As You Like It

As You Like It

The ABC Goes Digital

Managing the web of interfaces and reviewing how customers and staff use them must be a cross-discipline task requiring cooperation of marketing, technology and human resources just for starters. It is not an issue that can be quarantined as something fixed either in the back office or in the front office. It requires a more holistic management approach.

It is something that the national broadcaster is tackling.

Colin Knowles is the ABC's executive director of technology and distribution. As such he has oversight of both the broadcast network and the IT network. It makes sense since the distinction is blurring as broadband technologies make their way into the IT space. A further blurring has occurred thanks to the recent launch of the ABC's digital television channel, ABC2, which has given the national broadcaster the opportunity to create new ways of communicating with the public, and to repackage existing content and distribute it in different ways. It is a model that Knowles expects will gather pace in the future.

So now with the digital channel, the ABC meets its customers in even more places through TV, the digital channel, radio, in its enterprise shops, online and through call centres. Once 3G telephones become widespread, expected from July this year when Telstra, Optus and Vodafone join the other company in this space, 3, to provide third-generation telephone services, there will likely be yet another interface to the ABC.

The "creatives" in each division are responsible for the look and feel of the different customer touch points; Knowles's job is to make sure that the technology can support them. Between them they create the customer experience. Forming a bridge between the creatives and Knowles's team are technology specialists in each business unit.

Rob Garnsey is one of those bridges, as head of systems new media and digital services for the ABC. He describes a very collaborative approach with weekly meetings between the creative teams and the IT team ensuring both know what they are up to. "We recently redeveloped the way people contact the ABC with questions or complaints," Garnsey says. "Our corporate affairs group worked with new media and IT to set up a Web form. Using that, people can send comments via e-mail, from where they are imported into a call management database," from where they are distributed to the most appropriate person in the ABC.

The call management centre uses the same system so that there is a consistent "feel" about the interaction. This is useful for the ABC viewer or listener, but also provides prompt audience feedback. It can also be used to gauge patterns of interaction identifying how audiences shift between the ABC's different outlets such as TV, radio or online. Some of that feeds into the back-end information systems.

"We have audience response units where we capture the incoming call information, we capture all e-mails that come in and information from the Web site. So we capture various statistics about the audience and identify when we get a new unique customer. We have not got a fully-fledged CRM in place as they are too damn expensive. But we do have a system so that we know if Mr Smith called and it's his 430,000th time. He might tell us about a problem and we might be able to fix it," Knowles says.

The ABC's "CRM lite" is important but remains just one element of the mesh of technology and interfaces that delivers the entire ABC experience.

On the content and creative side of the relationship at the ABC is Lisa Mitchell, manager of marketing and communications for new media and digital services. She sees the development of the ABC's online systems as an opportunity to foster online communities. "We see this as an extension of the opportunity to engage with content," giving ABC's audience a greater opportunity to interact with program makers and to some extent steer them. Mitchell says this is important given that more than a third of the population is 25 or under and have changing needs. This group, she says, sees television as less important than the ability to multitask perhaps accessing information online or from their phone.

With ABC2, the digital channel, Mitchell says it will be possible to package content more flexibly so that you can have a half-hour show, content from which can be moulded into a one-minute broadband transmission. Great ideas but resource intensive.

As head of systems new media and digital services, Garnsey acknowledges there can be some tension in the marketing/IT mix. "It often comes down to a question of resources, in a situation where resources are not abundant," he says. "On the one hand the creative and imaginative people come up with new ideas, while on the other hand the technology providers are struggling to provide a service at a satisfactory level to support them. To an extent we're the ideas policeman."

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