Big Brother

July 10, 2008 - by Peter Caranicas TVNEWSDAY

Decentrix Offers Big Brother in a Box

As their jobs become increasingly complex, station group CEOs are looking for ways to gain quick access to financial and sales information from their far-flung stations and sort through it effectively so that they can identify and act on problems.

One company that says it has a solution for such needs is Denver-based Decentrix, which specializes in business intelligence for media industries.

For broadcasters, it offers a product called BIAnalytix, which allows CEOs and others to rapidly drill down through data, even to the level of an individual salesperson.

Overlaying a Microsoft "data warehouse" with Decentrix's own proprietary software, the system captures data from all the source systems at stations that a CEO might want to analyze, including program management systems, traffic and billing, proposal systems, Nielsen audience data and online automation systems.

Decentrix has already sold systems to three major TV station groups, but is not at liberty to identify them.

TVNewsday's Peter Caranicas spoke to Decentrix founder and CEO Wayne Ruting, a veteran of broadcasting and the Internet, about his product and how Decentrix is positioned to help the TV station business.

An edited transcript:

Question: In a station group, who could benefit from BIAnalytix?

Wayne: "Everybody, including the CEO, the CFO, the VP of sales - every executive in the company. If you are going to execute a business intelligence solution, you want it to be very widely used through the corporation in order for it to have the greatest value."

Question: Can different individuals have different levels of access?

Wayne: "Yes. When they log into the system they're authenticated by their login and password, and that gives them rights to a particular data slice of the data warehouse. For instance, if they're a salesperson at a station, they could be looking at exactly the same report as the CEO, but what they'll see is only the data for their clients. For a station sales manager, the view will be for all the salespeople below him. The regional managers would see all the stations underneath them. And the CEO can see everything."

Comment: I assume it's Web-based to allow access from anywhere.

Wayne: "Yes. It's all provided through a portal. You can be in a hotel room and if you have Internet access you have total access to the information and to the data you have rights to have access to."

Question: You say that BIAnalytix interfaces with other systems at the stations. How does it connect to those?

Wayne: "It's a very simple process. What we want to do is include every transactional element, or transaction. If you're talking about a traffic system, you want to know everything there is to know about a spot: whether it is edited, has been moved, canceled. We want each of those transactions to be extracted. We define a very simple mapping from the operational systems to what we call a staging area, or a staging schema.This involves very simple map where a vendor of that transactional system can look at it and say, OK, I can map this field to that staging schema; I know exactly where it goes. It's essentially a superset of all the transactional information we are aware of in all these systems."

Question: Do you define a transaction as a sale?

Wayne: "It might be a sale, but at more granular level a transaction describes the spots themselves. The order [for a spot] is kind of high-level for us. An order will comprise lots of different pieces of advertising placed over multiple days, often with multiple pieces of copy.We pull information about the actual individual spot - what it is, what the copy was, what dollars are attached to it, what precisely was the time it was placed, and everything that happens to it afterwards. We want to know when it was moved, where it was moved, whether it was canceled or amended."

Question: The history of everything is in there?

Wayne: "Yes, it's all in there. Consequently, if I want to step back into the past to, say, exactly the same day last year for comparison purposes, I can. When I step back to that day, I am actually looking at the data as it existed on that day with 100 percent accuracy. I'm not looking at a summary. I'm looking at the detail as it appeared at that point in time."

Question: So you can access anything you want as long as the data goes back that far?

Wayne: "Absolutely. We're in an Olympics year. If I want to make comparisons, I can step back four years."

Question: How long would it take to implement this?

Wayne: "Typically the process of taking a brand new system and mapping it requires about three or four weeks. Once you have accomplished that you can extract the transactional information and homogenize it into a data warehouse. We generally work with the vendor of the operational systems.For example, in the implementation we've been doing with one large station group, they have their own in-house systems. They've got their own tech team and built all their own traffic systems, so they have the knowledge to fairly rapidly map to our definitions."

Question: So your system extracts and organizes data from their system?

Wayne: "Correct. It takes the data it comes across and goes through a process in the data warehouse called ETL - for extract, transform and load. That process essentially pulls up the data. The best way to think about it is that it cleanses the data and puts it into a form that allows you to readily report.Here's an example of why that's necessary: Say you've got a very large group, perhaps 30 TV stations, and, at every one of those, people may have entered an advertiser slightly differently. We might find different descriptions at each station.When you move everything into a data warehouse, you need to have the same description, not a dozen different descriptions floating around in the analysis. The ETL process does that cleanup. It maps all those disparate elements into a single description that allows you to view the data in a sensible way."

Question: You say that speed and instant access are important components of the system.

Wayne: "Yes, and you also want to know that the information is up to date, and that you can get to it in seconds. You don't have to call someone to have a report run. You don't have to wait for hours or days."

