Club Hub—Hubbing by Ethernet

In areas where centralization or grouping of processes is possible, you may provide some immediate staffing benefits or relief, but there are other advantages as well.
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Our current environment has required that we better utilize existing resources whenever and wherever possible. We are already pushed to the limits, so we have to find new and unique ways to perform our tasks faster and with increased precision.

None of us can afford an approach that provides results inferior to the past, but we should also look at opportunities to further improve those results, not just maintain status quo.

Centralization is one area that can help. It's often not an easy proposition. In fact, it can be very challenging to implement a drastic change in workflows and processes. The rewards, however, can be tremendous.

CENTRALIZED OPERATIONS

In areas where centralization or grouping of processes is possible, you may provide some immediate staffing benefits or relief, but there are other advantages as well.

Over the past several years, Media General has centralized in several major areas, including master control, traffic and graphics production. These were significant changes to our operations and involved major projects with a tremendous amount of planning and coordination. We have also implemented other "grouping projects" that had less technical impact, but nonetheless were just as successful.

Many of our sites have individuals that are part of enterprise-wide teams, meeting on a frequent and regular basis to share ideas and knowledge. For example, our digital journalists from various sites meet to discuss topics within their area of expertise. Since these folks often work with the same equipment, it has become an immediate resource pool of talent and technical knowledge. They also get an opportunity to share (and brag about!) any creative approaches to their projects.

By being involved in these regular discussions, ideas are quickly shared and workflow inefficiencies can be rapidly discovered and improved. Because they are no longer limited by the physical walls of their site (and long-held practices and traditions), they can explore new ideas and opportunities.

Just as management teams often collaborate, we need to ensure the technical folks and those dealing with technology help us identify areas for improvement. The results of these projects brought with them additional advantages. In areas where we have been able to centralize or "hub" some of our core activities, we have seen overall improvements in quality.

I believe much of this has to do with the necessity to standardize roles and procedures in an environment that provides continued knowledge growth. In many areas, this has resulted in groups of experts who continue to hone their craft and intimately understand the day-to-day operations for our stations.

Working in hubbed environments has also permitted extensive cross-training. We're operationally more efficient and in turn, that helps us provide a better product for our customers.

It's also very interesting to watch the atmosphere change and grow throughout the process of a centralization project. Teamwork really takes on a new meaning and it's something you can actually feel and touch. It's easy to quickly identify those individuals that "get it" and jump on board to be part of a forward-moving solution.

While we look at those "major" centralization projects, it's important that we also look at smaller opportunities… that could actually reap even more rewards and ultimately provide better journalistic content to our consumers.

Look within your operation. Look for those people with the ability to share knowledge, which will ultimately lead to built-in training for others.

STILL SEEING SPOTS

In my last article, I addressed my concerns regarding the proliferation of spot delivery services and the direct impact many of these "solutions" are causing to our stations.

In short, the idea of electronic delivery of spots and potentially long-form programming is a logical extension of our current technologies and where we are today. It makes sense.

Unfortunately, the wide variety of formats and delivery methods cause an increasing level of problems for local stations. We're already running thin within our workforce and looking for any efficiency improvements. Some of these solutions are adding complex workflow issues to our existing processes.

I'll admit that I wrote that article partly out of frustration. In some cases, we've suddenly ballooned from two or three providers to nine or 10. The new providers account for less than 10 percent of our spot delivery, meaning we are spending an inordinate amount of time dealing with special handling required for a very small number of spots. But, spots equal money… and I don't think I need to say more about that.

I was pleasantly surprised at the responses I received directly from that article. I heard from some of our sites, but was very pleased to discover my frustrations with this issue were actually shared with many broadcasters.

For those who shared their thoughts, concerns and suggestions… please accept my thanks. I was even contacted by vendors that assured me they wanted to work with us to provide a streamlined approach to delivery. I'm confident we will be hearing much more regarding this structure and will keep you posted in future articles.

Count on IT!

Michael J. Sutton is director of IT at Media General Broadcast Group in Richmond, Va. He can be reached via e-mail atmsutton@mediageneral.com.