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BBG Places Premium on Agile, Cost-Effective Ops

Mendes lays out the agency’s plans to stay ahead of the media curve

Courtesy André MendesThe author is director of global operations for the Broadcasting Board of Governors. Subsequent to writing this article he also was named interim CEO and director of BBG.

The pace of change in government is rarely a match for the speed at which our societal constructs evolve.

Headlines will tell you that the Internal Revenue Service is still heavily reliant on systems first built in the 1960s and that the Veterans Administration continues to struggle with un-integrated systems that are ill-equipped to deal with the needs of a fast-growing veteran population.

At the Broadcasting Board of Governors, that inherent challenge is exacerbated by a global media environment that is being overhauled amidst dramatic shifts into satellite TV, over-the-top deployments, smartphones and social media; and these same media are also increasingly leveraged by rogue regimes, revanchist governments and terrorist organizations. All of these factors necessitate the emergence of an organization that places a premium on organizational agility and cost-effective operations, even as it deals with dwindling budget allocations.

This type of transformation must permeate every aspect of day-to-day operations.

Here is a brief description of some of the major efforts undertaken at the BBG over the last five years that have laid the ground for relentless improvement.

Three years ago, the BBG become the first sizable agency to migrate its unified messaging environment (email and voicemail) into the Microsoft Office 365 environment.

That effort was followed by leveraging cloud-based customer relationship management systems, and more recently, the agency has begun testing a hybrid SharePoint deployment that provides universal access to most of its business data. Later this year, we will begin archiving all media content in a tiered system whose ultimate storage resides 2,000 miles away in Colorado.

While point-to-point satellite distribution is extremely reliable, it is also very expensive and not easily scalable at a reasonable price point.

Over the last three years, we deployed a managed multiprotocol label switching network that will ultimately carry all of our global content to four different satellite uplink facilities located in Germany, the Czech Republic, Kuwait and the Philippines. Replacing links will dramatically reduce our operating costs while simultaneously enabling us to execute its migration to HD (and eventually 4K) TV without breaking the bank.

As content consumption patterns continue to change throughout the world, we are making almost all of the BBG networks’ content available via live streaming and on demand.

Currently utilizing Akamai, we can accommodate the overflowing demand of this distribution methodology without having to build massive peak requirements capacity. In addition to serving the multiple platform demands of our global audiences, the BBG is also increasingly leveraging non-real-time content distribution to its TV and radio affiliates via an online portal (BBG Direct) that provides our distribution partners with metadata search capability and content downloading as their needs dictate.

Modern, collaborative workflows do not lend themselves to the old walled-off office paradigm.

In addition, the economics make it increasingly prohibitive. Given the cost of real estate and increasing telework, the concept of a 200-, 300- and 400-square foot individual office being occupied less than 50 percent of the time is increasingly unaffordable and anachronistic.

Recently, under pressure to vacate some space in a satellite office, the agency gutted half of one floor of our headquarters and renovated, replacing individual offices with an open floor lay-out peppered with 24 meeting rooms. Leveraging these new workstations for our technical team, we simultaneously migrated to enterprise wireless access, voice-over-IP and increased telework availability. As a result we generated taxpayer savings calculated at around $38 million over the next 10 years.

Operating the widest distribution portfolio of any global media enterprise (with the possible exception of Chinese media) the BBG manages some of the largest remaining shortwave stations, some of the most powerful medium wave (AM) transmitters and an increasingly larger number of FM outlets. In addition, the BBG also employs 13 satellites (C and Ku Bands), streams almost all of its content, operates hundreds of websites, Twitter feeds, social media properties and even engages in some terrestrial TV distribution (Iraq).

This is necessitated by the needs of our target audiences that range from media-repressive environments, like North Korea, Cuba and certain central Asian countries (Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan), to relatively free media spaces like the Middle East, the Balkans and Thailand.

With such diverse markets, the BBG must constantly shape its distribution strategy to the needs, and appetites of its audiences. While shortwave and medium wave remain the only reliable way to reach North Koreans, populations in Africa are quickly reducing their utilization of cross-border radio in favor of satellite TV and mobile platforms. In Central Europe and Russia, satellite and cable TV rule the market, but by virtue of censorship or sheer audience preference, mobile and Web platforms are quickly gaining ground.

Geopolitical situations change, market economics change and with those changes, so must the BBG ground game, while of course, keeping a close eye on the bottom line.

Our industry challenges, as well as our organizational ones, are inextricably entwined with rapid societal change. As anyone in the media industry well understands, change is exponential in technical terms.

With a long history of fostering freedom of information across a myriad of despotic environments, BBG is more important than ever in a crucial time of clashing ideologies, and an increasing need for objective information. Judging by its sizable audience growth over the last five years, from 165 million to 215 million people, the agency has undergone massive transformation. It is not only necessary but absolutely crucial for us to continue that trajectory as we go head-to-head with far better financed state-sponsored media organizations and we engage in a titanic global struggle in the marketplace of ideas.

The BBG is the independent federal government agency that oversees U.S. civilian international media. BBG is also the name of the board that governs the agency.

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