Ian Somerville, head of support at Jigsaw24 Media
Support used to be relatively simple in the old box-shifting days. Back then, you could walk into any server room and immediately identify the products in use based purely on the hardware in the racks. Each product performed a clearly defined set of tasks and was completely supported by a single manufacturer. True, trying to picture the problem that clients were facing while talking them through fixes over the phone was an art form – quite a bit trickier than simply dialling into the system and taking remote control – but, on the whole, providing technical support was much less complicated before SaaS. Yet, while almost every other aspect of media and entertainment workflows has been completely redesigned around the SaaS model, the industry’s approach to support has not – and a perfect storm is brewing.
The integrated solutions that make up today’s technical stacks are undoubtedly an improvement on the islands of yesteryear, but they do make support more complicated. Now, when a customer calls up saying that their Media Composer isn’t playing back video, the problem could lie within Media Composer, the video card, their network or even the storage system. And, while individual manufacturers’ support contracts cover the individual components, they don’t cover the full solution. At the same time, thanks to a combination of skills shortages, budget cutbacks and the democratisation of technology, many facilities don’t have the breadth and depth of inhouse engineering expertise that they used to.
This combination of increased technical complexity and decreased internal capacity means that facilities are more reliant on the additional support that media systems integrators like Jigsaw24 Media provide than ever before. However, it’s often the first thing that gets cut from budgets because there’s a perception that it’s either unaffordable or not needed. Neither is true, but support is like insurance: no-one wants to pay for it until they need it.
In fact, the industry should be spending more on support, not less. Because more complex problems require support teams with more experience, and using the same engineering team for installations and technical support runs the risk that support calls will go unanswered in times of crisis – or that the person who did your installation won’t be available when you need them. And wouldn’t it make sense if, rather than waiting for something to break, and then scrambling to find and solve the issue, we adopted a proactive approach to actively reduce downtime? That way, dedicated support teams could regularly log in and look after your infrastructure, patching updates and preventing failures rather than fixing them.
A common industry complaint is that there isn’t enough standardisation between technologies, formats, facilities and broadcasters. When it comes to support, however, we’d argue that the opposite is true. For so long we’ve costed support as a standard percentage of the technology sale, but this model is really no longer fit for purpose. Supporting Sienna on AWS is very different to supporting it on-prem and the level of service needed by a production company with edit suites isn’t the same as what a full post-production facility requires. In an ideal world, each support contract should be subject to a full service design process and costed based on the client’s unique requirements.
We just need to look at the trainlines to see how expensive and unreliable services become when we don’t invest in looking after technical infrastructure. All we ask is that, before you cut the support line item in your next budget, you consider whether it’s a compromise you can afford to make.