The file vision


As I may have mentioned before, I’m working in the broadcasting industry at the moment. The broadcasting industry is changing. Everybody tries to get rid of those good old tapes and do everything with digital files. But why? I know this sounds like a funny question. But when you think about it, it’s a bit puzzling. Why do computer files appear so much more appealing than videocassettes? We may immediately think of reduced costs, efficiencies, platform convergence and other ready-at-hand business phrases. Ultimately, however, we should look at the people in and around broadcasting and how they chat amongst each other.

The cost case

Just to get it out of the way, we can quickly argue that there sometimes is a convincing business case to be made regarding “digital asset management”, as it’s officially called. It probably doesn’t take more than a few slides to illustrate that a digital way of storing and managing video material may end up being more “cost-effective” (i.e. cheaper) than tangible tapes on shelves.

It may end up being cheaper. It may also end up costing a lot more than anticipated, involve a lot of painful organizational change (i.e. telling people to stop doing what they’ve been doing for the past twelve years), and create new inefficiencies (i.e. problems elsewhere). And more importantly, if I want to save cost as a broadcaster, why would “digital asset management” be one of the first things that come to my mind?

The efficiency case

So why else do digital video files appear as this bright shining light that broadcasting people are flying towards? They will tell you that it’s also more efficient. Having your videos on a central computer drive that everybody in your station can access at anytime from anywhere means that, firstly, things the station used to do can get done faster. And, secondly, things the station always (or never) dreamed about doing are now possible.

They may. Or they may not (see above). The truth is that it becomes a bit messy if you rationally try to show how this justifies the decision to replace tapes with digital files. What is it, really, that you can do faster? What things will be made possible? And why would you want those things to be faster or possible? Because you can?

The Vision

There’s another, more abstract way of thinking about this. Think about “digital asset management” as something that everybody in and around the broadcasting industry is talking about. And as they keep talking about it, they somehow agree on what digital asset management is, on what it does, and (most importantly) that everybody ought to be doing it. They come up with a vision, if you like.

Who are those people, who are talking? Managers, editors, technicians, business consultants, technology consultants, software developers, and so on. Surely, they all have different things to say about digital video files. For example, the manager compares them to the cost of an inch of tape archive and the technology consultant thinks it’s cool how easily you can “repurpose” (i.e. click “Save As…”) them for the Internet.

The only important thing about this conversation between various parties is that they roughly agree that they’re talking about the same thing. Some of the terminology may also have to be the same. As long as they stick to these rules, they will massage the meaning of “digital asset management” until they arrive at something that appears promising and lucrative for everybody. Once this is done, the business cases and efficiency calculations will easily follow.

And that might be why files will replace tapes. Files are part of a vision. Tapes are part of the past.

The idea of the “organizing vision” wasn’t mine, but comes from Swanson and Ramiller (1997), The Organising Vision in Information Systems Innovation, Organisation Science, Vol 8 No 5.

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