How Technology, Budget and Culture Collide Behind IP Transition

Donald Rowley, CIO, Imagine Communications
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Donald Rowley, CIO, Imagine Communications

We are at an inflection point in the media and entertainment industry where proprietary hardware is yielding to IP-powered, software-defined and cloud-virtualized technologies. These changes are ushering in new business models, applications and revenue opportunities at a pace the industry has never before seen—providing the freedom to grow, change and adapt.

"Tomorrow’s next generation applications requires a committed partnership of between those who understand legacy technologies and those trained in the IP, software and cloud infrastructures”

The question for media companies is not whether they will embrace IP, software and the cloud, but how, when and to what extent.

As a vendor supporting these massive transitions, Imagine Communications works with global broadcasters, content creators and media companies on a daily basis. And the key challenges facing these tech decision makers, explored below, are similar to those that I face as CIO of Imagine Communications as we develop a next generation application ecosystem and infrastructure for our global employee base and Centers of Excellence.

Where to Place Bets: Tech decision makers realize that the bets they make today will color their path and success for the next decade to come. With new innovations being announced daily, the right partner is essential to assist with critical decisions as to decide how to transform the way your video is packaged, consumed and monetized. Retooling technology two or three years down the line, is expensive and disruptive so it is important to make the right bets on technology, people and partners. Who will outlast and outperform their counterparts? Who will be around after radical industry transformation?

As a CIO, I’m looking for technology suppliers who understand my current and long-term business objectives—and how to help me reach them. So are our media broadcast customers? Their top priority is to find technology partners who understand the positive potential of transitioning to IP-centric operations and who can work with them to develop their own transition plan, at their own pace, and work in conjunction with their current capital investments in baseband technology.

A related consideration is how you go about building next generation applications. Do you select best-in-class partners for each stack or do you choose an end-to-end vendor who can provide a simple and seamless deployment, integration and management across the facility? For some, it is important to have the best possible solution and they are ok with handling the integration and ongoing management challenges that can accompany this approach. For others, they prefer to have one end-to-end technology partner across their facility who has leadership within the most important stacks–ensuring fewer integration and performance problems and a headache-free deployment.

Budget Alignment: One of the biggest technology challenges that keeps me up at night is transforming my existing budget to match where we want to be, not just where we are today. For an organization that has grown through acquisition, we have had to work overtime to align our technology resources across the organization–bridging together the needs of services, R&D and IT and sharing effectively across the organization.

Another key decision is what to move to the cloud, what to keep on prem and understanding the operational and financial balance associated with both options. As we know, moving to the cloud brings clear cost, flexibility and scale benefits–particularly for broadcasters who are able to scale up or down to meet the needs of high-density events without long-term investments in hardware and personnel.

However, there are financial implications to moving to the cloud. When a business moves operations into the cloud, the transition from a CAPEX model to an OPEX model requires ownership and management to coordinate both the technology change and the parallel transformation of the corporate financial model even when the big picture benefits of the cloud appear obvious.

The Transformation of Workforce: Technology transitions are hardly new to media professionals who have seen video evolve from black & white to color, analog to digital and SD to HD. But never before have all segments of the media and entertainment industry been required to deal with so many simultaneous technology transformations, some bringing unprecedented degrees of disruption.

The transition to IP-based facilities, for example, requires a significant cultural, not just technological, retooling and transformation. In fact, roughly half of the media professionals surveyed during Imagine Communications recent Focus Forward survey indicate that cultural issues, such as acquiring new skillsets and increased integration into the organization’s IT practice, posed more of an obstacle than technology issues. This suggests that the media & entertainment industry should take into consideration the importance of change management and other personnel issues when mapping out an SDI-to-IP transition strategy.

This represents an opportunity for professionals across the broadcast value chain–enabling entry, mid and senior executives to think creatively about their role. For instance, while young professionals trained in baseband can rapidly retool to support IP, software and the cloud, a senior executive might see his role evolve into an education and consulting role. These veterans bring necessary experiences to the table the help forward-thinking organizations bypass past pitfalls and capitalize on opportunities that present themselves. When looking at your workforce, it is necessary to ask–where are your professionals in the spectrum and what do they want? Tomorrow’s next generation applications requires a committed partnership of between those who understand legacy technologies and those trained in the IP, software and cloud infrastructures as the broadcast ecosystem transitions.

There is no more exciting time to be part of the media and entertainment industry than right now. But this coming year presents broadcasters with multiple technology crossroads. By focusing on technology, budget and cultural alignment, tech decision makers are able to position their companies for success during this period of rapidly accelerating change in the broadcast industry.

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