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The need for IT in Media to maximize value

The challenges faced by technology leaders in media industry are different. I use the word 'media' because traditional print publishing companies which owned newspapers and periodicals have realized the opportunity and threat the new media vehicles like internet, radio, TV and mobile represent. The growing popularity of social media websites as a means of sharing and analyzing news or information has also added a new dimension.

News publishers have embraced the web along with their traditional media vehicles like newspapers, periodicals, TV and radio. However, due to patch work technologies and mind sets of the employees' news publishers have been facing the challenge of aligning their newsrooms into a seamless newsroom that handles different types of content once and repurposes it to many media vehicles like print, mobile, internet and broadcasting.

It would be great to have a single newsroom of writers, sub-editors, producers, audio-video and still artistes working together in harmony towards multiple channel delivery. How about domain experts sifting through the inputs of reader's comments to cull out the germane and use it to provide analysis and commentary? Such a newsroom would definitely require a workflow and IT infrastructure to help create, collaborate, categorize, channel and eventually publish the news quickly.

Making IT work for you!

The most important fact that needs to be underlined is that there is no technology per se that has exclusively been tailored for the publishing industry. It is we, the technology brains that leverage / customize the solution as per our needs. Across the industry, call any leading technology solution provider for that matter. They will showcase everything under the sun but they still lack the basic understanding of our business. Many CIO forums for instance focus on vendor driven concepts viz green, virtualization, cloud etc. These may be fabulous on a PowerPoint presentation but are they really significant from our business standpoint? For instance, if my annual IT spends is say 1 % of the company's annual turnover. Out of this, 35% goes for pure play hardware. By going green, if we are able to save say 20%, would it be of any worth? This is where we need to get our basics right… there is nothing beyond common sense. Many from the CIO community would agree that some of the present day technology publishers even lack the basic IT infrastructure but still they give us "gyan" on emerging technologies. Can success be delivered ?

However, there are some niche players (solution providers) who have made inroads with their specific tailor-made solutions which suit our business. I have seen their editorial system evolve over different releases and realized that they were fundamentally moving in the right direction of developing a comprehensive multimedia newsroom workflow solution. Although we only bought their solution for print but I am confident that tomorrow if we bring in the other media like Internet and mobile onto the same platform, they will still not have any problem. Instead of opting for generic IT solutions provided by top companies, it makes sense to have these niche customized solutions for our publications.

Today, technology is actually ahead of the demand. The challenge is to get the management to invest in the right technology and provide training to the stake holders to keep up with the technologies. Most editorial systems today are rigid and have been designed to do one job – keep news flowing down an assembly line till it gets printed. What amazes me is that news publishers continue to invest in these exorbitantly priced dinosaurs and keep spending more to add plug-ins and add-ons to these rigid systems to meet the requirements of new media. Many of these systems do not have the basic structure to hold tags or handle audio-video. New media today requires systems that have a two-way flow. It is imperative to have a system that allows and facilitates user generated content to flow back to the newsroom.

Structuring a workflow for a newsroom

When I joined my new assignment at one of the leading newspapers, I took upon myself to review and implement a complete system to handle all elements of pre-press production: advertising, editorial, photographs, pagination and web publishing. They were using a peer-to-peer network, preparing the copy in obsolete versions of Quark, adjusting photographs in Photoshop and booking adverts in a system that was struggling and was yet to stabilize and be fully implemented. The main problem that they had was difficulty in meeting the deadline for the press and all pages had to be sent using a 2 channel ISDN line. Also with no editorial system in place, they were having problems with copy flow. Besides, the back office had no messaging solution in place and needed a complete messaging system to meet the requirements of a modern news publishing company. There was an urgent need to build up a communication system from scratch.

Now, if one needs to speak of a workflow, all key stake holders first need to be identified and integrated. For instance, advertisement booking needs to be in harmony with editorial content. For content, there needs to be a proper flow of feeds from agency / wires, which should be in sync with the bureau. And finally, the print output (in pdf) has to be the input for our web edition and so on. So we started on an end-to-end integration of all functionalities to ensure optimal utilization of resources.

Taking it step-by-step

Our first move was to create a core group consisting of stake holders to assess the situation and identify problem areas. The core group conducted many meetings and brain storming sessions not only to identify the current problem areas and their possible solutions but also tried to envisage the problems and requirements that may arise in the future based on the organization's vision for the future. Suggestions were made to modify the workflow to reduce the production bottlenecks.

In the advertisement department - booking ads in the legacy system meant that there was a great deal of re-keying of material, both ad copy and invoicing information. This was both a waste of time and error-prone. There was no workflow for ad management. So, we went ahead and implemented SAP and Layout-X for page planning. The result was we could free people to do other jobs that would increase revenue. The new system eliminated the risk of missed ads which would have increased as the volume of advertising kept growing. The page planning system has also decreased the work load in the production department. The flow of data to the accounts department meant that invoices went out accurately and immediately.

In the editorial department, there was a need to introduce structured workflow to eliminate the possibility of stories being duplicated or lost. It was also recommended that some of the editorial staff should make up some editorial pages to ease pressure on the production staff. Implementing a structured editorial workflow in addition to a web based archive system and page tracking system. The archival or digital asset management system provided quick access to previously published articles, an essential for a modern newsroom. The system was also extended to key users in the web editorial department so that they could use wire stories and also keep tab of stories being worked upon for print to save duplication of effort.

Most of the pictures were being filed by photographers by digital camera or were being received in digital format from wire agencies. Once received, they were manually being optimized through folder-based working. This was obviously time-consuming. The photo workflow of the editorial system made the status of each picture available to all users and reduced the load of the quality and color correction team.

The network including the WAN was also streamlined to facilitate multi-location working as sharing news between centers in a timely manner was critical. The better network and messaging system helped improve communication and build user confidence across the company. The installation of an enterprise level security system also helped improve the productivity of the people. Thus, we went about changing the entire way we worked.

Technology transformation is an unending process… Our prime focus needs to be in stabilizing operations. Innovation, functional improvements and business driven targets can be consolidated once IT improves its agility to make the business more productive and competitive. We can no longer ignore the importance of having a digitized workflow in our work place.

Success has many fathers; Failure has none – nobody wants to own.

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