ITV shows BBC how to shift from tapes to digital – using agile

By Sooraj Shah
22 May 2014 View Comments
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ITV has put part of the BBC's failed £98m Digital Media Initiative (DMI) to shame, as it has shifted from physical tapes to digital formats successfully to increase efficiency and save costs using agile.

The organisation's technology controller of online, pay & interactive  Paul Clark told delegates at the Nimbus Ninety's IGNITE conference that it would not be fair to say what ITV did was the same as what BBC had attempted, but acknowledged that file delivery was one component of BBC's failed project.

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He explained that on ITV sites in Manchester, Leeds and Newcastle, episodes of programmes would be filmed on tapes and then digitised so that the footage could be edited on-site. The edited footage would then have to be converted back onto tapes and loaded into vans and driven to London.

Then the tapes would be digitised again, and sent to partner organisations to add audio descriptions and sign language. Finally, content distributors would require their own tapes of the content in different file formats.

This was an expensive and lengthy process, which needed to be changed, said Clark.

"The tapes cost £35 to £40 each, so we were spending millions on them and it was inefficient. Our schedule was driven on how fast someone could drive down the M6, so we needed to do something different," he said.

Clark explained that the solution required ITV to put in its own fibre optic network which connected its sites across the UK. However, he emphasised that this was only part of the solution, and that it was then essential to build systems that could manage the digital supply chain.

"The BBC didn't do so well at this part," he said.

"We went out to consultants, whom we paid a lot of money and who spent a lot of time evaluating, and they came back to us and said ‘it could cost you this big number or this even bigger number' – with a difference of 100 per cent variance, so they essentially didn't know [how much it would cost]," he added.

The organisation instead opted to try to mirror the agile development methodologies that had been implemented within the online team at ITV over the past few years.

"We took a team from the online group; a bunch of DevOps people, two testers from online, five developers and a project manager, and asked them to think about the project and what they would do. We then carried out a number of proof of concepts, and finally we did it," Clark explained.

"In four months we had a viable system using the products we picked in the marketplace and integrated together – compared with the nine months the consultancy spent talking about a system and did nothing about".

The resulting system also cost millions less than the management consultancies had quoted, and it was slowly enhanced over the next few months. Now, Clark said the digital feeds of content can be transferred from site to site, up and down the country, in under 10 minutes.

As well as saving millions on tapes and courier costs, ITV has removed any risk associated with the old method, through incidents such as road accidents or defective equipment.

Clark said he and his team learned a lot from the project, particularly how to use agile to benefit the organisation.

He offered several tips for successful agile projects, including keeping the team small, and challenging and validating any assumptions at the beginning of any project.

He said it was critical that the team is open to the possibility of failure, and to have humility if and when this does happen.

Clark claimed that the use of the agile methodology is a way to attract talent to the organisation, as it is how people want to work.

However, he warned that agile it is not a panacea, and that organisations should identify where it is most likely to succeed in order to establish its efficacy and momentum.

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