Are we heading for a technology SNAFU?

Are we heading for a technology SNAFU?

SNAFU began life as a military acronym during the Second World War. Battle weary cynics used it to describe ‘Situation Normal, All F****d Up.’

I’m not a battle-weary cynic but having recently taken part in several technology focused discussions with industry peers, I am amazed how, in 2016, the same questions are being asked, the same challenges being talked about and the same mistakes being made So how do we avoid this ‘Situation Normal’ in our industry?

We hear a lot of talk about Change in relation to some new technology solution implementation as though it's something new and something we don’t know how to deal with. We talk about “resistance to change” but sometimes struggle to effectively deal with it. Some are better than others at implementing new technologies that require new workflows. But the majority find it very hard to deliver all the promised benefits. Why is it apparently so difficult? What can we do to improve the adoption of new ways of working and fully realise the potential of what new technology enables?

Groundbreaking developments in broadcast technology were the original reasons to instigate changes. These included the move from black & white to colour or analogue to digital, timecode, SDi etc., the list goes on. The resistance to those changes was not such a big deal. Perhaps it is because the benefit was more obvious - whereas the impact of change today is not so obvious or just simply poorly understood. Or is it the “bubble syndrome”? By this I mean that a change I make doesn’t necessarily benefit me directly - so why bother?

Take Media Asset Management for example. Stating the obvious, MAM has been with us since we realised that spreadsheets and bits of paper stuffed into a VT case no longer did the business. The industry needed something more. Along came complex and massive MAM systems with similarly massive price tags to “manage” all of this digital content. In the meantime we’ve gone from SD to HD and now we’re talking about Ultra HD, HDR and HFR (without mentioning the failed foray of 3D now largely confined to the cinema. That's just one side of the coin. The advent of OTT leads us to a new ever-evolving raft of formats and a greater need for metadata-based information relating to the content either technical, descriptive or rights The cost of MAM or Content Management has come down through product commoditisation but it is still difficult to implement and the full benefit is rarely achieved across the entire content supply chain.

Many in the industry are still grappling with the operational and financial overhead in providing and sustaining an OTT proposition and have quickly found out that the investment and overhead outstrips the financial benefit several times over. Yet Netflix, Amazon Prime and the Apple Store seem to doing well. Has anyone really truly realised the full potential of a MAM and fully justified the original investment made? Take a look at their virtual storefronts and see how rich they are, then ask how easily could you do the same?

Implementing new technology solutions ultimately leads to a fundamental change in the way a business operates. Without first defining the reasons why, the objectives and identifying the benefit the business wants to realise, the full potential will never be realised. Equally important is that once the objectives and benefits have been defined it's essential to start putting some standards, rules and processes in place otherwise it's a waste of time and money.

Technology of any kind should never be installed just for technology's sake. That's not to say there is no place for R&D - there certainly is - however R&D should never be productised and because technology in all its guises touches more points in a business and plays a much greater part of our daily lives. In short, it enables a business to operate and delivers goods and services to the consumer. The problem here is that businesses continue to operate in silos or bubbles and to a large extent independently of each other. The silos will never go away for a variety of reasons but technology, business and operational divisions all need to be more involved in the definition, selection and functional specification of any system that works across the business and delivers the benefits in a holistic way. They need to understand that a change may have difficult local impact but accept that the real benefit could be elsewhere.

Defining the objectives, agreeing the requirements and specifying the benefits can only be done through collaboration between the users, the business and the technology teams. Often this engagement is best facilitated by someone who is seen as independent.

Trying to use the new in the same old way also never works. Looking at how new opportunities can be integrated into a common, integrated supply chain means that business models can become a lot more viable. Achieving this is a tricky path to follow and has to be carefully coordinated and managed. We all know of one or more of these projects that started with the best intention but quickly tried to “boil the ocean” and failed.

Managing expectations is key too otherwise we will continue to be SNAFU.

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Last modified on 24 March 2016
Andrew Ioannou

Expert in broadcast technology strategy innovation and systems implementation.