The downturn in the economy has meant boom times for developers of facility management software designed to help companies of all sizes operate more efficiently.
“It may seem counter intuitive that 2009 and 2010 were our best years ever,” reports Greg Dolan, executive VP of Xytech (www.xytechsystems.com). “But the numbers were squeezed, even by big studios, and everyone was looking at ways to contain costs and gain efficiency in every step of the chain, from scheduling to accounting to workflow. Our software can help them make money.”
Xytech, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary, is working at capacity, “putting out about a system a week” of its flagship MediaPulse software, whose fourth-generation product was introduced at NAB 2009. “We looked at where the industry was going and felt our technical platform needed to be rewritten to make it relevant for the future,” says Dolan. “The next couple of months we will increase capacity [so] expect another record year for us.”
Dolan says MediaPulse supports everyone from “boutiques to enterprise-class systems interacting with a thousand users,” including many major Hollywood studios, post houses worldwide, the content arm of a major sporting organization and a spectrum of cable and broadcast networks. “About half of our customers are in the small to mid-size market nationally and internationally,” he notes. “That’s where it’s essential to prove your value.”
The value proposition for the modular MediaPulse, he says, is that it’s “an off-the-shelf product with highly configurable options. You can completely remake the user interface and integrate it into any number of platforms.” MediaPulse enables users to follow any piece of content “from inception to distribution: budgeting; activities from scripting to crewing the studio or remote truck to booking post; tracking all the versioning and checkpoints once the master is done; and the physical and digital distribution of it.”
Xytech begins with “an in-depth review” of what every customer needs to determine “how we think they can accomplish what they need” with MediaPulse, says Dolan. Some clients have had the system for a decade or more, during which time they’ve continued to fine tune it to meet the changing needs of the industry and their customers.
New at NAB this year were a Web front-end solution and a back-end integration solution that extend the functionality of MediaPulse software.
MediaPulse Encore introduces Silverlight and rich Internet application services to deliver a cloud-ready, browser-based solution that puts the software’s feature set in the hands of staff and clients alike for immediate information sharing across the media enterprise. MediaPulse Fuse connects disparate systems in the media enterprise. The flexible and robust platform extension initiates orders, activities and content movement or passively tracks digital content and creates orders from the activities of the other systems.
“Fuse is already rolling out, and the first Encore installation is in June,” Dolan reports. “Both are open platforms, so if a customer wanted to buy Fuse and integrate it into their digital supply chain they can do it themselves, hire a third party or use our services. We have to be tied into the hardware platform to make things easier for clients and their customers. We have to innovate faster than our clients.”
One of the first scheduling products on the market, 22-year-old ScheduAll (www.scheduall.com) was commissioned by Rick Legow, who founded BVI Miami and recognized that spreadsheets and white boards were not enough to cope with the scheduling issues that arose at a busy post house.
Today the software is used by more than 1,200 businesses in media and broadcast in 39 countries, reports CEO Joel Ledlow. Clients run the gamut from boutique shops to major facilities such as Deluxe, Technicolor, Framestore, the Associated Press, the BBC and Turner Studios.
“Business was up 19 percent last year,” Ledlow notes. “We’re growing pretty aggressively. Clients are looking for ways to improve efficiencies, reduce waste and take on new projects with the same head count. We can help them grow their top line by managing personnel and timelines.”
ScheduAll (pictured) is “primarily used from preplanning [to] day of execution, all the way through reconciling invoices,” he says. “We do robust reporting. We alert the operations people so they and their customers are aware of something before it becomes a fire. And we provide realtime, in-depth reporting for the finance people.”
New in ScheduAll is ERMa, the Enterprise Resource Management adapter that allows any ScheduALL system to connect and share work with other ScheduAll systems whether inside or outside the company. “ERMa is an excellent choice for anyone who needs to leverage outside partners,” Ledlow says. “It’s good for boutiques and mid-size companies and scalable for bigger facilities. It’s all about utilizing offices and resources and collaborating with team members — it gives access to a global marketplace of existing or potential partners. ERMa is already starting to see adoption with numerous broadcasters such as CBS and service providers such as SES World Skies, DCI World Teleport and The SpaceConnection.
