Excellence in the Enterprise
It goes without saying that we’ve seen a sea change in the streaming media industry over the last three years, with factors like increased broadband penetration and user-generated video shifting the business and technology focus from the enterprise and institutional markets to the consumer space. When I attended my first Streaming Media East show in 2004, the conference session topics and vendors on the show floor were focused almost exclusively on enterprise solutions and applications, by a ratio that I’d estimate was close to 4-to-1.
At Streaming Media East 2006 in May, the pendulum had swung almost entirely in the other direction, with both session subject matter and vendor pitches highlighting ways to capitalize on the booming media and entertainment market. As one enterprise-centric vendor said to me, only half-jokingly, "What about us?" The technologies that were perfected in the enterprise space while broadband penetration in the "outside world" lagged behind are some of the very solutions that have allowed media and entertainment publishers to sieze audiences who, now that they have the access, are hungry for online video. Whether they’re willing to pay for it is another matter.
In the enterprise, however, the ROI is proven, as the following case studies—think of this article as a "virtual panel presentation," if you will—attest. The experiences of each organization—Lockheed Martin, Target, Verizon, and Wachovia—reveal different challenges and successes in the enterprise space.
What we hope you get out of this is a series of "lessons learned" that can help you in your video communications efforts. The information in these case studies is only a fraction of the valuable content that these and other organizations provided; you can read an expanded version of this story, which includes the interviews in their entirety as well as insight from enterprise streaming product and solutions vendors, at http://www.streamingmedia.com/article.asp?id=9428.
Lockheed Martin: From Hodgepodge to Lean, Mean, Multicasting Machine
As one of the largest government contractors in the United States, it’s no surprise that Lockheed Martin has been using streaming video for communications regularly for three years, beginning with the company’s "all-hands" meetings led by the business unit’s president in 2003. Since then, the use of both on-demand and webcasting has grown exponentially, with the number of individual webcasts increasing by 400% in the last year, according to Eric Hards, senior design engineer and leader of Lockheed Martin’s multimedia solutions team.
Because Lockheed Martin’s network is financially supported by individual business units, Hards says that obtaining funding for each new development step has been a constant struggle. As a result, his team began piecing together servers and capture devices, sometimes using beta versions of Microsoft’s Media Services and Media Encoder, ending up with a "hodgepodge" of equipment. Luckily, he adds, acceptance of video by the corporation’s 135,000 employees was almost immediate. "As a diverse and virtual organization, employees welcomed the direct communication from the president," he says.
Employee acceptance allowed Hards to further his cause by investing in Sonic Foundry’s Mediasite, which he says gave him the necessary ability to both manage existing content that had been created with the Microsoft products and quickly set up new webcasts. With a reliable turnkey solution in place for capture, Hards says his biggest challenge now is in constructing a 100% multicast-enabled network. "That’s the holy grail for live broadcasting across the network, since it consists of just one stream taking very little bandwidth across the intranet," he says. Since each business unit at Lockheed Martin runs independently, however, it’s taking some time for each one to recognize the need to multicast-enable. Indeed, Hards says the biggest failure he’s had to reckon with was a high-profile executive leadership initiative that was delivered several years ago, before the network was robust enough to support the continual stream.
So it’s no surprise that, when asked what advice Hards has for organizations, he says he can boil it down to four words: Multicast-enable your network. "This is the single most important thing you can do to guarantee a successful streaming initiative," he says. "Think of it as a solid foundation on which to build. Without it, the building will come tumbling down."
Target: An Executive Order for Video On Demand
While close cooperation between business units is crucial for any enterprise-wide initiative’s ultimate success, sometimes a top-down directive is the best way to get things started. That was the case with Target’s internal video on demand efforts, according to Robert Luna, media manager for the corporation’s corporate media center. In 2002, Target’s chief information officer wanted to communicate with his team of 5,000 managers more frequently than at the annual meeting. Today, four departments utilize the VOD service to communicate to more than 15,000 desktops. "Because it was championed by the CIO, video on demand at Target was no challenge to get off the ground," says Luna. "Ramp-up only took about a year."
Having a champion at the top didn’t prevent Luna’s unit from having to deal with the nuts and bolts of actually getting the corporate video to work successfuly for all users. Target’s corporate media center publishes all VOD content using Microsoft Producer, which allows the synchronization of Windows Media files along with PowerPoint and Photoshop files into a rich-media presentation.