Pathfinder update January 2016

Since our last update in September 2015 the GW4 pathfinder group have been busy planning and running an APC payment management workshop and investigating APC issues in report management, offsetting deals and the development of the APC market and prepayment agreements.

The workshop, APC Payment Management: In Practice and Good Practice, was a friendly meeting of publishers, institutional OA and Jisc staff which enabled users to view issues from both sides and thus provided valuable insights for attendees. The value of mutual learning across OA teams, librarians and publishers was evident; attendees found they gained useful information or ideas from the presentations and subsequent discussions. Potential areas for assistance, new initiatives and collaborative working were identified in licencing, verification, publisher reports, Jisc Monitor, process automation and metadata.

Other work included Finlay Jones, our Exeter colleague, publishing a review of implementing offsetting deals at the GW4 institutions comparing deals with the Jisc Principles for Offsetting and identifying practical issues with implementation. He identified and commented on models which increase administration and complexity and those which are simpler to implement.

The transfer of the APC data records of two of the GW4 Pathfinder institutions, Bristol and Exeter, between Access and Excel but in opposite directions gave an opportunity to understand the benefits and disadvantages of the two systems and the motivations for change.

Discussions in the literature on the effectiveness of the APC market and the influence of pre-payment agreements led to a survey and analysis of the issues surrounding pre-payment models. These demonstrate that characteristics of the dysfunctional journal subscription market can also be ascribed to the APC market and to pre-payment agreements suggesting action is needed to ensure a competitive APC market develops. The main influencers are universities and funding agencies; a range of mechanisms to effect change were suggested by authors but whether these actions will have the desired effect is uncertain.

In 2016 we will be working on improving our processes in collaboration with other institutional services, investigating voucher systems and summarising our work in a final report.

 

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Pathfinder update – September 2015

 The last few months have seen a number of outputs from the GW4 Pathfinder group based around models of payment, from off-setting, to the current state of play with APC intermediary services to a wish list for the Ultimate Prepayment Account.

 Our Exeter colleague, Finlay Jones, has been examining the situation around third party JiscAPClogo200intermediary services for APC payments.  We assumed this would be a growth area when we started this Pathfinder Project, hot on the heels of the Jisc APC project

As is often the case in the Open Access landscape, this has changed dramatically.  There has been a significant cooling round the idea of establishing intermediaries.  As Finlay notes in his blog post, ‘the focus on savings has thus shifted. Any savings that we as a community might make now come from lowering, or controlling, the total cost of publication, rather than directly from removing administrative burden as was thought a little over a year ago at the commencement of the project.

This ultimately changed the overall focus of our project, and we’ve since moved towards looking at off-setting, in tandem with material emerging from the Jisc.  We have a brief report in progress on the key issues with off-setting at the moment, and the main models available in the UK.

 Back to the everyday functions of processing APCs, and we’re largely dealing with invoice payments.  We released a FAQs for Publishers guide which gave a few of the common problems faced by institutions paying APCs.  Encouraging use of a generic email address, for example, has also been included in a more recent Jisc guide of the Top Ten Tips for Implementing Open Access, although more from the perspective of communications with researchers.  

Our University of Bristol colleagues have been putting together an ‘Ultimate Prepayment Account’ wish list, based on their experiences with the APC deals they’ve encountered to date.  Their key issues are around who can access and authorise prepay accounts,  how to monitor and report on spend, and a focus on the authors’ experience with the account.

 The next few months will see us hold a workshop on Good Practice for APC Payment Management (18th November at the EngineShed in Bristol). Join us there to discuss payment practices from institutional, publisher and third party perspectives.  We also plan to release some of the work we’ve undertaken around streamlining financial reporting and on the wider market effects of prepayment deals.

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Using Functional Cost Analysis to Evaluate the APC Payments Process

We are really pleased to release a draft for comment of our report on analysis of the administrative costs of processing APC payments in the four universities of the GW4 alliance: Bath, Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter.

Functional Cost Analysis (FCA) methodology was used to investigate labour costs per APC payment and identify resource intensive functions with a view to later improvement.

The document is available here.GW4 FCA Report.

In a nutshell, after mapping the workflows at each institution and developing a functional family tree, the time and effort were recorded for each function and sub-function, giving us an idea of what was the most resource intensive.  These were:

  1. Paying the APC
  2. Reporting
  3. Meeting funder requirements.

Additional points of information gleaned from the analysis included:

  • Three of the four institutions had remarkably similar patterns around the implementation of APC payments.
  • Payment by invoice tends to be the most resource intensive method and has the highest number of activities in the process.
  • Adding suppliers to finance systems can add significant times to invoice payments.
  • We can infer costs in the order of £50+ per simple APC for these comparable institutions, although this doesn’t account for problem investigation or incomplete data (the ‘Counting the Costs of Open Access’ report estimated £81 for directly attributable costs to research organisations.
  • Other groups doing analysis around the APC payment process may find the Functional Family Tree useful as a starting point for breaking down the activities.

