Agile Media Operations: Why Efficiency Is Never Enough

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Agile Media Operations: Why Efficiency Is Never Enough

It is a basic business truth that you must be efficient to be successful. But while efficiency is good, agility is better. Agility takes efficiency, and then adds flexibility and impact. Think of the best sports people in history, and ask yourself whether their agility was more important than efficiency (for example, their fitness and stamina)?  Sure, they had talent, they had drive, but when you think about their physical and mental attributes, did agility trump efficiency?  Is Roger Federer considered more agile than the rest of his tennis-playing peers? How about Muhammad Ali and the other boxers?  We have to admit that the best of the best are generally more agile than the rest.

Operational Perspective

So what has this got to do with a Media Operation?  Media Operations around the world are dealing with a very competitive and changing landscape. As soon as HD upgrades were done, file-based workflows appeared. As soon as file-based workflows became established, OTT delivery and IP-based infrastructure appeared. 4K is coming in on top of HD. There are new entrants in the industry taking significant new market share. There is constant change. And with constant change, it is difficult to find the necessary stability to be supremely efficient.

But Media Operations still must improve efficiency and enable their business to be successful. In this fast-changing environment, it’s better to aim for agility rather than efficiency. If you maximize efficiency but ensure you are also flexible to make the right impact at the right time, you’ll probably win more than not. The key is to find balance. The quest for agility in a Media Operation leads to two simple objectives – first, the time taken to complete tasks should be as short as possible; second, the effort required to complete tasks should be as low as possible.  The best sports people continuously strive for this combination through best technique, best movement, best equipment, best reaction-speed, and more.

From an operational perspective, this can be easy to say and hard to do. Policies, procedures, systems, human nature, resource levels, communication, time zones, and many more elements can create obstacles that increase the time and effort required to complete a task. To improve agility, as any operational manager knows, is a multi-faceted challenge.

Technology Perspective

From a technology perspective, agility is more clear-cut: Some technologies assist agility, others do not. To return to a sports example: While Roger Federer himself may have competing forces affecting his performance (such as his levels of relaxation, focus, calmness and energy), what will categorically affect his agility positively or negatively will be his footwear and clothing choices. The better his equipment, the more agile he can be. This is why the best players in any sport use the best equipment: so everything they use and control directly improves their chance of winning.

It is fair to say that winning in business is more complicated than winning in sports.  There are a lot more uncontrollable variables in business. The Media Operations are at the center of how the Media business delivers its products to customers. This means that their agility, or lack thereof, will directly impact the business’ results. Returning to the technology perspective, consider what is preventing your Media Operation from being as agile as possible. Or, what stops you from getting things done in the minimum amount of time, with the minimum amount of effort?

You may immediately have a long list of issues ranging from a lack of system features to the way that SCTE standards have been implemented, and if only these were changed your life would be easier and your agility would be much better. However, the really important question to ask yourself when you think about this is: how much wait-time do you have in your operation?  Wait-time (or perhaps it is better to say “wasted time”) will slow you down. By definition, wait-time increases the time taken to complete a task, and makes completing it more quickly that much harder. To improve agility really means to remove wait-time from your operation to reduce your total task-time.

Inspecting the opportunities to incur wait-time in a Media Operation, that are affected directly by the technology infrastructure (as opposed to other operational matters), we can identify the following, most of which relate to your storage and transcoding platform:

  • Moving content from separate storage location to separate storage location
  • Moving content from on-premises to cloud-based locations and back again (e.g. for cloud-based transcoding)
  • Queueing for tape reader capacity in order to restore a file from a tape archive
  • Waiting for tapes to be brought into the tape robot from a vault
  • Waiting for content to be transferred (e.g. FTP’d) when there is only limited bandwidth
  • Requesting an HSM to move content when the MAM could do it
  • Waiting for content to be migrated from tape drive to tape drive for LTO generation upgrades
  • Waiting for content to be migrated from file-based storage to file-based storage when “scale-up” NAS systems can no longer be expanded
  • Waiting for software and hardware upgrades to be made on each unique system in the infrastructure
  • Waiting for a robot arm to be repaired or maintained so you can gain access again to the tape library
  • Waiting for on-premises transcoding capacity to become available when many jobs are queued up to be completed for a tight deadline
  • Waiting for your infrastructure capacity to be expanded

Reducing wait-time for content access

All these examples of wait-time, specifically within your storage and transcoding functions, prevent your Media Operation from reaching the highest levels of agility. To reach the highest levels of operational agility and enable your business to be as competitive as possible, these wait-times need to be eradicated or at least significantly reduced.

To reach the highest levels of agility your video infrastructure has to deliver against two requirements:

  1. Make content quickly accessible
  2. Be easily and quickly expandable

The solution that can meet these requirements, deliver the best possible agility, and also provide necessary value for money, is:

  1. Software-defined – for fastest expansion
  2. Scale-out – for easy expansion and no migration
  3. Private cloud deployed – for minimized transfer/wait times
  4. Multi cloud deployed – for maximum flexibility

Efficiency improvements are a continuous operational challenge. Every year Media Operations need to do the same, or more, with less, while helping their whole business make maximum impact on customers – in other words, they have to be more agile. As content volumes grow due to more content production and larger resolutions, and distribution volumes grow due to more VOD and OTT delivery outlets, the technology infrastructure has to  keep up meet the operational requirement for agility.

So if you want to be more agile (and who doesn’t?), then it’s important that software-defined, scale-out storage and transcoding are top of your must-have list for your Media Operation’s infrastructure.  Without them, it will make it even tougher to be an industry leader.