Competitiveness is the sum of many small gains

By Simen K. Frostad, Chairman

Published in In Broadcast,June 2014

Sports teams and athletic competitors are constantly searching for a performance advantage through the cumulative effect of dozens of small ‘marginal gains’. Some of these gains are achieved through rare and expensive technologies, others through diet and training, and some are attitudinal and psychological.

At the top level of any competitive endeavour, the opportunities for establishing a clear lead over rivals with any single ‘magic wand’ solution are almost non-existent, and competitors have to assume that they are pitting themselves against others who will almost certainly be equally well-prepared and well-equipped.

So if a team can train just a little more effectively, follow a nutrition plan that is just a little more effective, use clothing that offers a tiny bit less wind resistance, and keep its members better informed about the competition’s tactics, and in a higher state of morale…the accumulated benefit of these gains could add up to a real advantage, even though each on its own might be negligible.

And since a team is made up of people, the effectiveness of each member and of the management co-ordinating the team effort is a critical part of the team’s success, or failure. No matter how advanced the technology available to the competitors, it takes the right preparation, attitude and teamwork to pull it all together.

What holds true for competition in sports is also true in many areas of business. In our industry we have moved beyond the era in which the high cost of technical solutions determined which organisations could afford to take the lead, and which were among the also-rans. The unmistakeable advantage broadcaster X could once establish over rivals by being the only user (or at least the first user) of black box Y has no real equivalent in our current world of standardised IT hardware, software licences and cloud computing platforms. Now, almost any media enterprise can afford to implement a high-quality technical solution that offers the potential of big-league performance.

There are still of course differences between solutions, and buyers have to work harder than they did in the black box era to understand how one solution will deliver greater benefits than another, when they may look superficially similar. Information, understanding of the important issues, and an ability to see through the marketing hype are all very important. Box-ticking is not enough. Discriminating procurement skills are more vital now than they were before, since system A may only be revealed to be better than system B in real-world use over months and years, rather than in a short-term trial.

The complexity of the infrastructure that media providers need to build today means that there is almost infinite scope for inefficiencies to creep in, for horizons to be limited by lack of adaptability, and for CAPEX and OPEX to rise to dangerous levels. Complexity is unavoidable because of the proliferation of media delivery types and viewing platforms, but providers who don’t manage to keep their systems relatively simple and well-integrated risk getting bogged down and becoming uncompetitive.

Even with the right equipment in place, and a well-integrated, streamlined infrastructure running smoothly with a high level of interoperability between the components, there’s still the challenge posed by continuous evolution. From the perspective of today, the 20th-century world of broadcasting appears a technically stable place. Today, formats, standards, and markets are in a state of continual flux, and whereas in the black-box era a piece of kit would change very little over its working life, today’s technical solutions are likely to undergo dozens and perhaps hundreds of upgrades during the ownership cycle. And so will most of the other components that are linked together in the infrastructure.

Like a Formula 1 car changing from race to race, today’s media infrastructures are in a constant state of evolution. This poses huge business management challenges because the buy-and-forget or box-ticking approach to equipment and infrastructure purchasing will only result in decreasing competitiveness over time. Not only do the systems have to be kept up to date with current upgrades and enhancements, but workflows and staff skills also have to be in a state of continual renewal in order to stay ahead of the wave.

At Bridge Technologies we manufacture leading-edge technology, but when our customers install our systems that is only the beginning of the process. We know from experience that with the evolution the systems will undergo over the ownership cycle, and with the customer’s inevitable changes in personnel, there’s always a risk that the operator skills can fall behind the technical capabilities of the systems they are using. A CTO can specify, test and choose the best technical solution in the world, but if twelve months later the team that was trained to get the best out of it has broken up and moved on, it’s almost guaranteed the value that system brings to the customer will be diminished.

In the search for the competitive edge, all the marginal gains are important – human skills no less than technical capabilities. A system that is designed to adapt to continually changing operational demands will itself be in a state of change for much of its operational life, so its owners and operators can only get the best value out of it if they keep themselves skilled up and abreast of the technology.

Read the article online, In Broadcast

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