We did find Functional Cost Analysis a struggle, simply due to the dispersed nature of our group.  FCA has its roots in engineering and manufacturing and is designed to identify where to target further investigation and improvement in a process.  Next steps will be approached from a LEAN methodology, and may include work around:

  • Use of pre-pay and credit card payments to lower payment costs
  • Evaluate required frequency of some tasks (for example checking and reporting)
  • Automate manual tasks e.g. compilation of reports
  • Training lower grade staff to perform some of the tasks

An obvious but important finding evidenced by the report is that the larger the RCUK grant, the smaller the administrative costs and time for each APC payment.  There are clear economies of scale.

Project update March 2015

We have been working steadily away on our project, despite the radio silence on this blog!  Most of our attention has been taken with the Functional Cost Analysis evaluation of the APC payments process, gathering data from the Universities of Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter to see where there might be room for efficiencies in terms of the cost, effort and number of activities from various payment methods.

fft

Above is the Functional Family Tree for APC Payments, which came from a detailed analysis of the workflows from each institution and input from the Jisc Monitor team.  Time and effort were recorded for each function and sub-function, giving us an idea of what was the most resource intensive.  These were:

  1. Paying the APC
  2. Reporting
  3. Meeting funder requirements.

Additional points of information gleaned from the analysis included:

  • Three of the four institutions had remarkably similar patterns around the implementation of APC payments.
  • Payment by invoice tends to be the most resource intensive method and has the highest number of activities in the process.
  • Adding suppliers to finance systems can add significant times to invoice payments.
  • We can infer costs in the order of £50+ per simple APC for these comparable institutions, although this doesn’t account for problem investigation or incomplete data (the ‘Counting the Costs of Open Access’ report estimated £81 for directly attributable costs to research organisations.
  • Other groups doing analysis around the APC payment process may find the Functional Family Tree useful as a starting point for breaking down the activities.

We did find Functional Cost Analysis a struggle, simply due to the dispersed nature of our group.  FCA has its roots in engineering and manufacturing and is designed to identify where to target further investigation and improvement in a process.  We’ll load our report here on the blog shortly with more detailed reflection.

Other work we’ve been doing has centred around APC payment methods.  We will shortly be releasing a Good Practice Guide on APC Payment with Credit Cards, looking at the advantages, limits and issues around using card payment.

What next from us?  Here are a few outputs to watch for before June 2015:

  1.  Blog post on APC intermediary services
  2. Blog post on access/excel for recording APC spend
  3. Using Credit Cards for APC payment
  4. Off-setting and APC payments
  5. FAQs on APCs for publishers  (with the RLUK OA subgroup by the end of March 2015)

Pathfinder update

Like many UK HEIs, the GW4 Universities have been busy over the last few months compiling policy and finance compliance reports for the RCUK.  The last sixteen months have been a steep learning curve for us all, working through processes, learning the quirks of finance systems, working with academics who are also on a learning curve in terms of open access.

In our spare time (?), we’ve met for a baselining workshop  to build understanding of where each of us is on the journey (to use RCUK speak!), experiences so far and thoughts on work to be done.  We are pinning this on a framework using LEAN methodology, and during the first workshop we looked at who our customers are for this process, what they want, areas of waste currently hampering efficiency, and a bit of crystal-ball gazing with our ‘to-be processes’ thoughts.

Our colleagues at Exeter have started work on looking at the issues surrounding third party intermediaries for APC payments, building on the work on the Jisc APC project.

We’re also looking forward to our colleague Liz joining us in Bath from the 8th October.  Liz will be focussing directly on this project, and we expect to have much more news and experiences to share once she gets her feet under the desk.  For example, one of the first outputs we’ll see is some work on Functional Cost Analysis – how much is it currently costing us to process APCs in terms of administrative effort.  This will give us a control to measure against at the end of the project.  More work in this area is ongoing via the Jisc Monitor project, and several other of the Pathfinder projects are working on similar analysis.

Baselining workshop

The first step in looking at administrative workflows and activities has been a workshop finding similarities and differences in OA payment processes and workflows between the four GW4 universities – Cardiff, Exeter, Bristol and Bath.  The workshop, held on 29/07/2014, was facilited by a colleague with Lean SixSigma experience.

Introduction to project

The overview of the day was to look at what we do at the moment (as-is process); think about who our customers are, and what do they want; where is the waste or non value-adding activity; and what should the process look like (to-be process).   The framework for our discussions uses a Lean approach to maximise value and eliminate waste, based on 5 Principles:

  1. Define value-add and non value-add (according to the customer)
  2. Map the value stream, eliminate waste
  3. Establish process flow
  4. Shift from push to pull systems
  5. Strive for perfection

Realistically we probably won’t achieve anywhere near principle #5  but we did do some aspirational thinking towards the end of the day in our ‘to-be process’ session.

