt new strategies to ensure their organisational relevance in the digital age?

Commissioned by the Strategic Content Alliance and undertaken by Ithaka S+R, the Sustaining Our Digital Future: Institutional Strategies for Digital Content’ report, issued today, tells of how three distinct organisations – Imperial War Museums (IWM), the National Library of Wales (NLW) and University College London (UCL) have risen to this challenge. This essential research is accompanied by a suite of tools, advice and videos (see below) that will enable and guide you to take a fresh look at whether a project is delivering the desired impact in the communities you aim to serve and to consider new ways to enhance the value of your content for your users.

As our great universities, libraries and museums receive public and private funding to create digital content, what strategies do they have to ensure its ongoing access and enhancement? Moving beyond the baseline concerns of preservation, how are digital content projects being managed, post-build, to ensure that they continue to be useful to the audiences they are intended to support and, in many cases, who have funded their creation?

Our universities are trying to tackle the impact of globalisation in the provision of higher education in an increasingly competitive market.  This ranges from overseas universities offering cheaper under graduate and post graduate study to the development of “Massive Open Online Courses” (MOOCs). We see steps being taken by universities, like UCL, to develop effective campus-wide iterative solutions rather than project-centric approaches. In the case of UCL, this is underpinned by their imperative to continue to offer the very best in digital content and services to academics, students, and researchers, but also to meet the challenge of addressing a worldwide audience to ensure their enduring relevance.

Our rich and diverse national libraries and museums, represented in this report by IWM and the NLW, continue to strive towards developing excellence in digital content and services, albeit at a time of fiscal constraint. The IWM has completely transformed its organisational set-up in recognition that digital requires different policies, practices and strategies.  This has manifested itself in new staff and skills being employed to ensure enduring relevance to its audiences across the globe.

The NLW continues to act as a critical component of a Digital Wales. Again, we see how a traditional roles, responsibilities and services are evolving to meet the challenges that the library and other agencies face in this brave new digital world that we inhabit. We see a range of tactics and techniques being deployed to foster innovative collaboration within the library and across Wales. The vision of a ‘library without walls’ can be applied in the case of the NLW, and is testimony to the leadership shown by the staff and management to tackle a transformational agenda to help support sustainable digital content.

A notable change in recent times has been the willingness of organisations like our ‘national’ bodies to put more impetus behind new ways of working such as partnership activities and other innovative approaches to developing sustainable digital content with a collective goal in sight. The work of the IWM and NLW to develop their First World War centenary programmes is a great example of the growing recognition that the UK public sector has much to gain from a more co-ordinated approach to developing digital content and services which are destined to have a lasting legacy.

The report’s findings are based on over 80 interviews with faculty, library directors, funders and senior administrators in the UK. It is packed with evidence and practical guidance about how funders, institutional administrators, and project leaders can work to build shared awareness and objectives for digital projects and to plan for their sustainability. The report makes evident the challenges felt by many, and the steps that can be taken to build the kind of vibrant, rich digital fabric needed by scholars and the public.

The significance of digital content in UK higher education will only increase as the Research Excellence Framework recognises the impact of these projects as part of the scholarly output of the academy, and as education itself continues the rapid transition to virtual learning and teaching.

The question now is whether we can all learn from one another and chart the new paths necessary to ensure our nation’s great collections remain at the forefront of inspiring knowledge, education and research.

The report has created a number of tools to support project leaders and library, university and museum administrators to support projects as they mature may be less obvious and are not always discussed once the project has been launched:

Sustainability Health Check Tool for Digital Content Projects

This Health Check Tool provides an opportunity for you to think about the kinds of resources — money, staff and otherwise — that are being dedicated to your institution’s digital content projects on an ongoing basis. This will enable you to take a fresh look at whether a project is delivering the desired impact in the communities you aim to serve and to consider new ways to enhance the value of your content for your users.


Framing the Case for Host Support: Action steps and questions for digital project leaders

This briefing guide offers questions to help project leaders consider future project needs and frame the value of their work when seeking support from their host institution.



Institutional strategies for Universities: Short video

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Institutional strategies for Universities: Full length video

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Institutional strategies for Libraries and Museums video 

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Download Full report

Download Executive Summary


Insights from case study participants:

“We must recognise that the digital realm is one of the most important areas we will ever venture into,” said Diane Lees, Director General of the Imperial War Museums. “This report underpins all the things we thought we might know and now we do know.”

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“It’s a wakeup call for us all,” agreed Andrew Green, Chief Executive and Librarian at the National Library of Wales. “It’s essential reading for anyone in the business of access to digital content.”

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“We’re not just worried about things disappearing but about things never appearing! They are hosted all over the place, and not all the projects have a sustainable plan,” Prof David Price, Vice-Provost (Research) at UCL has commented.

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Views on the report:

Nick Poole, Chief Executive, Collections Trust

“This report is a good positive step forward. It consolidates things we suspected we knew already and it is good to have the evidence and to have it plainly expressed. The sector is in a very reflective place at the moment and so if we can get word about the core ideas in this report it will help move us away from the idea that sustainability is only about funders giving us more money next year.”