Question: But it can only be as current as when it was last updated.

Wayne: "Yes, and in large measure it depends on the system that's the source for the information. If it's a traffic system where data is only updated each night, then it would be as recent as the night before.But if it's a traffic system with the ability to provide a constant feed of data so that every change is fed in at real time, then the system can be [fully up to date] and the CEO can look at the dashboard and watch it change second by second."

Question: How does such instant information benefit the CEO? I assume, for example, he can take quick action if a station is underperforming.

Wayne: "Correct. What you do normally with these systems is provide the ability to set up what are called KPIs, or key performance indicators. Essentially, they provide analysis of the health of the business."

Question: Are KPIs based on targets?

Wayne: "On targets, objectives and forecasts. They may be targets that are comparatives. For example, you might want to be looking at an objective to increase revenue 10 percent above the same time last year.Those objectives can be fed into the system to create KPIs. A CEO can look at his dashboard and determine, for example, that target revenue performance is on a downward trend, say, 5 percent off from where it should be.What he can then do is quickly drill down on that and explode out the information so he can look at all of the stations. He can identify the station that's causing the poor performance. He can drill down further and identify the salespeople that are underperforming.Or maybe it's an advertiser that is off the mark. You have the ability to drill down in a matter of seconds and determine the nature of the problem. Rather than have to ask other people, you can immediately go directly to the individuals concerned to get the matter addressed."

Question: It sounds like a very sophisticated monitoring tool.

Wayne: "It is indeed. It's intended to give the heartbeat of the business, and to always be readily available. It is a monitoring tool that everybody can use, and as such nobody gets surprised about what's going on. There should be no reason why a salesperson doesn't know they're underperforming - or exceeding their budget."

Question: Does it replace existing systems?

Wayne: "It doesn't replace anything. It is a brand new opportunity, a tool that media operators have never had access to before. The transactional systems they have - the traffic systems, the program management systems - were never really designed to provide this kind of forecasting and analysis. Transactional systems tend to be very bad when it comes to trying to report in a timely way the kinds of things that management needs, and sometimes they take hours or days to produce. Often by the time you have the data, it's stale and irrelevant."

Question: What's your competition?

Wayne: "Many businesses are starting to work in the business intelligence area. Very large companies like IBM provide tools to build business intelligence solutions, but we're the only company providing an out-of-the-box solution that tracks the whole process for the media industries."

Question: What media other than broadcasting do you serve?

Wayne: "Our solution would apply to cable networks, cable MSOs, radio and TV networks and ad agencies - wherever there's advertising at various touch points across a business."

Question: How is the system priced? I assume it's scalable.

Wayne: "Yes. From a practical perspective it depends on the source systems that are actually installed within a given operation. Typically, organizations start out by installing the source info from their trafficking environments so they can work with advertising and financials.Many of the groups, as a next step, are installing Web-based applications because they need to be able to track placements on the Web and make comparisons between what's being placed there and what's going to traditional media.Operators need to address the difficulty that today they can't bring that information together into a single reporting environment, and they desperately need to. So what we're seeing is that after initial implementation for trafficking systems, groups often move forward with Web analysis so they can determine what kind of revenue they're getting from their station portals."

Question: Can you give me dollar figures for how much it costs to implement this?

Wayne: "I can give you a broad range. There are two components to the cost. One component is licensing of the intellectual property. The other is consulting to actually train and hand over the solution to our customers when we're finished. It's an open system, so they can evolve it and develop it themselves.On the low end, the MediaBase module, which takes the daily transactions from a traffic system and provides dashboards with sales pacing and forecasting, starts at around $250,000. That includes licensing, installation and training.If they were to install a number of other modules such as Web Ad Campaign modules, Real Time modules and Program Management modules, for example, the cost across a large media group may rise to $1 million to $1.5 million, for licensing, installation and training.These numbers are for a total station group. BIAnalytix is not licensed on a per-station basis since it is necessary across the total corporation."

Question: Do you have a program for ongoing service afterwards?

Wayne: "We do, but the choice is optional. What want to pass all of the knowledge across to our customers so they have the ability to be independent. Generally, most organizations contract with us on a retainer basis to provide consulting services when they want to draw on it."

Question: Will the implementation of the standard BXF affect your systems?

Wayne: "In practice it will help facilitate getting at those on-air transactions, because we want to know the as-run status. But we can also take the as-run status and from the traffic systems or the automation systems. BFX is not necessary for putting our system in there."

Question: Who do you approach within a station group?

Wayne: "The decision is usually going to involve the CFO, the VP of sales and the CEO. There is often an endorser at a very senior level who has a need to get this kind of information today and knows it is strategically important."

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