Just In Time Content Management

Monday, June 11, 2012

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Brodcasters can learn from the Toyota Prius assembly line
The media business is grappling with automation of content management at a broader level, and the lessons from “Just in Time” seem very appropriate.
At its heart, this article is about looking at other industry experiences and posing the question: Can industries beyond broadcast tie into our media asset management operations? Mark Darlow from  Harris Corporation contends the answer is yes, especially in the case of manufacturing and logistics.

The media industry uses the terms production to describe the creation of new content or product. This marries nicely to the term “manufacture.” Likewise, we think of distribution for file movement and delivery.  That is part of a management process known as logistics, which sits at the core of everyday purchasing.

There are clear lessons to be learned if you look broadly at the way consumers have changed their media consumption patterns, and the impact it has had on the production and distribution processes in broadcast.  These lessons reflect a business management process known as “Toyota-orism or as it is more commonly referred to now, “Just in Time” or “Lean Management .”

“Just in Time” or “JIT” has evolved since its initial development in the early 1970s as a management philosophy. Developed by Taiichi Ohno as a means of meeting customer demands with minimum delay, JIT delivers a competitive advantage through continuous process improvement, elimination of waste in all forms, and the integration of people, plant and systems to deliver a quality product to market at speed. We believe this is becoming core to the business of content management and delivery.

Content that Intrigues
Consumers are attracted to content that intrigues them in some way. With so many choices, this is a core imperative to the success of any new content distribution strategy. 

Consumption patterns have changed radically in just a few years, elevating from just a few channels to many.  Patterns have also evolved from a singular device (the TV/radio) to multiple devices, which in many cases are connected.  Indeed, we are moving to a much more “connected” environment where devices communicate together such that the transfer of content from one device to another is seamless.

We already see the impact this has on content creation and the production process; to create something that intrigues for television requires one skill set and one set of production processes.  To deliver the same for another device type such as a tablet is not just conversion of the same content to a new format, but arguably a complete redevelopment of what creates the intrigue of content on that device, using core components from an initial production.  It may be analogous to the common parts being used in vehicle manufacturing , a platform design being used across a range of automobile makes and models, such that the branded item is very different. 

The impact of “maximizing the value of content,” a common phrase used by all digital asset management vendors to promote their product, could be qualified by the phase “maximizing the value of the initial instance or production of the content.” I believe that this is the case for live and recorded material, and impacts a range of devices in the preparation and delivery chain. 

Commercial terms around rights play an increasingly important role for a business as delivery patterns multiply.  Rights for singular device delivery may have traditionally been negotiated around “play windows,” number of plays, plays per day etc., but with the myriad of changes in consumer device type and subsequent delivery moving to multiple services, those rights open up more conflict than ever, at the component level. 

Consider a scene in a program that uses a particular song.  The rights for use may be approved for television usage, but there may be a different requirement for permission across internet delivery.  The cost of managing this detracts from the additional available income.   Indeed, it is so unmanageable at the moment that some organizations take a calculated risk in ignoring the issue by exploiting the whole grey area.  In many instances, these new platforms had not been thought of when original rights drawn up.

Content Management

The process of content management will impact systems used in the buy-sell trading process as price points change and the advertising mechanism adapts to tracking consumer eyeballs. Today we have channel management and/or traffic systems coupled with automation systems that manage the linear sell-to-delivery cycle.  That process will need to adapt as consumers change their content consumption habits, but content delivery and trading management processes need to incur as little additional overhead to the business operation as possible. 

The ability to centralize the buying process across multiple component manufacturers was a key element in being efficient and learning from JIT. This change in operation tied up far less capital and people in stock management.  With production more closely aligned to product usage, customer demands could be addressed much more dynamically – the very issue that is challenging the media business today. Agencies already plan an integrated campaign and traditionally separate out the budget by media type. The selling agents will need to adopt this model to cover multiple “platform” types.

Automating Workflows
Many new operational elements will become necessity as we move from baseband to digital”  simplifying workflows, automation of process using plant rather than people, and using people to oversee production; and manage the delivery process rather than being directly engaged in it. 

Technical QC is one example.  QC can and is slowly moving away from a manual (eyeballs-based) process to an automated process where the digital file is analyzed.  On their own, file-based QC analyzers such as the Harris QuiC-Pro tool  bring value, but the value is increased dramatically when they are fully part of a workflow.  That value is further enhanced when driven by systems that understand the context of the content, and thus the testing parameters to apply. 

Consider logistics for a moment and how the revolution in that business has driven cost out and margins up in everyday consumables. Systems drive the mechanics of movement of consumables, and the same analogy applies to file movement and QC.  In this case, the channel management system knows it is an HD feature film or consumer generated material for a low-cost show. Thus, it can advise the QC tool about testing parameters that the QC application would not otherwise recognize.   

The Content management system (CMS) in this case drives the QC tool, much as point-of-sale systems drive warehouse automation. There are many lessons to be learned from the JIT process around the QC process. The success of JIT is based largely around getting product quality right at the correct point in the chain. 

In the media business, getting that QC process right as close to the point of creation and ingest will save money as content becomes ever more federated and distributed.  – The investment in energy upfront will pay dividends downstream. 

The cost of recalling content or replacing content at the edge is more expensive that doing it at the beginning of the cycle.  Many readers will be aware of the Toyota challenge when then they had to recall millions of vehicles over a faulty brake pedal.  It is an extreme example, but it underlines the point about QC at the appropriate point in the chain.  This is crucial to controlling costs and delivering product margin.  

If one looks broadly at manufacturing and logistics businesses, the revolution for them was the centralization of systems to automate and control the processes around the manufacturing and movement of goods.  That centralization process manifested itself in a single UI dashboard, where a few operators could oversee all the operation pertaining to the process.  They were able to manage the resources at hand and optimize the use of the plant to ensure maximum output. 

This is the very challenge facing media, where historically the plant has been deployed in isolation without being more fully part of an integrated systems architecture.  Device control by automation is an exception to this rule, but is by and large limited to devices within the linear delivery chain. The media business is grappling with automation of content management at a broader level, and the lessons from “Just in Time” seem very appropriate.

Getting JIT right delivers improvement where a value-add process can be optimized, and where a non-value add or wasteful process can be minimized or preferably eliminated.  To do so effectively requires the integration of plant, people and systems from the production cycle through to delivery and consumption. We do not believe this is one system, but a content management ecosystem.  We refer to this at Harris as “Enterprise Content Management.”

Book references: 
Just in Time Manufacturing, Cheng & Podolsky
The Quantum Leap…..In Speed to Market, John Costanza

Toyota Production System – An Integrated Approach to Just In Time, Yasuhiro Monden

PIC: Toyota-prius-assembly…; automobile-manufacturers…; QuiC 1; QuiC 2

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