In the Feb. 7 issue of the Transition to Digital e-newsletter, the differences between broadcast engineering and information technology disciplines were described. Is there anyway the two will harmonize, marry and live happily ever after? Or will this be a shotgun wedding? One way or another, the digital baby is on the way and organizations will have to adjust to life in the digital world.
The transition to digital has exponentially increased the complexity of the broadcast infrastructure. Analog based workflows and methodologies will not suffice in the digital era.
It is an exciting time. While change must be embraced with enthusiasm, engineers must walk cautiously and temper this enthusiasm with the knowledge and experience of a mature, tried and proven, engineering discipline.
Once upon a time, an engineer could completely understand all aspects of a system. Those days are gone. Today’s broadcast infrastructures are too complex and too detailed for any one person to possess the requisite knowledge about every aspect of a system in sufficient detail to conceptualize, design, install, configure and test a complete infrastructure. Superior program management and interdepartmental teamwork are the only way to keep projects under control, on time and within budget.
As difficult as transitioning a BOC to digital technology will be, the real challenge is the organizational transition that must also occur. To convert the infrastructure to digital and try to manage it with existing organizational methodologies could easily wreak havoc. The lines between broadcast engineering and information technology are blurring. New technical organization paradigms are needed as well
Responsibilities in a digital facility will include transmission, network traffic, systems engineering and other traditional engineering departments. The integration of networks, storage and computers throughout a facility in a media network that transfers and stores compressed essence, is a new area of expertise needed in a BOC. Software applications that control playout, ingest and graphics automation will be installed, configured and tested. The need for security will require a highly skilled and experienced group of IT security experts. Each of these areas - media network, applications and security - needs a distinct group of experienced professionals.
If each of these groups operates independently, the potential exists for information, technical details and responsibility to fall through the cracks. Ad hoc processes may be developed that circumvent established communication channels in order to stay on the air. Silos of information and expertise will inhibit a full-scale overview and make infrastructure support difficult.
As infrastructures become more complicated and resources more interdependent, the amount of communication necessary to manage them will become virtually infinite. The present levels of interdepartmental communication will not be sufficient. To facilitate reliable design, installation and operation of integrated broadcast systems, improved communication and evolved organizational methodologies are necessary.
A Program management initiative that considers the big picture and resolves transition issues must be established. However, it is difficult to find qualified personnel to manage transition programs. To be successful, a person must have the requisite management skills, documentation skills and people skills. But it is extremely difficult to find experienced managers with sufficient engineering and IT experience. This must include design experience, broad multidiscipline technical knowledge and the expertise to drill down to the wire level or understand network protocols at the bit level.
Successful technology research organizations, such as IBM and Philips, followed this management methodology during their most successful eras. They recognized that only experienced technical personnel were capable of understanding the difficulties in complicated undertakings. These rare individuals were elevated to strategic technical program management and entrusted with the company’s future.
The transition to digital broadcasting is very similar to an R & D program. Standards are being established, equipment is unproven and new technologies are offered at a dizzying frequency.
There is a need to include all stakeholders, systems designers, consultants, system integrators, implementation teams and users in the design process while systems and workflows are still in the conceptual stage. An organization needs to migrate from a reactive, fireman, hero culture and evolve to a proactive, team oriented, long-term vision using a technology and organizational strategic roadmap.
Most broadcasters will use system integrators and consultants to design, install and commission their new digital infrastructure. In a large undertaking, it is imperative that broadcasters actively oversee the entire design and installation process. This must be a collaborative effort, where key engineering personnel work with SIs, consultants and vendors to acquire the necessary expertise to maintain the installation after commissioning.
The best teams are generally built by careful selection, have worked together in the past and have clearly defined roles and goals. For example, the Grand Alliance was the culmination of a decade of engineering teams that had worked together, at first within their own organizations and then, in the first round of ATSC testing, as competing consortiums, and finally as one cohesive team: the Grand Alliance. A team of people who are probably unfamiliar with working together will be assembled for projects crucial to the facility’s transition. Get the right people on the project teams. Move the wrong people - people who are resisting change - to other responsibilities and job functions not related to the digital transition. Invest in teamwork training sessions before working together. This will help establish trust and working relationships among personnel who now must work together on a multidiscipline project.
A strategic capabilities roadmap must be developed that evaluates personnel expertise and plans a way to migrate the organization to desired competencies necessary to make the transition to digital. Get people excited about the future. It is not enough to train employees. Attending weeklong seminars, although helpful, will not be sufficient.
Ultimately, the goal is to increase operational efficiency and do more with current staffing. Rather than do the current workload with one quarter of the staffing and expense, do four times the current amount of work with the same staffing and investment in resources.
The new equation
A successful transition to digital requires an integration of emerging technologies, compelling content and viable business models:
Efficient Technology + Compelling Content + Viable Business Model = $$$$$
Efficient technology is the melding of broadcast engineering and information technology such that rather than spending $1 billion in a brute force designed infrastructure, by intelligently realizing efficiencies of shared resources, maybe only investing $100 million.
Compelling content includes aesthetic consideration and editorial direction, and is more competitive than ever before.
Viable business plans now include multiplatform distribution consisting of multiple programs and services, Web sites, radio, print and cell phones sharing content. Media planners are developing integrated sales across these platforms for clients. The TV business is no longer simply about TV.
With the industry’s transition to digital the perfect opportunity exists at this time to analyze workflows and resources to determine how to improve processes, infrastructure and capabilities. This will help to increase ROI, reduce organizational stress and make the transition to a digital infrastructure less disruptive. Only organizations bold enough to evolve their methodologies to practices appropriate for this transitional time will reach the digital nirvana of resilient, reliable and robust infrastructure operation.