Posts Tagged ‘vendor management’

Be Your Own Project Advocate

May 19, 2016 Leave a comment

ID-10081312If there’s one challenge for production/creative managers in the enterprise space, it’s the struggle to define, implement and operate a new technology system for their productions. Many communications leaders are specialists in the creation and development of high-value video and audio content. They are well versed in scriptwriting, lighting, shooting, pacing and the other key aspects of film production.

Where many of these managers get tripped up is in the proper implementation of the increasingly complex delivery systems available to share their creations online. Whether the system is homebuilt or vendor-driven, leaders suddenly find themselves in complicated discussions of bandwidth, streaming protocols, ideal bitrates, transcoding and every other detail of properly instituting systems for delivering video content. There’s a tendency on the creative side to defer these questions to the “experts” – let the IT guys work that stuff out, I just have to focus on providing the content.

That kind of attitude is understandable, but can do enormous damage to the project and possibly kill it altogether. It’s imperative for even the least technical manager to get both interested and informed about these details as if the project depends on the managers understanding and discussing them intelligently. There are a number of reasons for this, but it boils down to your advocacy is the only one that will focus completely on the project meeting its goals successfully.

The first driver of project success is focus – the team needs to define goals to meet the business needs, layout essential functionality and see that the project stays on track. Ostensibly the Project Manager assigned by the IT department for the project will handle those efforts. In reality, my experience has demonstrated that even the most well-intentioned and skilled PM is juggling at least a half-dozen projects at once. Yours may not be the most complicated or the most high-profile, and by definition it will settle down to the bottom of his list. The tech team doing the initial due diligence is likewise swamped, and broadly speaking are unlikely to be experts at first in the details of streaming video. Moreover, there’s often a distance placed between the project’s business owners and the guys in the trenches, and every layer in between guarantees details will be lost in translation. The high-level sponsors of projects are fire-and-forget – they stand up to support a project, but they usually don’t want to know anything until it’s all done (or they have to yell at someone). The vendors are focused on many things – they want you to use and love their products, but often they have limited staff trying to manage multiple clients and thus their goals are different. In the end, you’re the only one invested enough to keep pointing like a laser at getting a working product that you’ll be living with for the foreseeable future.

Another key concern for these projects is the distance between the promise and reality. Again, you’re the one that has to work with these tools daily. Everything always sounds good at the kickoff meetings, but too many of the stakeholders there don’t have to deal with the actual day-to-day function. Practically it makes no difference to a VP that it takes 14 steps to deliver each piece of video out to the audience – but your team is going to lose productivity in massive chunks if the design doesn’t take your processes into consideration. Something as critical as metrics can be a major stumbling block if it’s not considered early – can they deliver what you actually need to know and report out to the stakeholders?

In the end, no one should know the needs and the uses better than the direct owner of the systems. These concepts may  be foreign to you, but it behooves you to learn them and be able to discuss them intelligently. No one will show more concern for the success of your project than you will, and the more you can direct it, prod your partners and shape the final results the better it will turn out.

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External Factors Impact User Experience with Video

February 17, 2014 Leave a comment

Twice over the last two days I had the opportunity to leverage streaming content for some entertainment. Both times I faced streaming challenges, and it’s a reminder that no matter how good the content we develop, we’re often subject to external factors that can completely change how the end-user feels about our work.

I started out on Saturday with the DVR recording I made of the USA-Russia olympic hockey game. Thanks to my cable provider’s channel guide mistake, I got an extra 30 minutes of commentary that resulted in the recording cutting out in the middle of overtime. So I switched over to the laptop to load up the replay from Plenty has been written about the business model behind the access to the content – if you haven’t heard, you only get access to the full scope of content if you have an existing cable/satellite provider. This of course shuts out many people who don’t have those services, and I’m not convinced that it’s a successful model to use.

Regardless of those issues, I do have a cable subscription and the results were horrible. I needed to catch up on the end of overtime and the shootout that followed – no more than about 10 minutes of video total. It’s safe to say I spent at least double that time waiting for the content to buffer and begin playing. I’d get a minute or two of playback followed by a long spell of buffering. If I had not been committed to seeing the end of the game I’d have given up within the first couple of minutes.

Sunday night was movie night with the kids (well, one of them – the other two refused to watch). We agreed on a movie and ordered it from Amazon video. And the movie loaded. And loaded and loaded. And still loading. And almost but not quite loaded. We gave it about 5 minutes before shutting down the TV and restarting to get it working. The rest of the playback was mostly OK with only some buffering, so overall the experience was pretty good.

The point of all this is that as a creator and manager of content, your users’ experience is dependent on a lot of things that you often can’t control. The issues I faced over the weekend could have occurred in a half dozen places along the path from provider to me. It could be a router somewhere along the internet, my internet connection or the connection between the device and my home router. But I understand the networking issues better than most users, especially as it applies to online video delivery. More importantly, I had an investment in the pieces I was trying to watch. I lived with the issues I experienced because I really wanted to see the video, and I never would have taken the time I did for something I was looking at casually.

As a content provider, you need to be aware of the possible problems with delivery. A lot of corporate video is, frankly, not must-watch video – will your users stick with it if they are facing streaming quality issues? There isn’t unfortunately a lot that can be done about downstream problems – it’s often a user by user situation and you can’t solve that problem for everyone.

