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Manufacturers take the long-term view

As a former broadcast engineer, I love new technology. Even so, I don't always have to have the latest and greatest new gadget either. On a personal level, those experiences run the gamut from “dumb idea” to “really cool” purchases.

I'm reminded of the last time I thought I'd become trendy by upgrading to a PDA. Wow! 256MB of ram, color display, calendar, note pad, directory and about 50 other features I thought I needed.

The first step was to get all of my personal data from my laptop into the PDA. Despite the two devices' IR links, all I could get from the laptop was “file format not recognized.”

Finally, after a couple more hours of effort, I managed to get some semblance of my data into the PDA. I even began hauling the PDA around to my appointments. Boy, did I look cool or what?

But then, the inevitable started to happen. I forgot to update the data entered into the PDA by transferring it to the laptop. And the reverse happened. Stuff I did on the road with the computer wasn't reflected in the PDA. Then I was really in a pickle because I had two calendars and two contact lists, neither of which matched. It was time to synchronize.

To make a long story short, something went wrong, the data got scrambled, and I ended up with a PDA without current data and a laptop with a mixture of new and old data. Had the new technology failed me, or was I just trying to ride an unnecessary technological wave?

This true story reminds me of a recent trip to Japan, where I visited Sony's technology center in Atsugi and its media manufacturing plant in Sendai.

After a couple of days there, it was obvious that successful companies, like Sony, don't become that way by just responding to yesterday's demands. Rather, they work hard to develop ideas and products to reflect customers' future needs. The long-term success of a company is dependent upon its ability to see the future needs of its clients and then respond with the right mix of product features — sometimes bringing these products to market before customers realize they “need” them.

Customers like you and me seldom see beyond today's problem. I need a bigger server, so just give me more storage. Never mind that there may soon be the desirability to intermix MPEG, MJPEG and MXF files on a single server. We are focused on today. Top manufacturers have to focus on tomorrow.

What I gained most from that Japan trip was a better appreciation of taking the 6000-meter view of broadcast technology. What your television station of today looks like will not resemble that of tomorrow. Be open to new ideas and ways to solve problems. Don't be afraid to partner with those vendors who know your issues and have a long-term viewpoint of the solutions you'll need.

So, as you tour NAB, look especially at the large company stands for hints of future technology. Look for trends, and ask about upgrade paths and compatibility between products and companies. Maybe you can solve today's problems by investing in some of tomorrow's solutions.

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