Leave it to the specialists close
Interesting editorial comment in this week's New Media Age. Justin Pearse talks about production outsourcing. He quotes Poke's CEO as saying there is a need for a "Soho for digital production". In other words, where the advertising industry uses specialist production houses (traditionally based in Soho) to do the post-production work on its TV ads, so the digital industry needs the same thing. This would leave the full service digital agencies (such as Codegent) to get on with the "strategy" and "creative" elements of digital projects and not get their hands dirty on the grubbier production end.
In many ways this has been going on for years with marketing agencies who profess to offer digital. For them, digital isn't their specialism, so they may employ a 'head of digital', who acts as a liason between the creative in-house team and the outsourced digital production team. Sometimes agencies will be straight with their clients, sometimes they will lie and say that they're doing it all themselves and get the outsourced agency to stay quiet. Pearse cites BBH's technical outsourcing of the entire Lynx digital work to Preloaded.
Pearse conculdes ultimately that the separation of technical expertise is too vital to a digital agency to be separated from its core operations. I would tend to agree. Digital production is so much different to video post-production, in that there isn't a distinct cut-off point between creative and technical build. In many ways, much of the creative input is as much in the technology itself as it is in the visual elements of a project.
However, as with most things, the real answer as to whether it is good to outsource or not, is: "it depends". If all you are doing is building an HTML newsletter, or e-zine, or animated gif, or even a simple microsite for a client - then why not outsource? For these things the distinction between creative and build is clear (the only one caveat would be whether the designer actually understands the medium too - as designing for print and online is about as similar as driving a bus and a sports car). But, if you need something more than a tactical digital element, then I would always go for digtal specialists every time.
Technology and what we understand about user behaviour is evolving so quickly, how can someone outsourcing ever hope to be on top of it when they aren't actually doing it? And if they don't know about it, then what sort of strategic advice can they really give their clients?