You can, however, take certain steps on your own end – use a streaming service provider that has a robust network with multiple sourcing points and plenty of capacity. Contract with them for better service if you’re delivering a high profile live event. Encode your videos for optimum playback without overdoing the bitrates and video sizes – a smaller video that plays cleanly is better than a larger one that buffers constantly. You really, really have to spot check your content to see how it behaves, especially across multiple devices in multiple network situations. A hardwired connection will behave differently than over the air or wifi, iPhones will behave differently than PC desktops. Above all else, if you can possibly provide contact information alongside the video, you give users the chance to learn more even if the video fails for any reason – instead of definitely losing an opportunity, you’ll have the chance that they’ll reach out to you.

The problems with playback often have nothing to do with your work as the content provider, but the result is that you take the blame for it. They don’t say “oh, that lousy telecom and their service”, they say “this stupid company can’t figure out how to deliver a video?” It may not be fair, but the result is the same – your great content doesn’t appear, and sales and communication opportunities are lost. Do what you can to keep it working, and know when it’s not working so you can get it fixed as soon as possible.

Selecting a CDN

November 9, 2011 Leave a comment

One of the big questions for a corporate video producer is how to get the videos produced out to the viewers.  For most people in this era, the assumption is the video will be streamed over the internet.  There are still those who want discs, but that’s really dying these days, so we can ignore it for the moment. Web media is delivered using standard servers, but running specialized software to deliver video or audio in a steady stream to users.  The more sophisticated delivery systems are networks of servers designed to distribute the load across tens, hundreds, or thousands of servers worldwide, and are referred to as Content Delivery Networks, or CDNs.

Let me say up front that if you want to know anything at all about the CDN universe, your single best resource is Dan Rayburn’s Business of Online Video blog.  He knows everything there is to know about the technology behind online streaming and the industry that keeps online video going, and you’d really do well to keep an eye on it for the latest news.

Like most other decisions, there’s a build or buy choice here – create your own streaming CDN, or pay someone else to leverage their network.  The build option almost never comes into play for producers looking to deliver their content to an external audience – it’s usually prohibitively expensive, especially if video is a major portion of your external content. Internally may be a different story – companies own their own networks, have the tools and staffing to maintain it, and for the most part there’s likely to be considerably less traffic than on the external side.  There are standard server types designed to redistribute content throughout a network, no matter how spread out it may be, and a company might reasonably decide to manage a small or medium sized internal CDN. Read more…

Vendor-produced Content

November 4, 2011 Leave a comment

I had an interesting email conversation recently about the integration of vendor-produced content into an enterprise Digital Asset Management (DAM) system.  For the most part it was technical – focusing on the practicalities of allowing or requiring vendor access to internal systems. It did get me thinking about the overall universe of vendor issues when bringing in outside companies to develop content.  I think there are three critical areas to consider when hiring an outside company to produce content: legal, quality and creative.

Legal Issues

Legal issues are usually the earliest to come up, the least pleasant part of the process, and the least important for the final product.  Lawyers may argue with me on that point, but if the documentation is written correctly and all conditions are met as expected, the agreements will not be looked at again throughout the project.  They don’t contribute to the end result beyond insuring that deadlines are set, payment terms are agreed to, and establishing consequences if conditions are not met.  Yes, I’m oversimplifying, but from a content development view, that’s really all that can be gleaned from the legal documentation. Read more…

Big News In the Enterprise Streaming universe

March 28, 2011 Leave a comment

My good friends at Accordent are now my good friends at Polycom:

Polycom Acquires Accordent Technologies

I may have mentioned them on occasion before, but they are the best vendor I’ve had opportunity to work with.  Unfortunately in my new role I don’t interact with them anymore, but I still feel strongly about both the product and the people.  It’s a vendor relationship that I felt was a true partnership – they were listening to my feedback, and using it to improve their product.

Needless to say I imagine the change will have an impact on what they do; Polycom is clearly trying to gain a foothold in the video (as opposed to teleconferencing) space, and I certainly hope this leads to further advances with Accordent’s products.

Time will tell, but I will continue to wish my friends at Accordent well, and I hope for them personally that this is a first step towards bigger and better things.

Solution Overload

November 18, 2010 Leave a comment

I had a chance to attend a demo session with a group of vendors today, and it brought home something I’ve been concerned about for a while – Solution Overload.  I have no idea if I’ve coined that term or not, but what I mean is that there are hundreds if not thousands of possible answers to every problem, and sorting it all out is getting more difficult by the day.  It matches one of my other issues, which is finding a way through the incredible technological jungle out there.  There are so many different tools, gadgets, and techniques out there I feel like a colossal dinosaur.  It’s all but impossible to keep up, which is partly why I retreat sometimes into a book just to get away from it all.

The practical question is how to sort through all the marketing, competition, jargon, and downright garbage that’s out there.  Oddly enough, I was riding herd on a symposium webcast last night where one of the speakers touched on a lot of these concerns.  While her subject was electronic medical records, everything she described as impacting those customers are virtually identical to online video issues.  I don’t think I have a good answer to navigating this universe, but I think there are some clear initial steps to sorting through all of it. Read more…

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