Audio Global Viewpoint – September 2020

Tradeshows And R&D - Targets Or Aspirations?

One of the justifications I often hear for vendors attending tradeshows is that they give their R&D department a target to deliver to. If this is true, and now that NAB and IBC will be in adjacent months in 2021, are we really expecting vendors to only deliver new products and features once a year?

From my years of both working in R&D and managing R&D departments, I have witnessed this view at first hand. Historically, this method of working has been almost justified due to the emerging nature of broadcast products. Television has always driven hardware to its technological limits, but as broadcasting has evolved from the cottage industry of yester-year to the highly tuned and efficient industrial production processes we see today, we are generally building on hardware that has been proven in other industries, COTS finance and medical for example.

What has changed is the ever-increasing number of differing workflows that broadcasters seem to present vendors with. Even big-ticket items such as production switchers, sound consoles and cameras have become monolithic boxes on system diagrams. But the level of integration with existing infrastructures and their working practices that have evolved over decades have led to greater complexity. This isn’t a criticism, merely an observation and a simple fact of life. Few broadcasters are able to rebuild their facility from a hole in the ground.

Greater levels of integration are driving broadcast engineers to look to vendors who supply products with more configuration capability and interface options. Designing custom products is cost prohibitive and incredibly risky for the end user, especially when we consider long term support and maintenance.

Looking to how the IT industry develops code is giving us deep insights into how broadcast facilities can be efficiently designed and reliably built going forward. Agile development, including its Kanban methodology is, as far as I’m concerned, the Holy Grail of product development.

Agile is different from the traditional waterfall method of product management in one important aspect; focus is placed on regularly delivering features as opposed to a complete finished product. The major benefit of this is that the “minimum viable products” become available very quickly allowing broadcasters to test the features and offer feedback to quickly advance the product and help build their facilities.

There’s certainly a skill to managing Agile development and I’ve only scratched the surface here and over-simplified the process greatly, but Agile is geared to delivering features for clients quickly. As one Agile vendor said to me recently “we deliver new features as our clients want them, not just at tradeshows”. Agile, when managed efficiently does deliver this. It’s probably just as well as it looks like we’re not going to have another tradeshow for a year or so.

It’s certainly my view that delivering features quickly has a greater benefit for the industry, especially if you’re a broadcaster integrating new technology into your existing facility. And broadcasters are building facilities all year round, not just in April and September, or is it now September and October?