Roly Keating, Chief Executive, the British Library

“I thought it revealed valuable home truths for both the cultural sector and the he sector about the different ways in which digital media is – and crucially isn’t yet – fulfilling its potential.”

Ailsa Barry, Natural History Museum

“It’s all about how cultural institutions are beginning to recognise how digitisation and digital outputs need to be embedded across the whole range of outputs to meet audiences needs in the 21st century.”

Sir Deian Hopkins, President of the National Library of Wales

“The face of technological change and the expectation of technological change is so rapid that institutions now have to collaborate in order to ensure that they make the most effective use of the available technology and so that we can maximise the value of digitisation.

What is particularly interesting about this project is that it is UK-wide and has applications for all administrators. It cuts across the boundaries of libraries museums and archives. It also asks us to raise the question of whether there are priorities in future digitisation. I learnt tonight that we can’t do it all and there are serious questions about what do we do that brings the greatest value. That value can only be realised if the access is facilitated and that raises questions about both the tools available and how you cut across the different digital sets. The culture of usage is still one of the biggest issues.  How do we get people to use the material in the most intellectually rigorous and realistic way?

This is a tremendous report which brings us some of the new tools for monitoring these developments and form strategies for sustaining their collections in the future.”

Made in Digital Britain/ UK

Stuart Dempster, Director of the Strategic Content Alliance, writes on the potential for a national brand on UK-created or originated digital content

Could lessons from the past help deliver economic growth and enhance online reputational value for content creators contributing to the ‘digital economy’ in the UK today? Could a ‘Made in Digital Britain/UK’ help us demonstrate quality and value in a global market? Sure terms like ‘Britain’ and ‘UK’ are politically loaded terms it seems these days, but the variants cited above may provide a way in which either ‘UK PLC’ or the home nations could express their digital offer in a more compelling way.

 As we enter the second decade of the Digital Revolution, we see a propensity of policy and strategy reports highlighting the UK’s credentials for innovation and entrepreneurship through the exploitation of digital technologies, alongside disappointingly numerous impact and quality initiatives. Many of these originate from publicly funded agencies, all keen to stress their digital credentials. Yet, a simple ‘tag’ – graphic, metadata or other expression of ‘Made in Digital Britain/UK’ might help us stress the UK ’s unique contribution to this digital revolution in an increasing complex and cluttered online market.

Politicians and other policy makers might begin to see the ‘value proposition’ of digital content, whether it be games, multimedia or other assets being generated at an extraordinary rate in the UK as a measureable and valuable contribution towards a truly digital economy. This may be considered a ‘jingoistic’ or somehow part of a ‘new imperialism’, but if the UK is to succeed in this new paradigm and adopt affordable solutions to market its unique skills, expertise and knowledge in a global market, then perhaps the lessons of the 19th century might help inform the opportunities of the 21st century.

Needless to say, the term ‘Made in Digital Britain/UK’ (or home nation variants) might be applied selectively in the first instance to digital content originating from ‘assured suppliers’ in the public and private sectors perhaps? We would want this ‘trusted’ identifier to be considered the modern day equivalent to today’s ‘Rolls Royce’ rather than yesterdays ‘British Leyland’ in terms of international reputation.

We could envisage a raft of reasons why this tactic might be misguided, impossible to instigate or plain wrong, but just how many meetings, conferences or other resource intensive activity on ‘impact’ or ‘quality’ will we have to endure before we can offer the world a ‘trusted’ identifier that marks out what is truly ‘unique, valuable and difficult to emulate’ from the British (English, Northern Irish, Scottish or Welsh perhaps) digital offer.

Revenue, Recession, Reliance: case studies in sustainability

JISC-led Strategic Content Alliance and Ithaka S+R release final report on their Case Studies in Sustainability, revealing how different business models fared during the economic downturn

6 October New York, NY and London, UK –Ithaka S+R, with funding from the JISC-led Strategic Content Alliance, released today “Revenue, Recession, Reliance: Revisiting the SCA/Ithaka S+R Case Studies in Sustainability”, a report that reviews the impact of tumultuous times on the business models of 12 digital projects first profiled by Ithaka S+R in 2009.  

Some of the projects profiled include the UK’s National Archives’ Licensed Internet Associates programme, which has shown major revenue growth in recent years despite budget cuts felt by the entire institution; Cornell University’s eBird, which has experimented with partnerships to develop new revenue generating offerings for users; and the University of Southampton’s Library Digitisation Unit, which has made strategic choices to better align its mission with that of the university.

Nearly all of the projects profiled live under the umbrella of larger institutions.  One of the key findings to emerge is that many of these projects are relying on their host institutions for support to an even greater extent than two years ago. Whether this is a good arrangement and what this means for their future remains to be seen.

“While some project leaders have pursued an aggressive awareness-building strategy within their host institutions as a way of ensuring ongoing support, others have preferred to fly under the radar,” commented co-author and Ithaka S+R Programme Manager, Nancy Maron. “Either way, where host support is a major part of the sustainability plan, aligning project goals with the host’s mission is especially important.”

