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Grooving to the SAMBA beat

Sony Entertainment Television

Anil Garg
Senior VP - IT & New Media, SET India

Implementing an ERP in the most optimal manner is not everyone's cup of tea. Rare are those that actually build an ERP of their own. This outstanding effort has won Sony Entertainment Television (SET) India the Computer Associates Intelligent Enterprise Awards 2004 in the Information, Communication and Entertainment (ICE) category. by Anil Patrick R

The intelligent edge
Project: SAMBA, SET India's homegrown ERP system.
Date Started: 1999
Date Completed: 2004
Project Cost: Rs 20 lakhs
Project Objective: To automate the company's key business processes. Benefits Accrued: Reduction in daily sales outstanding resulting in improved cash management, accurate reporting, better turnaround times, and reduced paper generation.
Innovation: The complete solution was conceived and built in-house with a small team. It is now being 'productized' to be more flexible and customizable so that it can operate in different regions across the world.

As the saying goes, anyone can buy an ERP, but the crux is in customizing it for your business. This is more so in the case of the broadcasting industry where domain knowledge skill sets have to be merged with knowledge of the local business environment to get optimal results out of the ERP system.

SET India's ERP success lies in their effective modular ERP solution to automate their complex business operations called System for Automated Management of Broadcast Activities (SAMBA).

"SAMBA is the only solution of its kind in the Indian broadcast industry and one of the few such solutions across the world," said Anil Garg, Senior VP - IT & New Media, SET India.

The road less traveled

The biggest innovation that SAMBA brings to the table is that it is SET India's entirely homegrown system.

"Unlike other broadcasting organizations that opted for expensive readymade software involving huge customization and licensing costs, the organization decided to take the path less traveled and develop an in-house system," said Garg.

To trace SAMBA's development and evolution, we need to go back in time to circa 1998. SET India was already three years into its operations and growing rapidly. It was dealing with customers worldwide and sales were booming. The need for an automated system to manage key business processes like advertising sales was felt at this point in time.

Advertisements are perishable commodities highly dependent on factors like those related to a sale in terms of currency, exchange rate, the client, agency, and export clearance. In addition to this, multi-channel broadcasting environments bring in more challenges.

Tracking these manually is not always possible since advertisement slots get booked many months in advance. This resulted in outsourcing the development of an ERP called Television Management System (TMS).

TMS failed to take off due to the lack of intensive domain knowledge. And thus SET India decided to develop the ERP themself.

"We looked at broadcast packages across the world but were not able to find one that suited our requirements. This is when we first started developing software to automate crucial business processes like sales," said Garg.

The other nominee in ICE category was Wipro Spectramind's Pegasus-45 project. With this project, the organization consolidated existing individual 2 Mbps links to a 45 Mbps DS3 architecture for their national and international backbone.


SAMBA time

SET India took special care to build the system around standards and make it multi-channel, even though most broadcast companies did not have more than one channel at the time.

"The basic premise was to follow standards, have a plug & play architecture, and be prepared for the future. If you don't need a module, you need to be able to remove it," said Garg.

SAMBA was started in 1999 and completed in 2004 at a cost of Rs 20 lakh. At present, SAMBA and various modules power key business processes like all revenue streams accruing from advertising sales, pay television (through cable operations), and the enterprise's financial accounting. The various system modules take care of ad-sales related operations, traffic & scheduling components, media library, copyrights, television operations, and financial accounting for the enterprise.

The business's operational aspects were first addressed by SAMBA. After users recognized the software's power, Garg and his team added more modules to the system resulting in the 20 modules that are in use at present. More SAMBA modules are on the works.

This Windows-based ERP runs on the Intel platform and uses the client-server model. SET India's distributors are connected to the system using an external server that connects to internal servers.

Such a great achievement culminated as a result of the dedicated efforts of a small but committed team. "We started with a three member team. By 2000, we started hiring and team size has remained constant at seven people since then," said Garg.

Victory Talk
"Winning the Intelligent Enterprise Award has been a proud moment for me and my team. SAMBA demonstrated the power of software to our organization when we first implemented it. The Intelligent Enterprise Award is one of the best recognitions that we could have got for SAMBA, a result of many years of hard work. It is also very motivating for my team and SET as a whole."

Gains all the way

SAMBA has helped improve SET India's processes in a major way. SET India claims that 90 percent of its employees have benefited from the deployment of SAMBA. Customers and members in the value/supply chain have also benefited from the system.

Garg says that the major benefit of the solution vis-à-vis other available broadcast managing solutions is on the licensing and customization front. Developing the solution in-house has helped to keep SAMBA away from such hassles. This translates to direct long term cost benefits.

"Typically, packages like SAMBA will cost million of dollars. There will also be annual license fees and customization fees," said Garg.

SET India has been able to reduce its daily sales outstanding and achieve better turnaround times. This has helped it achieve improved cash management capabilities.

The next advantage has been in the generation of more accurate reports. SET India deals with many channels for their distribution business. To streamline this, each channel requires customized reports from SET India that can be directly sent to their ERP systems. Garg says that SAMBA has made accurate reporting possible for this.

Other advantages include reduction in paper generation, fax, and courier costs. Customer accounting and speed of communicating with customers have also increased through the use of SAMBA.

Battling opos

Conceptualization and implementation of the ERP hasn't been a glitch-free affair for Garg and his team. This is why credit has to be given to SET India for battling the odds and emerging victorious.

The learning involved in ERP creation is not simple. Garg and his team had to rewrite or even discard many parts of the system due to new user requirements and system constraints.

"It has been a great learning experience and continues to be so. For example, there were these modules that we wrote for paid TV operations. This is very complex in a country like India where you are managing thousands of operators and we learned a lot from it," said Garg.

Interaction with users was the next constraint faced during SAMBA implementation. Many of SET India's users (like cable operators) were not well versed with the use of computers. Getting required system specifications and feedback from them was an uphill task for the team.

Team motivation was yet another problem faced by Garg. The small team was faced by the huge task of implementation on one side and user expectations on the other during the initial SAMBA testing days. According to Garg, the biggest motivation that helped them through those tough days was the joy of creating a unique solution.

A promising future

SET India is working towards the addition of new intelligent modules like those for 'smart selling' to SAMBA at present. This will help the company offer better deals to its customers while maximizing the potential of its inventories. Many modules to be passed on to SET India's customers are also being developed. Work is also on to improve the visual appeal of SAMBA interfaces.

Making the ERP vendor independent and migration from Windows to Linux-based servers is on the charts. SET India also has ambitious plans to make SAMBA a product.

Anil Patrick R can be reached at:

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