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Workflow lifecycles

25 July 2011

The 2011 IT Broadcast Workflow conference, in London earlier this month, was a well attended, informative and lively day. The range of papers and case studies presented showed clearly that, in terms of file-based architectures, the industry has moved from the initial “how can we do it” phase to the mature “how can we do it well” phase.
 In his opening remarks, the conference chairman Jeremy Bancroft made some challenging statements which got the day off to a thought-provoking start. He cited the fact that tape-based systems have a lot of advantages: “the quickest way to get content around a building is on tapes in a carrier bag”.
 Handling tapes in just this way, in the knowledge that if all else fails you can manually put a tape in a VTR to play it out, has been a way of life for the technical and operational staff in a broadcaster. Bancroft described moving away from it as “a burning platform – make sure you have something to jump to.”
 This point was picked up later in the day by Roberto Pomari of Swiss broadcaster RSI, who advised us to “invest in change management to keep users onside. Invest as much in your people as in your technology.”
 But Bancroft’s most dramatic comments concerned system lifecycles. Broadcasters, he said, have been used to amortising capital costs over a period of at least seven years, then expecting a “free” period after that before the equipment needs replacing. Given the speed of change in the IT world, that financial model is no longer viable.
 His view was that “a $10 million investment today could only last five years”. Further, IT suppliers expect to charge a continuing support fee, perhaps as much as 15% a year – a concept largely unheard of in broadcasting.
 The conclusion is that each broadcaster must pay serious attention to the total cost of ownership and balance it against savings to achieve the necessary payback. As part of those calculations, the broadcaster must consider whether the traditional approach of carefully tailoring the solution to the precise individual needs is viable, or if an off the shelf system will achieve the same results. As Bancroft put it, “this is like comparing handmade Belgian chocolates to Cadbury’s – can broadcasters afford the Belgian approach any longer?” 

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