Working workflow18 April 2011
“The broadcasting industry is plagued by inefficient and outdated processes.” The words of Paul Ragland of Irdeto, speaking at the Grass Valley NAB press conference. That sentiment set the tone for the whole convention: for many exhibitors and most visitors the show was all about making the workflow work.The organisers had chosen ‘the art of integration’ as a key theme for the show, and this slogan appeared everywhere. Rather than showing the latest flashy products, most vendors recognised that their customers are still working in a tough economy. They have to deliver more content, and to more platforms, but they have to do it within the same tight budgets.Harris Morris of Harris said: “broadcasters tell us they spend 80% of their operating expenditure on 20% of their revenues” – clearly not a situation that can continue. Mark Horton of AmberFin reported that a London post house he spoke to needs to produce 60 versions and 15 sub-versions of a typical international commercial. Automation, all the way to quality control, becomes an absolute necessity given that scale.The idea of business process management (BPM) or enterprise resource planning (ERP) has been in the industry for a few years but this NAB it was visibly big business. Herve Obed of Pro Consultant Informatique underlined the importance of moving away from silo thinking – “this is well known in other industries, and compared to banks this is an exciting business” – and Rafael Dubois of Tedial explained that the latest version of its Ficus BPM can now execute more than 3500 workflows, a requirement demanded by its customers.The SLA has been a part of our conversation for a long while, but it is increasingly moving away from technical performance to the definition of the required outcome. Prime Focus supplies its Clear workflow tool to broadcasters who need to make programmes available across a range of platforms: one of its SLAs calls for every piece of content to be ready for video on demand delivery within 30 minutes of transmission.And one final hot topic from the world of workflow at NAB: the cloud. Different vendors have different interpretations of what cloud computing means, and there is still much concern about speed of access and, above all, security. But these challenges are being met, and the cloud will be changing the way we all work.The convergence between broadcast and IT is finally beginning to take shape. The newly-revitalised independent Grass Valley, for example, is building a major professional services operation and has brought in a leader from the IT world, Aengus Linehan, formerly of HP. He talks about big suppliers becoming “trusted partners” of broadcast customers.Quantel headlined its press conference “exciting times”. It was not a vintage NAB for flashy new products, but it did see a distinct change in emphasis towards defining the business of the broadcaster and supporting its commercial aims. Once that happens, thinking in workflows will be critical.