Capability Through Connection

CBC/Radio-Canada has just “gone Google”. The Corporation is about to launch the latest version of its AVID editing workspace in the News Department, which will integrate the production tools that we use, and expand our production capabilities to tablets and other screens. On a daily basis, employees are engaged with a complete eco-system of content-gathering tools that range from high-capability, professional-grade equipment to commodity smartphones. Content is available across the Corporation with an ease and utility that facilitates further content creation.

All of this heralds a revolution: a revolution of capability, a revolution of choice. Five years ago, our production environment looked pretty much the way it always has, whereas it is currently undergoing a process of continual and profound change.

Underlying all of this is a technological revolution. The power of distributed computing combined with pervasive networking, cheap storage, and burgeoning bandwidth translates into new capabilities that in turn create opportunities. These opportunities allow human beings to connect, and to be informed, entertained, and productive in ways that were unimaginable until recently.

We find ourselves increasingly in a world where we carry our personal choices with us in a context-sensitive environment. Our choices follow us and are tuned or tailored to work for us where and when we need them by means of the technology that makes the most sense in that context. We are familiar with this in terms of some specific brands, like the Netflix offering that keeps track of what we are watching on that service and presents it to us on whatever device we happen to be using at the time. In the newest cars, our smartphones integrate automatically with the digital car environment when we get in and return to being smartphones when we get out.

Looking outwards towards the citizen, this new environment represents huge opportunities for the public broadcaster recast as a media company in the public interest. Looking inwards, it presents both challenges and opportunities in how we create and shape those media experiences that make up our offering to Canadians.

Smart people have been thinking about this kind of ubiquitously connected, context-sensitive world for a while. The ideas at the heart of it are not new. What is new is that this world is reaching scale and network effects are starting to become obvious. The synergies created by those network effects create whole new capabilities.

Some call this phenomenon “the Internet of Things”. A broad, ubiquitous network fabric where everyday devices connect and collaborate with other everyday devices to produce an outcome that we find useful. The key here is that we, as users, might be completely unaware that this is going on, yet conscious of the fact that the right things are happening.

Car manufacturers are working together on car-to-car communication standards and systems. One can imagine a world in the not-too-distant future where, as you merge onto a highway, your car communicates with others within a certain radius, and the cars negotiate an optimal merge, some slowing down slightly, some speeding up, without driver intervention. “Assisted driving” is on our horizon.

Mobility companies are already deploying smart cell towers that automatically negotiate power and spectrum parameters with other cell towers in the area to optimise the use of bandwidth. They do so autonomously, without intervention.

Our homes are on the threshold of becoming network-managed environments. You can buy a Nest thermostat today, which senses your occupancy of your home and adjusts the environmental controls based on your patterns and wishes. It connects to your mobility environment so that you can keep track of what is going on and, because it is a network device, it is not too far off when networks of Nests or their ilk will be helping the power company predict demand. You can buy health-monitoring devices that you wear and which connect autonomously with the wireless environment to report exercise activity and fitness parameters. Furthermore, the day is not far off when personal medical monitoring devices will keep track of things like heart attack and stroke precursors to enable early medical intervention.

All of this is of relevance to CBC/Radio-Canada. By understanding the environments people are living in, we are able to understand how best to meet their media needs. Moreover, all of these changes operate inside of the Corporation just as powerfully as they do outside. The power of connection is transforming us.

We find ourselves in a multi-layered world. At the surface level, we have intuitive, human-friendly capabilities that “just work”. Underlying those are the design decisions about how we work, the “workflow” layer. Below the workflow layer are powerful characteristics of the digital world, like file-based media and smart devices. Beneath all of that, on the foundation level, are ubiquitous networks that provide the connectivity.

How do we need to change our behaviours as a media company to effectively respond to this environment? I find that three big changes will be required, and they are almost counter-intuitive.

Firstly, in order to achieve that flexible, context-sensitive, and customised outcome, we need to ensure that we have standardised key processes and technologies. If we do not describe the metadata that turns media objects into content in a consistent way, we can never fully exploit the power of content access and sharing. If we do not select common systems that use open, network-friendly architecture, we can never realise the scale effects of ubiquitous production tools. Beyond that, if we do not consciously focus on optimising workflows to ensure that we are doing the right work to produce the right outcome, we will never be able to seize the advantages of efficiency and continuous improvement.

Secondly, we need to embrace the consumer environment as part of our production eco-system, as it will always provide huge economies of scale and great agility. There will always be a place for highly specialised, large-scale solutions for core media production needs but, increasingly, the commodity consumer device environment will provide new solutions and new capabilities that we will need to accommodate. Our move to Google is one example of this and our deployment of smartphones in media-gathering environments is another.

Thirdly, we need to enable the power of people. Human capital is more important than it has ever been, as new capabilities enable new products and services. It is our people who will carry us forward. The opportunity is to unlock the innovation inherent in every person, to connect that person in powerful and collaborative ways, not just with content and tools, but also with others engaged in a common or similar mission, as well as to challenge the structure and motivational aspects of our environment to ensure that they do not get in the way.

The power of connection opens a whole new world, one populated by a plethora of opportunities and unlimited choices. The key to success is making the right choices, and then allowing the power of connection to produce the right outcomes.

Search highlight tool