The latest release, ScheduAll 4.84, “recognizes the value of the cloud,” he says. “Our core product is a mission-critical application but for mobility, collaboration and connectivity, there are big advantages to the cloud.” To that end the current version of ScheduAll has enhanced its core with aSoftware as a Service (SaaS) layer that leverages the cloud. The ScheduAll Hitch mobile access platform, available at a low per-user cost, enables freelance staff, for instance, access to ScheduAll via certain tablets and smart phones.
ScheduAll has also introduced AVVA (Accurately Verify Vendor Availability), a free Web-based platform which Ledlow says is “ideal for small facilities. It does basic core scheduling and plays well with ERMa,” although “it will never replace ScheduAll’s robust feature set.”
AVVA obviously has legs, though. The subscription-based AVVA Plus will be launched by the end of the year. It will allow users to “buy the modules they need for the time they need them, which is good for projects,” he says. “AVVA Plus will have a lot of functionality at a fraction of the cost of ScheduAll.”
Australia’s FoxOMS (www.foxoms.com) online scheduling software was still in development when the financial crisis hit, says company director Tim Mohr. But since his software went live online last January 1st, he has seen “incredible growth and demand” for the new product. “We have been blown away by the interest from hundreds of facilities in over 60 countries around the world,” he reports. “We believe that in these uncertain economic times our clients are especially looking for cost-effective solutions, and it is cloud-based software like FoxOMS that delivers them long-term savings.”
FoxOMS already has a broad array of users from boutiques to “some of the biggest television broadcasters in the world,” he says. “We’ve also had sign ups from performing arts centers and production-gear hire operators.”
After working in the production and post industries for years, Mohr believed he could build a better, more affordable software solution for people who told him existing products were both pricey and complicated to use.
FoxOMS takes advantage of cloud computing, which Mohr says “is a huge benefit to our clients, saving them from investing in expensive in-house IT servers and support staff. Being online also means that the software is readily available to our clients from almost anywhere, at any time, and all without expensive ‘per user’ license fees. It’s completely cross platform, running on Mac, PC and Linux, and even some smart phones and mobile devices.”
The software was designed to be modular, which gives customers the flexibility to “enable the features they need and turn off the ones they don’t,” Mohr says. “Being so customizable helps post production facilities to fit FoxOMS into their workflow rather than trying to fit [themselves] around it.”
He says users like the tiered, monthly pricing structure. “They only pay for what they need and can always upgrade as their business and demands grow. We find that many of our clients enjoy talking directly to our programmers with questions and feedback about how FoxOMS can be improved.”
The FoxOMS1.3 release introduced “a completely redesigned scheduler and calendar featuring drag and drop creating, editing and trimming of bookings,” he explains. “Now updating or extending a booking is as simple as dragging it across the screen. Staff members can easily see which bookings and projects they have been assigned to and clients are able to log in and engage with the collaboration process, increasing productivity and saving valuable time and money for everyone.”
Project management comes built in and includes features like customizable fields for project metadata, progress milestone tracking and integrated live messaging between staff and clients. The layout is very user friendly and can be completely customized with many themes and user preferences available. “And if there is something the software doesn’t have, FoxOMS lets us write custom plug-ins for clients who may require very specific integrated features,” he adds.
Mohr has been “listening to what the post production industry really wants” from software such as his and, consequently, has “many big plans for FoxOMS.” He says the version currently in development features further enhancements such as invoicing, income reports, staff task lists, dedicated mobile interfaces, a post production jobs manager and additional unique tools to automate data-based origination and associated post workflows.
Joel Stoner was an independent recording engineer when he decided to put together a software tool to manage his schedule and his involvement in the projects he took on. Then he realized the product should be targeted to commercial recording studios, and in 1998 released the first official version of Studio Suite (www.studiosuite.com). Soon after, “post production studios called and begged for a product that met their needs, so I added post workflows in the next release, and it’s been evolving ever since,” he explains.
