Over the last year or so, more broadcasters have seen how properly managed, IT-based workflow systems can radically improve both performance and accuracy in their operations. Despite the fact that many still are not taking advantage, it is time for all broadcasters to focus on the next objective, which should be the implementation of business process management (BPM).
BPM is a technology that has been used in the world of business, and in particular manufacturing, for many years. It can be described as an over-arching layer that systematizes and automates processes and optimizes the use of available resources. A good example is the automobile industry, where cars are assembled in a production line based on orders from the sales department for variations of model, color and accessories.
BPM can be defined as a high-performance system for the control of operational processes, using well-managed operational workflows. Moreover, BPM implies that tasks performed in the broadcast environment need to be associated with a business deliverable. In practice, an efficient BPM implementation adapts to the workflows of each workgroup, allowing broadcasters to optimize daily tasks and identify opportunities to improve them.
In the context of media processing, you could define BPM as the layer above workflow that triggers actions and receives information about workflows and their component tasks. This is a valuable function, not least because it creates a link between the operational requirements of a facility (acquisition, archive and versioning, etc.) and the tasks that will deliver them according to business objectives. It should also provide metrics about human and technical resources, enabling systems to be fine-tuned in order to deliver better performance.
How does this work today?
Arguably, all businesses, including media enterprises, need and have BPM, or they would never deliver anything. Historically, craft industries’ workflows are based on operator-performed tasks following requests from managers — in other words, a workflow based on human interaction. This type of working is still used in the majority of broadcast facilities, albeit supported by spreadsheets and other digital aids. However, these practices, which may have worked in the past, are proving increasingly impractical as facilities are required to deliver more complex programming — not only within the facility, but often over communication links to other facilities within the enterprise or beyond to third-party service providers and clients.
In high-level media management organizations, BPM oversees the production workflows of the company wherever it is practicable, enabling the traceability of the media and documentation and organizing tasks in work orders so that each process complies with quality standards of the organization. Crucially, BPM implies effective reporting, and it is this that allows managers to monitor production as a whole, as well as fine tune workflows for the future.
BPM may also be seen as bridging between the commercial requirements and expectations of, in this case, a media enterprise and the detailed operations and deliverables required on a day-to-day basis. It should also be capable of receiving tasks from higher levels in the organization. Typically, this means systems such as planning, marketing or enterprise resource management generally, none of which is able to process or deliver complex media. In this way, BPM can assist in unifying process management between the enterprise as a whole and the broadcast facility.
BPM vs. workflow
In order to clarify what we mean, we need some definitions. When we talk about business processes, these include: program planning, program production, program acquisition, versioning, content research, content sales and distribution. On the other hand, the following are workflows: ingest, import, quality control, post production, subtitling/closed captions, archiving and export.
Figure 1 shows how a BPM/workflow implementation could look. In this example, the “Business Process” of content acquisition is interpreted by the BPM into a series of workflow tasks that are then executed under the control of a workflow manager that reports to the BPM as each stage is completed. This is the first major benefit of this kind of system because, at all times, the precise status of media items is available in the production facility or, if required, at the higher level to the business as a whole. Of course, this could be achieved with manual workflows operated by humans entailing operators gathering data and sending it to the BPM, but such systems are prone to delivering variable results.
The element missing in the previous diagram is the comprehensive reporting that is enabled, both back to the workflow manager and to the BPM system. This feature is critical as it enables concerned parties, both inside the media production area and the wider enterprise, to follow the real time status of content. Not only that, but this automated gathering of valuable information is virtually free. We will see later that this can be put to good use.
So, how should broadcasters go about implementing new technologies such as BPM to ensure delivery of the claimed benefits? Initially, this will be an exercise in analyzing the existing systems in order to establish how much the technology platforms need to be changed or evolved. Moving to file-based working is essential for this, and most broadcasters are already modifying their systems. Broadcast facilities not building from scratch will inevitably need to make decisions about staging the BPM implementation. Some departments may be better placed having already embraced file-based working, and these can be used as pilots to verify the benefits for other workgroups.
