Digital Media Supply Chain: Why base hits win over home runs

By Justin Beaudin, CTO & Head of Media Operations, Vubiquity

Over the last decade I have held several senior technical and operational positions at major studios and broadcasters in North America; ran a startup (Sigma Media) and managed global operations as COO of Deluxe and CTO at Vubiquity. Throughout that time, I have experienced my share of enlightening technological advancements, as well as encounters with the dark side! Failed project launches, overly complex tech for end customers, and the infamous trope of over-promising and underdelivering. The wavering path between success and failure often prompts myself and my colleagues to ask ourselves, “Why do technology initiatives fail?”

Both in university as engineers and as industry technologists, we are trained to distinguish between the value of Agile vs. Waterfall approaches in the world of development. For example, ‘Agile’ development is considered the wiser option when developing new functionality or improving an existing system, whereas the often less desired ‘Waterfall’ approach is now really only considered to be better suited for developing an entirely new product from scratch. Yet, despite this training, when approaching modernization of supply chains, companies often take the ill-advised path of trying to create one system to rule them all. Why is this – and what contributes to the added complexities of upgrading technology stacks in the media industry vs. those in banking, manufacturing, and e-commerce?

This very question drives much of my focus as Vubiquity’s CTO: how to best modernize a company’s technical ecosystem. I can only hope to leverage and apply the lessons learned from my personal, and others’ previous experiences, when attempting to answer it. To cite a famous and public example: the BBC set up the Digital Media Initiative, intended to transform the way staff developed, used and shared video and audio material. It was an ambitious and potentially groundbreaking project, but by their own admission, the initiative was unsuccessful. It was a massive undertaking to completely reinvent every aspect of their production supply chain simultaneously. The process took years to develop and execute, during which time technologies evolved and business priorities changed, thereby leading to its ultimate demise.

For context, the media and entertainment industry has been in a state of disruption for 10+ years. To survive, media organizations must adopt a digital media supply chain strategy that provides both the flexibility and agility required to compete in a digital-first world. Yet, adopting this strategy requires more than simply installing the correct technology and training employees to use it effectively; it also requires the transformation of the digital supply chain into modular components that offer lateral visibility and access, rather than traditional vertical models.

Over the years, numerous long-standing media businesses have struggled with both technological change and new business models, largely due to fear of losing control of their own destiny. So, how do we use this insight to plan our own future? The answer isn’t simple, but it can help to first define the end state of your entire ecosystem: to act as a north star of what the digital media supply chain and its technical components should look like. Then, much like with agile development that uses defined methodology, iterate towards this destination. I personally have always been a fan of Six Sigma’s methodology DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control), as a framework for continuous improvement.

With the methodology defined, we can now create a powerful digital supply chain strategy in three distinct modules:

  1. Supply Chain Maturity Index
    Large enterprises tend to desire monolithic application portfolios that have been developed inhouse over the years by various departments within the organization. Then, when these monoliths become outdated, organizations try to change everything, everywhere, all at once, failing to realize that technology exists at different points in the supply chain. Businesses must begin to analyze the maturity of their supply chain and identify gaps in their process automation, information sharing, communication, and collaboration across the organization to achieve the lowest cost of ownership.
  2. Organizational Competency Model
    Once the gaps are identified, enterprises must develop a competency model to plan appropriate training interventions to bridge these gaps. A common mistake made by organizations is their attempt to achieve both efficiency and enhancement by applying an identicalsolution. Often, this approach will not be interoperable across applications within the organization. A better approach is to implement complementary solutions. One solution may be focused on enhancing a capability in a particular component, for example to improve speed. A separate solution may be needed to address workflow orchestration to increase efficiency.
  3. Business Process Re-engineering
    Applications developed by monolithic enterprises are not only difficult to build, but they are even harder to maintain and change. The application portfolio must be broken into smaller components that can be managed by separate teams within the organization. This modular approach enables organizations to reduce costs and streamline workflows by leveraging new and traditional technologies, while remaining agile enough to adapt to an ever-changing marketplace.

A modular approach to problem-solving design allows an organization to progress, as well as keep their technology relevant. The thinking behind process engineering in media is what led me to launch my own start up – Sigma Media. The premise was to take the principles of standard design process, such as Six Sigma, and apply it to media operations in order to achieve transformation. One of my favorite principles, picked up from my engineering days, comes from the Toyota Production System. Its iterative design approach shows the power of incremental change, and it can be successfully applied to digital transformation in media. Iterative design enables problem-solving that begins with the end goal in mind, coupled with experimentation, until the desired outcome is achieved. Constant firefighting is replaced with an energized focus towards anticipating trends and changes in both technology and consumer behaviors. The resulting outcomes not only meet the demands of the market, but also exceed them.

By applying this iterative approach to the modular ecosystem defined above, it becomes easier for companies to stay ahead of the curve. To achieve this evolution of the ecosystem, you must analyze the modules in the following way:

  1. Where are we with each component’s maturity?
    Detail and understand each component’s place within the technology lifecycle and how it applies to the company strategy.
  2. Where is the technology marketplace for each of the components?
    This helps determine critical areas of technology development for the company and also works to understand industry trends. How are other companies innovating within their components? Then, apply successful learnings where applicable and needed.
  3. What is the desired value for the customer or user?
    This helps determine which features and benefits customers demand most from your products and services, revealing where you need to divert your focus and in what sequence.

When laying out your roadmap, consider your company’s level of preparedness to deliver such a plan. Resources must be allocated in different ways to allow for continuous implementation and support for each initiative. We took this approach when we built Vubiquity’s Content Ecosystem:

  • We built some components: MetaVU, Content Cloud, our Adonnis VOD platform
  • We bought some components: DETE (Digital End-to-End), JUICE media orchestration
  • We integrated 3rd parties: such as with our VU Entertainment Suite which leverages MarketONE, IFS and multi-cloud providers

Each of these has its own roadmap using agile development based upon the above noted factors. We run small, quick experiments to test the value that we are providing to our customers before they commit to buying the entire solution.

In a nutshell, digital transformation should not be an all-or-nothing event. At Vubiquity, we’ve been fortunate to enjoy numerous successes delivering to our customers in this manner, and we’re yet to writeoff any code. In the content ecosystem world, this means we aren’t always developing everything that needs to be developed. For some customers, what they need may already be available in the market. When that occurs, we quickly integrate existing solutions into our pipeline to provide our customers with the best possible options to meet their needs. The overall goal of digital transformation should be to create a customer-centric offering.

While this doesn’t happen overnight, when you implement smaller goals and slowly build momentum, it creates amazing benefits to both your organization as well as your customers. If you are interested in learning more about our media supply chain solutions, then please follow us on social media and visit: