ELEMENTS – How the software revolution is changing our industry

ELEMENTS – How the software revolution is changing our industry


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ELEMENTS – How the software revolution is changing our industry

Journal Article from ELEMENTS

Fri 09, 09 2022

Author: ​Heiner Lesaar


Much has been written recently about the transformational shift in the media industry. Until recently, the only way to get the performance level we need – a new picture every 40ms – was to build special purpose hardware. Now, thanks to Moore’s Law, we can do pretty much everything we need on the same workstation hardware that banks and airlines and insurance companies use.

While we all celebrated about the way that this means technology is much more affordable, thereby democratising creativity and unleashing the potential for much more media on many more platforms, we must also acknowledge that it means a big change for the business models of vendor companies.

I see a lot of implications in this, but I want to talk about two in this article.

The first is the change in our supply chain, and perhaps even the fresh need for supply chain management. When broadcast products, whatever they were, ran on bespoke hardware designed by the vendors and either manufactured in house or by a sub-contractor, the skill was in forecasting how many of each unit to build each period.

Now we offer software products. These are largely self-developed because vendors in our industry are the subject specialists, but many will also include third-party software where the functionality is pretty standard.

Typically, the developers of these third-party packages, which might be databases, or file acceleration, or some other sub-system, will be dealing with multiple industries and may well regard the broadcast and media business as small and relatively insignificant. They almost certainly will not be swayed by our deadlines: they will probably not even have heard of IBC, let alone understand why it is so very important you can demonstrate your new release – which depends on the third-party new release. Managing the supply chain becomes a matter of managing expectations, both internally and with the end user.

The software has to run on standard hardware, and this is where the challenges can become even greater. Again, the difficulty is that the supply industry is dealing with huge numbers of sales of which our requirements are a tiny part. When supplies are short – and we are all aware of the component issues at the moment – then as a small cog in the IT gearbox we may be at the back of the queue.

Sometimes there are entirely unpredicted challenges. During the pandemic, for instance, there was a boom in crypto-currencies. We could discuss the reasons for this, but it would get us nowhere.

The effect of this crypto boom was a huge shortage of GPUs and hard drives, and a consequent big price rise. Our business is in large storage networks so we need a lot of drives, and this was a problem for us.

As a relatively small business, though, we can avoid bureaucracy in our purchasing, and if necessary we can work the phones to get what we need. If the CPUs or drives are not available here in Germany, then we can see what we could get in the UK or in Asia.

We are also able to talk to our customers, so they can help us help them. For example, one of our preferred network switches is from Arista, and at the moment they are quoting as much as 40 weeks for delivery for the right model.

By staying close to our customers, we can talk them through the situation. They may be able to find suitable switches on the second-hand market, and we can work with them to certify any potential purchases, and quickly amend our contracts to reflect the fact that they have sourced the router.

The ultimate goal is always to deliver on the end user’s requirements, but to do that we have to be flexible, and develop new business skills and principles.

My second point, and this is a great concern to me, is that, in what is now a software industry, it is becoming very hard to find talented developers and support engineers. This is an issue across the whole of the software industry and we are competing for skills. But the media sector is not helping itself: it must do more to attract talent.

I do not see this as being about money. It is a struggle for many businesses in our industry to find the right people. At ELEMENTS, we have recently opened a technology department in Belgrade, Serbia. It was a territory where we could readily identify suitable candidates, even though we have to train them ourselves in the specific requirements of the media industry.

As far back as 2014, the IABM held a conference on the industry’s skills shortages, and particularly the need to turn young people on to the excitement and potential of our industry. According to the official report of the conference, a leading broadcaster told the delegates “We have to go and face them with our challenges. Show them that we have real engineering issues. There is development to do and it is not a standardised development, so you can put your skills and talent into real projects.”

Successful businesses understand the importance of human capital. We have to find ways to attract and retain the best software talent. Is now the time for companies across the media industry to join forces and create an academy? We certainly see that there is room for that, and such an initiative would win our support.

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