The report notes that difficult economic times have called for deep across-the-board spending cuts at many organisations, which can deny digital resource projects the capital investment they need just as they are beginning to grow. Many of the projects studied had the intention of contributing revenue to their host, but only some were successful in doing so, and even those were unable to fully support their ongoing costs.

“This research concentrates on organisations coming to terms with the long term liabilities incurred in digital projects and post-grant funding,” stated Stuart Dempster, Director of the JISC-led Strategic Content Alliance.  “It’s not just the actions the project teams have taken but the reasoning behind those choices that will help others start to determine which strategies, or parts of them, might serve as models for their own projects.”

The projects that had the most success did not follow one particular business model but rather spent a tremendous time understanding all of their stakeholders – from their users to university administrators and volunteers. 

“There is no single path to sustainability,” stated Kevin Guthrie, president of ITHAKA. “Successful projects understand the value they offer to their most important constituents and are able to adjust their approaches to meet new challenges and changing conditions.”  

The cases covered include scholar-led initiatives (Electronic Enlightenment, eBird, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, the Department of Digital Humanities at King’s College London, the National Science Digital Library MSP2: Middle School Math and Science Pathway, the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae), library and museum projects (The National Archives, L’Institut national de l’audiovisuel, the University of Southampton Library Digitisation Unit, V&A Images), and publishing projects (Hindawi, DigiZeitschriften) with a diverse range of revenue models (e.g., subscription-based projects, endowment-funded resources, and open access digital libraries). 

These case studies form part of a long term commitment by the Strategic Content Alliance to provide empirically-based evidence freely to education, research and cultural bodies in the development of digital content. This research is ongoing with the development of a new digital entrepreneurship syllabus due for delivery in summer 2012.

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News: updated sustainability case studies

Ithaka S+R and the Strategic Content Alliance revisit and update sustainability case studies

In 2009, Ithaka S+R published twelve detailed case studies of online digital resources, exploring the strategies project leaders were using to sustain those projects for the long term. All of the case studies have been updated in 2011. Read on to find out more and download the case studies.

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Strategic Content Alliance Funding Opportunities 2011/12

The Strategic Content Alliance is pleased to announce funding opportunites in the following areas:

JISC ITT Strategic Content Alliance: Digital Content Sustainability Syllabus Development

The JISC, on behalf of the Strategic Content Alliance (SCA) invites tenders to create a syllabus of open digital resources and related training courses. This syllabus is intended to foster the development of a new generation of “digital entrepreneurs” within institutions and organisations who can support the long term sustainability and exploitation of cultural, educational and not-for-profit digital content.

The deadline for tenders is 12 noon UK time on Monday 17 October 2011.

JISC ITT: Strategic Content Alliance: Digital Content and Host Institutions Support Strategies

The JISC, on behalf of the Strategic Content Alliance (SCA) invites tenders to research the techniques and strategies being deployed by grant-funded digital content project leaders (e.g. project managers, senior responsible owners, collection developers) in eliciting host institutional decision makers (e.g. Provosts, Vice Chancellors, ICT Heads) support for the long term (post grant) development and sustainability of cultural, educational and not-for-profit digital content.

The deadline for tenders is 12 noon UK time on Monday 10th October 2011.

Summaries: Funding for Sustainability

Last month the Strategic Content Alliance and Ithaka S+R published an influential new report on funding for sustainability.

The executive summary of the report is now available in UK and US versions. Download them here:

Funding For Sustainability Executive Summary (UK, July 2011)

Funding For Sustainability Executive Summary (US, July 2011)

(You can also find out more about the full report and download the full report: Funding for Sustainability: How Funders’ Practices Influence the Future of Digital Resources (June 2011))

New report: Funding for Sustainability: How Funders’ Practices Influence the Future of Digital Resources

A new Strategic Content Alliance/Ithaka S+R report examines funding practices to provide insight on post-grant sustainability for digital resources

Ithaka S+R, funded by the JISC-led Strategic Content Alliance (SCA), released today Funding for Sustainability: How Funders’ Practices Influence the Future of Digital Resources. This report, written by Nancy L Maron and Matthew Loy, provides funders of digital resources and their grantees with an overview of current funding practices and highlights areas for potential improvement in defining and planning for post-grant sustainability.

Download the full report: Funding for Sustainability: How Funders’ Practices Influence the Future of Digital Resources (June 2011)

Read on to find out more

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New Strategies for Digital Content Conference, 18 March 2011, London – Registration open

This free one-day conference focuses on some of the key strategic issues faced by content creators and publishers today and which were addressed by the JISC eContent programme 2009-2011,, in particular:

  • the need for institutions to develop the necessary skills and strategies to embed digitisation within institutional strategies and practices as well as devise effective business models for the long term sustainability of digitised content
  • the need to break down silos of content by clustering existing and complementary digitised resources and enhancing their offerings, thus making them more relevant and usable for target users

The day will bring together a mixture of national and international speakers and representatives of the projects funded under the JISC eContent programme to discuss current challenges and opportunities.

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