Smart Management Amid Changing Times

“May you live in interesting times” is said to be an ancient Chinese curse. Well, if that is the case, then we are surely cursed in this era of television. Change is all around us: in our technology and in our business.
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“May you live in interesting times” is said to be an ancient Chinese curse. Well, if that is the case, then we are surely cursed in this era of television. Change is all around us: in our technology and in our business.

Another thing changing right before you, right now, is the byline on this column. I will be alternating the writing of Count on IT with Mike Sutton, director of IT at Media General Broadcast Group. We will both be bringing you new perspectives on the changes that are occurring in our industry as well as practical discussion about what to do about them.

NEW GUY IN TOWN

A little personal background might be in order, so you have a sense of where I am coming from. I started working in television part-time while in high school as an editor wrangling 3/4-inch videotape decks to produce compilation reels. Later, I went to New York University and studied both computer science and film and television production. After college I went full-time into a career in technical management and have held a variety of roles with different companies in the business. Nearly 20 years later, I am a vice president for National TeleConsultants Inc., a Glendale, Calif.-based design and consultancy firm in media and entertainment. Over the years, I have been involved in helping to bring a number of IT technologies to market that have changed the nature of how broadcast systems are built.

But let’s go back to my college days to illustrate how far we have gone with regards to how IT technologies have been changing our business. I initially went to NYU to study film and TV. I had always been mucking around with computers from a young age and felt a real interest in the subject. I decided to study computer science as well.

I had to go to the head of the film and TV department at NYU to request permission to pursue a computer science degree simultaneously. As I was explaining that I truly wanted a career in television and wasn’t asking to change majors, the department head interrupted me. He told me that he would be willing to approve my dual major, but I needed to understand that it didn’t make much sense if I was serious about TV. After all, what would computers have to do with film or television?!

Of course, he was off base on that. In reality, computers already had a role in several areas of television. If nothing else, the PC was sometimes where we could go to clean an EDL before doing an online edit. This foothold has grown, and any reader of this column is well aware that the future role of commodity computers and software is only going to grow and change for the better.

So you can see that my background has always been a bit of both the “IT guy” and the “video guy.” While that was somewhat rare 10 or 15 years ago, times are changing and it is now becoming more and more the norm. It is unusual these days to walk into a television operation that does not have a combined IT and broadcast engineering department.

CROSSOVER SKILLS

Of course, the folks who have a very strong background in one camp or the other have certain skills that don’t easily crossover, and everybody can’t learn everything. The management of these combined organizations will come sometimes from engineering and other times from IT. It seems not to make much of a difference on the success of the merger.

I think it is great that these departments are merging. There is so much IT technology that is part of the broadcast chain in a facility today that anything that helps boost skills in this area can only help. Right?

Well, in the main, yes. But keep in mind that while those skills are valuable, we can’t ignore cultural differences between the two departments. Putting aside immediate skills differences, only a little less than half of the staff can really change easily between IT support and engineering, in my opinion.

The big reason for this is because of the approach taken to troubleshooting. The prototypical IT guy has been trained to thoroughly analyze the problem and find its root cause so that the problem will not pop up again at the help desk. Stopping the problem from happening again is the priority. The prototypical engineer, when faced with a problem, has been trained to get back on-air first. If it means running a patch cable quickly or changing a setting on the fly and then getting back to troubleshooting later when he has the time, then so be it!

So, what is needed is smart management of the department as it goes through changes. A good manager recognizes that people have different personalities and approaches to problem solving. That manager puts them to the tasks that will be valuable to the organization and that will make them happy as well.

IN THE PIPELINE

Not to change the subject, but I have many topics I plan to cover in the months to come. Two areas that are intrinsic to successful IT integration are Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA) and Business Process Management (BPM), both of which are big favorites of mine. I will want to explain how to best align your technology and people to be prepared to handle rapid change.

I also will be looking at other topics from the IT space not normally discussed in our industry, yet: identity management, virtualization, change management, and business process analysis to name a few. In every case, I will strive to look at them from the TV technologist’s perspective.

I hope it will give you some comfort to know that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Or as Mark Twain said, “History may not repeat itself, but it does rhyme a lot!” Change is in the air! Count on IT!