Today, among the 1,400-plus facilities that use Studio Suite, parent AlterMedia counts JWT, Warner Bros., Universal, DirecTV, Fox, National Geographic, Sundance Channel, Post Factory, OffHollyhood, AlphaDogs, Crawford Media Services, NASA, hundred of small boutiques and many Fortune 100 companies and universities in 40 countries.
“2010 was a record year for us, and so far 2011 is way ahead of last year,” Stoner reports. “There are a million moving parts in a production and one change has a domino effect; there’s no room for error. You can’t manage things on Post-It notes; you need something everyone can access and see and that can do reporting so you can do business analysis. Every major corporation has enterprise software to keep everyone on the same page and so should production and post facilities.”
When Studio Suite 9 bowed 18 months ago, it introduced nine new modules, including FTP, an integrated file transfer module that logs each transfer and offers the option to add the transfer as a billable line item on a project; Employee Scheduling; AICP and AICE-style budgets; Tasks; Productions, for centralized management and reporting of multiple, related projects; and Web Request, which permits clients to request studio time online. Studio Suite 9 also added an Internet version, which provides access to about 85 percent of the application via browser.
“A lot of features are based on customer requests, and a lot of times the customization we do for clients ends up in the next version of Studio Suite,” Stoner says. “That’s one reason we’re one of the most full-featured products on the market.”
The already cross-platform Studio Suite 9 extends functionality further by offering its Contacts, Calendar and Tasks modules as iPhone and Blackberry Web apps. “Production teams are now so spread out. Freelancers need to know what’s happening — they don’t have a white board in an office or a binder with pages to refer to.”
Stoner believes that companies that use studio management software not only boost their efficiency but also present themselves as professional organizations with business management skills. “Having the kind of detail you get with Studio Suite 9 at your fingertips wherever you are turns your facility into a well-oiled machine that every client will appreciate. In fact, when your clients see you manage your business details easily and efficiently with Studio Suite, they’ll know you’re on top of things. They’ll feel confident in your business and so will you.”
After launching in Spain 10 years ago, Farmers Wife scheduling and facility management software (www.farmerswife.com) made its debut in the US in 2005. Since then post and VFX studios — including LightIron, Cinelicious, Sonic Union, Brickyard and Public VFX — production companies and broadcasters have come on board as Farmers Wife users. “We try to cover most markets, including quite a few advertising agencies with internal facilities,” says Simon Hadfield, managing director of Farmers Wife USA, based in Santa Monica.
The software is very comprehensive, and Hadfield says it runs natively on Mac and PC. “Everything is contained in the main package, from bidding, scheduling and project management to invoicing and financial reporting on the back end,” he says. “Report Design is built in, not via a third party, and that’s one of our unique selling points. Also included in the base system is the iPhone app integration, which uses SSL security technology. It allows users to check their schedules, time report work completed, and even be notified of any changes to a booking.”
Hadfield notes that while Farmers Wife “can capture the big information, it’s the small things that make a difference” such as remembering to bill a client for an ordered lunch or cab service. “You can enter data directly for all those elements. They start to make a difference where margins are minuscule; your profits can be gone if you don’t keep an eye on those things.”
The optional, three-part Media Manager module permits users to keep track of all the physical or digital media in the client’s system via Media Library, Dispatch and Media Order functions. “It links media to projects with standard or custom fields,” says project manager Sophie Malten. “It also provides information on individual clips on a particular tape by timecode and their order sequence on the master tape and enables users to print labels with their barcode through Label Designer.”
Farmers Wife is known for spending time with clients, Hadfield says. The company furnishes pre-training documentation to help them collate data for building the database, then recommends setting aside about three days for training and implementation. Its post-sales and development service is also noteworthy to ensure that “the workflow is integrated with the whole business,” such as the popular QuickBooks accounting software.
Like its competitors, Farmers Wife has enjoyed a significant increase in sales lately. “We’ve sold more systems in the last quarter than in the whole of last year,” notes Hadfield. He attributes the uptick not only to clients seeking efficiencies in a struggling economy but also to the software’s native Mac compatibility and iPhone app. “Apple’s Final Cut Pro is everywhere, and more people are buying Macs,” he says. “They want to buy a system that sits on a Mac, and [we do that] without the need to buy any additional software to make it work!”