Having established the scope of the proposed new system, partners can be selected using the requirements found in the first phase to choose the most suitable candidates to supply a system.
Reaping the rewards
While managing media operations, the BPM gathers a lot of data about current and previous workflows. This data is invaluable in measuring the performance of the media facility identifying, for instance, where there are bottlenecks, and where more human or IT resources are required to be deployed. It can also be used to deploy staff in the most effective ways, taking into account where more experienced operators are beneficially deployed, and where less experience ones can safely be used.
System managers who are planning to extend or enhance their capabilities can reliably predict the results of investing in new systems or hiring personnel — not based on opinion or hearsay but on solid data. Such requests are, of course, more likely to persuade the company executives that further investments will deliver the claimed performance.
In summary, there are many potential benefits in using a BPM strategy. These include: repeatable results, higher throughput, better use of human resources and better decision making on all levels.
BPM and multi-site working
So far, we have looked at BPM in the context of a system within a single location. However, increasingly, media is moving from place to place. What happens if ingest is managed in one place but, due to local expertise or other factors, operations like subtitling or versioning might be required to be handled from a second or even a third location? In this case, how is the BPM affected, and how can workflows extend over multiple sites? Take the example shown in Figure 2.
In this system, content is ingested or imported at the central (HQ) site. Proxy versions and metadata are made available to remote sites via a private cloud. In order to take part in workflows that are instigated at HQ, each remote site, although it has its own MAM system, is granted a floating license to access the central MAM in order to access the workflow schedule. Following this, operators at the remote sites can process tasks in the master BPM/workflow, perhaps, in this case, creating Spanish language tracks and subtitles. Other similar tasks can also be performed without having a local copy of the production resolution content. In other cases, such as post production, the master workflow should automatically initiate a file transfer to the appropriate site and then, following editing, recover the new version to the HQ system.
Using this methodology enables broadcasters to reallocate tasks based on local technical or human resources or to take advantage of available expertise across the enterprise as
Why not before?
If this is so easy and straightforward, why aren’t most broadcasters doing it already? Well, for a start, it’s only relatively recently that suitable products have been available in the market. In this context, when I use the word “products,” I mean solutions that can be deployed without extensive customization.
In recent years, the emphasis has been on integration with the goal of file-based operations on top of most agendas. In truth, the BPM paradigm won’t work well unless the majority of operational “islands” can be connected, and can therefore exchange the data that is vital to success.
The video content industry is moving rapidly away from relying on non-standard production and storage technologies that typically have been difficult to integrate to a file-based environment. This opens up the prospect of bringing all document formats — from text to rich media — into a single workflow. To achieve this goal requires the use of new software products that bring all processes together under common control.
Suitable workflow systems have been available on the market for several years. However, for practical reasons, broadcasters have tended to focus on achieving file-based workflows when considering upgrading their facilities. This is completely understandable, as moving program material between systems that cannot communicate with each other causes real problems for operators as they wrestle with manual workflows. In many cases, the increased throughput that file-based systems enable has the effect of highlighting the need for robust workflow engines and BPM.
The good news is that workflow systems available to broadcasters have evolved greatly, with some including BPM capability. Those broadcasters who have taken the plunge invariably report they are increasing their throughput over and above improvements delivered by file-based working.
In summary, broadcast technology is evolving faster than ever. The demands for more channels and innovative services are accelerating. Many production processes are no longer manageable with “human workflows.” Prescriptive and automated workflows together with BPM can make the difference.
Finally, if all of this isn’t enough to validate the BPM/workflow case, such systems gather the results and performance data that will prove increased efficiencies gained, not to mention making a strong case for future expansion of such systems to satisfy growing needs.
—Peter Gallen is product manager at Tedial.