This article was first published in BroadcastPro Magazine, April 2011 issue
We have recently seen the emergence of systems integration firms in the Middle East.
But there is a fine line between the truly specialised integrators (SIs) and companies that offer systems integration as an additional service beyond their traditional businesses of equipment supply or box sales. The latter typically hire contract engineers on a per-project basis and brand themselves as “systems integrators”. In order for SIs to be competitive in this market, they have to have a very broad but deep understanding of many facets of the broadcast industry, with working knowledge in the Middle Easts media industry.
Although the engineering skills may be there, many of them lack the stability, resources, and real-world experience required to successfully carry out complex implementations and crucial systems upgrades. They lack knowledge of the business, production, editorial, or creative processes and workflows within the media production and broadcasting chain.
Some international SIs have recently opened representative offices in the region, and that is an appreciated first step. However, what is required more than a token presence is the real availability of qualified project and engineering staff, as well as pre-building systems in the region.
The ever developing new technologies deployed in broadcasting, and the continuously-evolving workflow environment are making broadcasters, content producers, and service providers re-think their existing workflows.
Few customers have the opportunity to internally develop the know-how, the skills, and the experience required to design and implement large-scale projects. While some broadcasters and facilities have the resources internally to complete these projects, these jobs are found, in many cases, to be either too complex or time-consuming to manage internally.
In addition to the fact that broadcasting now has a new architecture that carries complex file-based workflows, significant value-adds would be gained by tapping into knowledge sources and different perspectives from outside the “in-house” teams experience and comfort zones of familiar products, systems and workflows.
The role of the SI, therefore, is to guide the customer through the various technology paths and choices. The SI should stay up-to-date, even ahead in their disciplines, in order to give customers objective and brand-independent advice in a consultative process working to a common goal to build best-of-breed solutions.
Every project is highly customised, and enhances the SIs experience and the value it brings to subsequent projects based on their exposure to new methods and solutions of different proportions and philosophies. With high levels of experience, integrators would be able to build the best possible custom system for the next client.
The issues of training and after-sales support are also of great importance: training and support should be provided not just for individual pieces of equipment, but more critically for the entire “integrated solution”. Rather than just pass on third party manufacturer warranties, the SI should assume this responsibility. They should design and implement integrated solutions. They should provide the corresponding training, support and warranty on the “INTEGRATION” of the systems they have designed and implemented for the end user.
In the current scenario, customers are left with installations where products or parts of a workflow work very well independently but leave much to be desired when integrated with the larger workflow. In short, they do not deliver the goods as part of a larger whole and it is perhaps, not their business.
The overall integrated solution that the SI put together often comes with no warranty. The after-sales support is also often wanting of expertise and training from the SI. Customers are, therefore, increasingly entering into partnerships with their suppliers and service providers. Broadcasters are shifting their focus to core competencies and outsourcing non-core processes to specialist companies. As a result, it has become even more important for the customer to choose wisely.
If SIs are to gain a reputation in this market and win good business, they will need to act not as outsiders but as reliable business partners who understand the requirement of the end user and provide corresponding solutions rather than sell products in which they have vested interests. In todays globalised industry, customers cannot be familiar with every supplier and product available so they should be able to trust SIs to make proper buying decisions.
A reliable partnership is more important than the traditional equipment supply contract. We want SIs working in the Middle East to provide knowledge, experience and trained “real” manpower; not part-time, high-cost consultants who are flown in every time there is a problem.
Hasan R. Sayed Hasan is the head of twofour54 intaj