As the media landscape becomes increasingly complex, traditional service providers like telcos face a greater diversity of rivals than ever before. Broadcasters, high profile brands, even programme producers and format owners, among others, today seek to forge strong, direct relationships with consumers by offering subscription video services.
Incumbent operators are under heightened pressure to compete, to innovate and to deliver user experiences that exceed the expectations of subscribers. Meanwhile, newer market entrants may face a steep learning curve when it comes to delivering services in a Pay TV business environment.
What the established operators and aspiring new service providers have in common is the need to harness technology to develop compelling service offerings while at the same time optimising resources. However, employing enough in-house staff to ensure you have all of the necessary technical, commercial and operational expertise and capability to design, develop, integrate and launch successful leading edge offerings is almost always uneconomic.
Challenges in sourcing the required skills
Securing the expertise of highly trained and experienced engineers, for example, is a major challenge across our industry. In some specific areas of IT, there is a bone fide talent scarcity.
Hiring staff of any kind is always a time-intensive effort. Today’s TV services, which leverage many technologies from the web world to complement ‘traditional’ multichannel broadcasting technologies, require additional specialist knowledge. They also require comprehensive integration know-how.
Training up in-house staff in all the newest technologies and techniques where specific expertise is required can be an even more lengthy process.
Recruiting personnel with particular special skills – assuming the operator knows exactly what those special skills are – compounds the staffing challenge and often necessitates the engagement of specialist, often pricey, headhunters.
With the in-house only scenario, an operator would need to engage a huge IT team to address the wide array of devices in use today. Only the very largest operators can conceivably afford such a prospect.
Both ‘hiring-in’ and ‘training-up’ can be expensive, and neither is particularly conducive to speedy service launches.
Savvy operators have woken up to the benefits of virtually “extending the workbench” to include highly specialised technicians and engineers from key partner-suppliers. Bringing select skilled individuals ‘into the fold’, sitting alongside in-house teams, yields many benefits, not the least of which is much faster time to market.
Avoid tunnel vision
Having a product and service development environment comprised of only in-house skills and expertise can ensure the operator retains complete control of the entire process. This may initially be an appealing prospect.
But by excluding external viewpoints, and foregoing the possible insights which third party experts can bring to the table, there is a very real risk of development taking place ‘in a tunnel’.
With established teams, familiar processes are often assumed to be the best and might not ever be scrutinised to see if there is a better way to do things. In this ‘in-house only’ paradigm, team members tend to only see and intimately understand their own products. They also only see their own business practices and habits.
Furthermore, a ‘closed shop’ in-house-only approach carries the risk of being influenced, subtly or unsubtly, by company culture and ‘politics’ in its various forms.
Let’s face it, organisational idiosyncrasies impacting product and service development, to a greater or lesser degree, is a theme many of us will be familiar with.
On the other hand, inviting in staff from trusted expert partners to work side by side with their counterparts at the operator-customer can have a very positive overall effect on development and the resultant services. Such an environment encourages vibrant information sharing, mutual education, and generates fresh, creative ideas which infuse and enhance processes and projects.
Furthermore, welcoming informed external viewpoints at the workbench gives an operator’s in-house team the opportunity to evolve.
Collaborate for more effective usability testing
Technology vendors that participate in today’s multichannel TV marketplace increasingly come from complementary – sometimes radically non-traditional – areas in the communication technology ecosystem. TV service providers such as telcos often now find themselves needing to learn a whole new vocabulary from their partners.
Usability testing for proposed new services is one key area that benefits very powerfully from co-operative development with third parties sharing the Extended Workbench.
Operators can benefit from third-party agencies which specialise in conducting extensive user testing programmes. Focus groups, interviews, and sophisticated data analytics all combine to provide valuable feedback to operators on how their innovations will fare when offered to viewers.
Granular business-relevant user reaction data based on gender, age, education, income and other demographic information can arm an operator with the insight needed to make truly informed decisions on what subscribers will like and what they will reject. This can be applied before launching or during the lifecycle of a product.
By closely entrusting such expert agencies, an operator has the opportunity to experiment, to nimbly change service functionality and/or design to improve the appeal of the service in this focus group environment. Then, the revised proposition can be tested afresh.
The more ‘develop-test-measure-refine-measure’ cycles, the better the products will be.
With an Extended Workbench enhanced with such trusted partners, the operator can conduct this entire process – leveraging the integration, development and design proficiency of experts standing by – in parallel with other key activities in the run-up to launch.
As a result, the service can go live in a much more timely fashion. And when it does, the operator can be far more confident that the offering will be of the highest possible quality, and will captivate subscribers.
Achieving true agility: rejuvenate processes while acquiring expertise
A very significant benefit of extending the workbench to include specialist partners is that the operator can achieve agility.
The concept of agile development is relatively new to the world of traditional Pay TV, and is the perfect example of a concept well known in software that is now informing and improving TV.
In particular, operators are beginning to benefit from Safe (Scaled Agile Framework), a very successful and practical experience-based software development framework designed to accelerate and optimise product development and system deployments.
With improved agility, new services can be tested and expertly fine-tuned on-the-fly without interruption. And by entrusting partners to oversee the process, there is less risk of any particular development being de-prioritised or deemed subordinate in importance to the ‘bigger picture’ annual corporate objectives which an in-house team is tasked to achieve.
Such specialist partners, often small or mid-size companies, are accustomed to delivering on tight deadlines, with creativity and flexibility. They are also unfettered by competing the intra-organisational pressures, processes and bureaucracy inherent in big telcos and other major corporations.
In the Extended Workbench scenario, TV platform owners, especially telcos, learn entire new processes and approaches to work flows from their partners. The in-house team builds expertise and can adopt new dedicated operational frameworks and tools that they can use going forward, with long term benefits.
Importantly, operators also directly benefit from the experiences the specialist vendor has acquired – often internationally – from supporting other service providers, sharing what has worked and what has not in disparate, non-competing businesses.
After watching and learning close-up from partners, an operator’s organisation works more efficiently, launches are accelerated, viewers’ expectations are more likely to be met or exceeded.
Typically, the bottom line is healthier too.
From the vendor side, via the Extended Workbench, there is a far deeper and direct understanding of what is driving each new request from the operator. Requirements have greater context and meaning through better, closer communication. This is in distinct contrast to the quality and efficiency that can feasibly be delivered by simply handing a vendor a long list of specifications and change requests.
Devising, developing, integrating and launching services of the calibre that consumers expect today requires an ever more complex set of skills. Containing all this expertise in-house may mean an operator has total control. But this may be accompanied by sub-optimal efficiency, slower release cycles, and almost certainly more cost or less profitability over the product’s lifetime.
We have seen first-hand how the Extended Workbench concept is engendering better relationships of trust and collaboration between operators and partners. And the resultant enhancements in efficiencies are demonstrable, indeed, they are almost always measurable in terms of savings in management and development time, speedier project implementation, and faster service launches.
Most importantly, all these efforts enhance the likelihood of achieving the most important goal of all, engaging and retaining subscribers with high-appeal next-generation entertainment.
We have found that operators who embrace the Extended Workbench soon become its evangelists.