11.10.2006 03:24 PM
Redefining Advanced Workflow Management
One of the major trends in today’s facilities is a move toward common, unified technology platforms that allow disparate systems to interact. Manufacturers have made tremendous progress in enabling the movement of data through the many devices in a facility. This is allowing broadcasters to replace homegrown solutions with systems that enable intelligent operational and business logic for event scheduling and data management.

Until recently there existed in facilities a gap between two types of workflow—operations and data. At ScheduALL we refer to this gap as The Great Divide. One half—the operations workflow—includes the scheduling of people, equipment, facilities, projects, deadlines and budgets, usually for the creation of content. This type of workflow is about the people who are needed, the studios that shoot, the content that’s edited, and the financial impact in the use of all these resources. The focus is on how the physical work is done. In the illustration, it’s represented by the top half of the sphere.

The other kind of workflow consists of the data or content workflow from device to device—and the way that flow is orchestrated and executed. Beyond mere movement, the process might involve transcoding, an alteration in resolution, or conversion from one format to another. Data workflows need to do more than get data from point A to point B. They’re about getting a square peg into a round hole. From an engineering standpoint, this process is the traditional meaning of “workflow.” In the illustration, it’s the bottom half of the sphere.

The ideal state is when both workflows operate together, with the data moving in direct relation to every step of the job process. Such a unified system would enable, for example, an editor who needs data for a particular job to orchestrate the movement of data from a DAM system. Control over data is handled more directly, and the system has the means of assessing the ultimate cost of delivery to the client.

This intimate tie between the engineering activities and resources of a facility not only leads to more efficient work, but also keeps the financial bottom line more visible, allowing facilities to better leverage resources to deliver optimal efficiency and profitability.

MOVING TOWARD A UNIFIED ENVIRONMENT
The convergence of IT and broadcast engineering is driving the evolution of content workflow. Eventually broadcasters will store almost all their media on computer systems. However, this transition has been slow to ramp-up due to expense and the uncertainty of which technologies will endure.

Broadcasters’ first challenge has been the sharing of data and metadata across disparate systems. Once this has been accomplished, the next logical step would be the seamless movement of data in a workflow process. At this point, many realize that it would be even better if they could make critical procedures and tasks, such as generating work orders, a part of the process. So, rather than take an enterprise approach, many broadcasters have made the move in stages.

Innovators looking for enterprise solutions have taken a longer-term view in incorporating the latest workflow management solutions into their organizations, seeking to bring greater efficiencies across the board. PBS has been one of the leaders in this type of thinking with its ACE system, which was developed in part to improve interconnection of workflows and to build systems that create efficiencies with affiliates.

Some users put a system in place across their facilities, and others bite off one piece at a time. Both methods work. The most important thing is that they’re integrating their operations with data movement or storage.

AUTOMATING WORKFLOWS ENTERPRISE-WIDE
Today, the problem is no longer whether we tie systems together, but how we tie workflows together. How do we now use a brain to logically control and move this data from place to place? These are the questions that current workflow and content management technologies address.

When operations and technical workflows (the top and bottom of the broadcast content workflow sphere) are integrated, every step in the process throughout the circle can be improved upon to boost the bottom line. Our technology relies on Media Connected Services (MCS) to enable the communications across The Great Divide. MCS allows systems from multiple vendors to work together seamlessly, creating better efficiency, accuracy and operational cost control. The goal is to give broadcasters the ability to manage both their assets and production processes, throughout their entire facility and across all their production workflows, in a single, fully integrated system.

The benefits of integrated workflows include smoother, more efficient operations, better communications, better long-term planning capabilities, better orchestration between systems and the ability to eliminate the need for human intervention. They also help people do their jobs better. The facility can make better use of its resources, and share financial and timing information with other systems and applications to add value to its media assets. Personnel management ties in as well, through management of overtime, and posting of schedules, consistently ensuring the right person is on the right job. All of these factors lead to greater efficiency and profitability.

The first step is to analyze current operations, look at the dependencies between operations and engineering workflows, and then ask, “What is the best way this could happen?” In today’s world, with the ability to communicate between systems, the vision can be big. A broadcaster can take one part of it, like ingest into a DAM system, do that—and do it right. Cost and disruption to services could be a concern, but broadcasters definitely have the ability to do a fully phased approach—if they know where they ultimately want to be.

LOOKING AHEAD
Five years from now the prototypical broadcast operation will rely on a totally integrated solution where the operations and production staff, those people physically doing the work, will have full control of the system. We’ve seen editing rooms transition to desktop workstations, and in the future we’ll end up seeing the facility itself and workflow process all transformed into desktop solutions. All systems will communicate with each other, moving content and data seamlessly in a fully transparent flow. Targeted access and displays will let individual operators know what they need to know and work with an interface that looks like it was made just for them.

It’s an exciting time for those of us in the content workflow management business. The vision we’ve been nurturing for years is starting to become a reality in facilities across the world, and it’s being embraced by manufacturers, broadcast engineers and content owners alike. In fact, the market for a comprehensive broadcast operations and content management solution is exploding. It wasn’t a case of “If you build it, they will come.” But broadcasters today have seen the writing on the wall, and the demand for this technology will continue to drive enormous change across the industry.

Rick Legow is President of ScheduALL (www.scheduall.com) and is based in Hollywood, FL.


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