“When Exactly IS The Right Time To Innovate” by Josh Hatter

Josh Hatter is a technologist and former broadcast and digital operations executive. His experience includes deploying high performance technology infrastructure, designed asset management tools and defined worfklows used in the production of online, broadcast and cinematic content at media companies like TMZ and Revolt TV.  He has overseen Engineering, IT and Systems Administration teams supporting an array of business verticals.  Josh currently provides consulting services throughout the country in addition to advising and mentoring startups.
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When Exactly IS The Right Time To Innovate - by Josh Hatter

Designing and building out greenfield technical operations facilities can be a daunting task.  Creating a technology budget, fighting to retain that budget, and utilizing the inevitable value engineering process to trim down to the absolute essentials is what I usually wind up going through.  Something else to consider is the increasingly fast pace at which technology evolves, resulting in the original design becoming obsolete some time between week one and week thirty six of the job.  Technological evolution can be beneficial by forcing me to innovate in areas that I might not consider.

I have a few criteria I evaluate when considering a non-traditional, bleeding edge or innovative solution to a problem:

  • Does the solution save money?  I mean real money, and not by cutting corners or an unstable environment resulting in an increase in downtime or a lot of overtime support hours.
  • Does the solution save significant time?   Does it save enough time to be worth the risk of being an early (or only) adopter, or maybe using consumer products in an enterprise environment?
  • Does the innovative solution solve a problem unique to my company?
  • Does the solution increase operational flexibility?  If there's one thing that drives me nuts, it's throwing money at a product that can only do one very specific function and cannot be used in any other way.  There's nothing worse than having a storage room full of once-expensive hardware gathering dust.

When building out Revolt TV, there were a variety of challenges that most startups have. One of the bigger and potentially costly problems that needed to be solved was how to interconnect two buildings full of employees and core services located half a block from each other. Early in the design process, I spoke to multiple networking vendors and ISPs about the challenge of connecting two buildings with very high data bandwidth capacity, a dozen baseband video circuits, two dozen audio channels, VoIP, internet services and support for broadcast communication hardware. The bids I received were staggering, some running almost half a million dollars annually to accomplish what I was looking for.

I kept looking. Every vendor I spoke with got to hear about my challenge of connecting the buildings. Some really smart people made some suggestions. We could use line of site microwave, but would be limited to a 1gig pipe per pair of dishes. We could put all production staff in one building for high bandwidth connectivity to core services, and use MPLS or VPN connections for the rest of the staff to access business resources by having internet connectivity at each location.  We could cut back on our operational functionality and requirements. I didn't hear any viable solution I could take back to the executive team, so I kept networking and seeing what other people were doing.

One day I had lunch with two serious heads; one of the many brilliant engineers I have met over the years, as well as the storage and networking vendor I was using on the project.  The engineer suggested we look at CWDM technology. CWDM, or Course Wavelength-Division Multiplexing, creates dedicated wavelengths, or colors of the light spectrum, to be used with specific services over fiber optic cable.  As my networking vendor and I dug in further, we realized that this was a very economical solution that required less than ten thousand dollars worth of hardware in each building.  A dedicated wavelength per service allowed us to accomplish every single requirement listed above, with room for expansion!  The last hurdle was to get a dedicated point to point, dark fiber circuit between the two buildings.  This was accomplished via a one time commissioning fee for splicing fiber across and up the street, and running the circuit into our spaces in each building.

This innovative solution worked right out of the box.   The cost of hardware and commissioning was less than $50k.  In fact, it worked so well that we did the same thing down to 1 Wilshire, where all fiber and networking services are terminated in Hollywood.  The effect of this install resulted in delivering our secondary video signal to our uplink facility at a fraction of the recurring monthly cost of leasing video fiber from traditional carriers.  It also meant we had no "last mile" costs, and could potentially link directly to any vendor located at 1 Wilshire with a patch cable.

When done right, innovation can decrease OpEx, increase productivity, provide maximum flexibility and growth potential, and make you look like a rock star.  Just make sure that a novel approach to a challenge is being done for good reason, or your team might be spending some long days and nights supporting flaky systems in the name of innovation.

Josh Hatter
www.linkedin.com/pub/josh-hatter/0/177/995