Throughout all its infancy and even as recently as the late '90s, it was not unusual for even some of the biggest luminaries in the information technology industry to think of IT as being mostly driven by the hardware. Now don't get me wrong. It is easy to be seduced by the siren song of multiple lightning-fast CPUs, gigantic storage arrays and the ever-increasing speed of LAN and WAN links, but at the end of the day, the real value will always come from the software systems and their ability to interoperate.
THE RISE OF SYSTEMS
The increases in productivity that are by and large responsible for the three economic expansions since the early '80s can be directly attributed to the ever-growing influence and interoperability of software systems. It wasn't always smooth or trouble-free but as time progressed, more systems became interconnected and allowed companies to base their strategic and operational decisions on increasingly more accurate books of knowledge about their suppliers, manufacturing plants, distribution channels and market share.
We saw the rise of manufacturing resource systems (MRP) and their migration into enterprise resource systems (ERP), the aggregation of Excel spreadsheets into decision support systems (DSS), which eventually became today's full-fledged business intelligence (BI) setups, and the transformation from packages like ACT! and Goldmine into fully connected customer resource management (CRM) environments that allow companies to not only maintain their customers, but also precisely target them for cross-sell and up-sell opportunities.
Such is the challenge that faces most broadcasters today. Whereas in the recent past, we had to be mostly concerned with the speeds and feeds of our new computer-based, digital television equipment, nowadays, our biggest issues center on our ability to create enterprisewide software infrastructures that can holistically manage our portfolios of digital assets.
Effectively, our enterprise application integration (EAI) problems today mirror the same obstacles that the purveyors of physical assets faced earlier in their computerization lifetimes. This similarity, 20 years later, is a perfect characterization of the issues that our society is facing as we experienced the migration from physical assets to digitized intellectual property.
Most broadcasters have a plethora of applications for the operation of their environments. We have our contract systems, our rights-managements systems, our ad sales systems, our resource-scheduling systems, our traffic systems, our automation systems and our archive front-ends.
But in most cases, all these disparate applications are loosely connected, require substantial manual manipulation, are embedded amid 30-year-old processes and workflows and are therefore ill-equipped to provide us with the operational flexibility required to adapt.
As an industry, we are in dire need of integrated platforms that will allow us to concentrate our energies on the pursuit of stakeholder value rather than daily administration of needlessly complex and disconnected sets of operational data.
Over the last 20 years, the IT industry has undergone a long and painful hardware and software vendor consolidation process, but the result has been the emergence of a very sophisticated set of enterprisewide systems that allow end-to-end supply chain optimization.
The same process is needed in the broadcast industry. We need to continue to abstract hardware components through standardization processes like MXF, adopt IT industry-standard architectures so that we can reap the benefits of a much larger marketplace, and above all, we need to leverage software strategies to the detriment of proprietary hardware environments.
It behooves us to study the battle scars of our IT brethren, and use that accumulated knowledge to smooth out our integration processes. We have the advantage of far more advanced tools and technologies, such as XML interfaces and Web services, to help with the integration of disparate components, and we are much further along by virtue of universal connectivity standards like Ethernet and TCP/IP. We must, however, remain vigilant to ensure that we do not trade short-term integration benefits for the long-term pain of supporting legacy applications on discontinued platforms.
As television broadcasting continues its fast migration, the time is now to take a step back, look around with a critical eye and make the necessary bold moves to ensure our organizations' survival. In the end, just as it was the masterful integration of all our physical abilities and senses that eventually gave rise to sentiency and put human beings at the top of the food chain, so it will be that enterprise application integration will be the differentiator between thriving and struggling to avoid extinction in the broadcast industry.
Count on IT!