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Continuous innovation is a concept that has taken hold with internet companies and other consumer tech companies

With live TV, there is no room for error. There's no reset button. Any mistake can have a catastrophic effect on their brand. If during the World Series or the Super Bowl or a Presidential debate a system fails to handle the capacity or load - it would affect millions of people around the country. Simply put, it's a front page news story waiting to happen.

Continuous innovation is a concept that has taken hold with internet companies such as Amazon, Netflix, eBay, Google and countless other consumer tech companies, but is still a relatively new concept in the world of pay TV. Because consumers have been conditioned to expect continuous innovation from the technologies that they interact with every day - from website experiences to the operating software on their tablets - their expectations towards pay TV have evolved to expect the same cadence of new product and feature releases as their other consumer technology offers. Unfortunately, our industry has a lot of catching up to do.

The pay TV industry has historically used waterfall software development techniques to develop new products. Waterfall's traditional, time-consuming methods typically result in one or two product releases a year. While that approach worked very well for years, it's no longer acceptable in a world where TV has been transformed by web, mobile and cloud-based technologies. Tech-savvy consumers now expect highly personalized experiences updated on a daily basis - not years. At home, they expect their TV to know who they are, what content they enjoying watching and the ability to access that content instantly, regardless of the screen they're using.

Compounding the issue is that there are new over-the-top TV services seemingly launching on a monthly basis that are beginning to offer the flexibility and personalization that consumers want. Consumers now have more choices than ever before, and can easily switch services with an app download. When you combine consumer sentiment with these new emerging services, it's clear that pay TV can no longer afford to innovate at a glacial pace.

How can we catch up?
In the world of pay TV, operators still work very much in silos, further cementing a legacy of costly and limiting waterfall software development cycles, outdated technology investments, and compartmentalized operations. However, pay TV is reaching an inflection point. Multi-device viewing, a rise in cord-cutting, ongoing pricing wars, and the continual entrance of pure play and non-traditional media providers are new forces the industry must adapt to for continued thriving in this new era.

A DevOps approach is now crucial in today's environment to respond to consumer needs, while also reducing time to market. DevOps lays the groundwork for ensuring the team that delivers the solution also supports the solution, and is engaged every day in ensuring the experience being delivered meets consumer demands.

Ericsson, a Swedish telecommunications company that provides the TV and multiscreen experience to over 100 global service providers including AT&T, TELUS and Telefónica, has taken a DevOps approach in its next gen TV experience platform. The new platform utilizes agile software development to enable continuous innovation and delivery of new functionality, developed in conjunction with customers every six weeks. With agile development, each new release of functionality is tested on users to ensure that new products are customer-centric and will be adopted successfully. This approach minimizes the risk of time intensive and costly launch failures, which is essential when introducing disruptive new initiatives.

Minimizing launch failure risk is especially critical when you consider the business-to-business-to-consumer (B2B2C) pay TV business model. The B2B2C model provides operators with the ability to create a truly immersive consumer experience that drives scalability and revenue without the burden of managing a time consuming and costly infrastructure, but the stakes are high for B2B2C vendors. In a traditional B2C initiative, if the development team impacts the customer, they are only impacting their own business. In pay TV, if our developers make a mistake, not only does it affect a service provider's revenue, millions of TV viewers are impacted.

With live TV, there is no room for error. There is no reset button. Any mistake can have a catastrophic effect on their brand value.  If during the World Series or the Super Bowl or a Presidential debate a system fails to handle the capacity or load - it would affect millions of people around the country. Simply put, it's a front page news story waiting to happen.

At Ericsson, the Development Operations and the Deployment teams work hand-in-hand in a continuous engagement model to evolve products at the speed of consumer-focused web platforms like Amazon or Facebook.  Working together, the teams are able to match the pace of the market to ensure the products are reflecting the latest trends and behaviors that consumers expect, such as personalized discovery/recommendations, multiscreen support, cloud DVR and advanced on-demand capabilities. Because developers no longer toss code over the fence to operations, when bugs are found they are fixed fast and fixed permanently. Near real-time speed of development plus increased code durability are essential for pay TV to remain relevant and competitive in today's environment, where choice is everything.

Switching to a DevOps approach has given us four major benefits:

  1. Total alignment with customer and business expectations. Our customers can tell us exactly what they need, and we can deliver that to them quickly. If any miscommunication occurs, the next revision of the product will be fixed and delivered almost immediately after.
  2. Transparency across the organization. Utilizing a DevOps approach leaves less room to hide - you are working in plain sight to deliver on specific customer requests. You develop relationships with you counterparts on the customer side, as well as your internal organization. From your DevOps team to marketing, finance, sales and more, all parts of the organization must come together to operate at the speed of trust.
  3. We are now one team. The DevOps model abolishes the transactional relationship and creates and reinforces a one-team type model; a true partnership. We are close to the customer and invested in their success every single day.
  4. Features get fixed fast. Restore & Repair, the time it takes to find a problem, and the time it takes to fix it permanently, is dramatically shortened. With developers coding for themselves, when it comes to repairs, they have a vested interest in finding a permanent fix. For businesses and consumers, this means less outages and faults.

A Cultural Shift
Adopting a DevOps approach will likely be a dramatic cultural shift for some organizations. Instead of two teams competing against their own agendas, you now have one team working alongside each other. Team leaders on the development and operations side that used to be accountable for different goals such as getting code shipped and uptime will now have shared goals of development velocity, delighting the customer, and delivering the best in class service quality that never fails.

A successful DevOps mindset starts with team and organization culture. It is very much comparable to team sports culture. For DevOps to work there must be shared passions and goals. Just like managing a sports team, you can expect continual improvement but not perfection, and most importantly there must be transparency and clarity into the current state of the development and delivery pipeline. With this, customers will trust and embrace the DevOps model because they will experience lower risks and better control, and the ability to revert as fast as they want.

DevOps benefit developers and engineers, but also ultimately benefits your organization as a whole. Your organization will be more transparent, unified and collaborative than ever before. This collaboration will also inspire greater customer satisfaction and loyalty, improving your organization's bottom line.

The Time to Move Is Now
DevOps is a significant cultural and technological shift for a pay TV provider, but it's one that you'll see adopted more and more in the months and years ahead. The faster consumer behavior shifts, the faster a pay TV operator must respond to those changes.

There are risks - moving too fast to push out a feature or service that's not ready for prime time can have catastrophic results. But if you get it right, the benefits to both your organization and to your customers are endless.

More Stories By Mark Hydar

Mark is responsible for leading Ericsson TV Platform’s DevOps organization as it builds and operates Ericsson’s next generation cloud-based TV platform, Ericsson MediaFirst.

Mark has over 20 years of experience in large-scale hyper growth internet service platforms, data technologies, and technical development leadership. Mark joined Ericsson as a part of the Mediaroom acquisition from Microsoft. During his time at Microsoft, Mark led the Global Quality of Experience team, Danger Engineering and Operations team, as well as the Windows Phone Service Engineer and Test team.

Prior to Ericsson, Mark held development and leadership roles at companies including [email protected], eBay, PayPal, and Yahoo. His areas of expertise include leadership, management solutions for large-scale platforms, big data and automation. At eBay and PayPal, Mark led the team of engineers that built the organization’s enterprise management platform and service management solution. At Yahoo, Mark managed the Data Delivery Service Engineering teams and oversaw the Rewire initiative. Mark is a frequent speaker at enterprise companies and has spoken at conferences including the Gartner Catalyst Conference and NoSQL NOW.

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