As-is processes:

A representative from each institution gave an overview on their APC payment activities.

Prioritising the issues outlined by each representative, these are:

  1. Licencing – ie. CC-BY, checking by publishers would help; at least 50% of items have a problem with the licence
  2. Finance – lots of checking/double checking; double handling; setting up of vendors/payment schedules/ large invoice approvals.
  3. Publishers – many changes for business models; compliance and responsibility for authors?

 

Who are our customers (not ordered):

  • Funders
  • Authors/Academics
  • Publishers
  • Internal stakeholders (operational and management groups, university senior management and reporting line managers)
  • Finance or payment office (including purchasing/procurement)
  • IT people (ie. CRIS, rrepository, systems)
  • Research Office (pre and post award)
  • Admin support in departments/colleges (often devolved)
  • Subject Librarians (advocacy) and other Library staff/colleagues
  • Readers or the end users of the research / other researchers / businesses

What do our customers want?

  1. Authors want minimum administrative burden, maximum impact, high citations!
  2. Publishers want low admin; money(!); users with pre-pay accounts – licencing and money are contradictory issues for publishers.
  3. Funders want value for money, greater impact, many are finding increased accountability from the government, transparency agenda, they are looking for compliance with their policies.
  4. Internal reporting/management want us to be complaint with funders so as not to jeopardise future grants; quality measurement; watching involvement of women/ECRs; statistics to inform institutional policy and strategy.
  5. Finance office want to be compliant with audit requirements; new work should fit in with standard processes and have complete information; sometimes want to circumvent the library (ie invoice direct from author/publisher); not be overburdened when adapting to our systems.
  6. IT want specs in good time as they can’t always react quickly. They want to understand the processes to support us, and prefer a full unchanging specification on any systems developed.
  7. Research office want research information and statistics, tending towards broad brush strokes (versus ‘obsessed with detail’ [library!!]). They want funder compliance and need to provide mechanisms to help with reporting.
  8. Subject Librarians/library colleagues want a simple message, they want to feel supported for difficult issues and kept informed (dislike feeling that academics are communicated with outside of their channels).
  9. End users want easy free access to a broad range of information. The licencing should be clear and open, ideally information found on the publisher website, alternatively versioning made clear.

Our perceived most important customers are numbers 1,3 and 4 above.

What do the 80% care about?

Quote: ‘We are operating in a prestige economy not a cost economy’.

Funders – value for money is important to this customer

Internal management – information provided that demonstrates value for money

(Suggestion to log hours getting data together for reporting (gold/green/reporting time))

Waste:

Discussion on the 8 wastes identified by the Lean Six Sigma methodology and examples:

  • Defects (rework, chasing between customers)
  • Overproduction (recording more information than is needed)
  • Waiting (waiting for next step ie. time between requisition and PO due to approvals)
  • Transportation (movement around the supply chain, ie. unnecessary movement of forms)
  • Inventory (amount of pre-payment, build up of forms before processing)

To-be process:

These are things to keep in mind when thinking about ‘to-be processes’:

  • What’s worthwhile doing? – ask our customers (ie. the authors/academics)
  • Aim for ‘one piece flow’ or small batches (not always achievable)
  • Parallel processing – avoiding single point of failure, removing bottlenecks
  • Work layout
  • Multi-skilling
  • Modular design – forms or systems, standardisation (typically reduces error)
  • Error-proofing – trying to ‘break’ potential ideal processes (poka yoke) – cheap, quick and visual / simple ie. checklist.

Thoughts from ‘to-be processes’ list:

  • An ideal process is where the Library receives the invoice first.
  • Pre-pay accounts have been questioned as the cash is with the vendor before the product has been received.
  • Publisher invoicing – batching by time or number of APCS as a way of introducing efficiency
  • Automatic systems where the publisher sends metadata and fulltext file
  • Validation of paper forms – would a checklist or colour-coding help? (training and guidelines)
  • Licencing – where is the power in the relationship? Authors, journal/publisher, payments?
  • Action: to exchange lists of publishers and numbers of APCs (RCUK reporting) – is there any mileage in a GW4 consortium?
  • Shared services – VAT efficiencies? GW4 coordination of APC payments?  Should we look at pre-pay accounts for this (to be discussed after the action above)?
  • More skills in Libraries to deal with finance. Improved access to finance systems and control over funds to make process more efficient.
  • Reporting – checking licensing is a very manual process. Publishers to report to say they’ve done what we’ve paid them to do?  We need to look at error proofing to stop problems to get this right.  We need to reduce re-work.
  • Reporting to different customers is time consuming (push and pull). Should we be doing bespoke reports to each or give total reports to all?  Desire for RCUK to notify of standardised core list for reporting data.

 

This brainstorming is reflected in the stream-of-consciousness capture below.

brainstorming at workshop July2014

Our next step is to look at capturing a baseline cost per article – more on this shortly.