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When is a workflow not a workflowPassing through Frankfurt airport last week I was reminded of the chaos at Amsterdam Schiphol airport when returning from IBC earlier this year. Like many airports, Frankfurt and Schiphol have replaced friendly-faced check-in clerks withautomated check-in and bag drop:

As visitors returning from the conference and exhibitions queued up to use the shiny new automated bag drop, what started as friendly chatter about previous five days’ events turned to increasingly vocal demonstrations about the delays the new system was causing. The delays were largely caused by bags that slightly exceeded the weight or size limits, or were simply the wrong shape to fit the uniform dimensions of the drop-off – problems that a small amount of human judgment would have easily resolved.

Eventually, a large team of KLM staff were dispatched to the scene to calm the mounting insurrection, help reduce the increasing delays and ensure people caught their flights.

Workflow automation does not always increase efficiency and throughput 

It seems mad that a system billed as expediting the check-in process for customers and reducing costs for the airline actually had the opposite effect – but we are in danger of doing something very similar in the media industry.

From the airlines perspective, the process of checking in a passenger and their baggage is actually very similar to the process of ingesting media. Before online check-in and automated bag drops, a check-in clerk would have verified a passengers ID, issued their boarding pass, asked the appropriate security questions and weighed and checked their baggage.

Can we replace men with machines in media workflows? 

In a traditional ingest scenario we would have taken a tape, placed it in a VTR, visually verified the content and checked that it was successfully written to disk. Whether or not QC was formally a part of ingest, a human operator was likely to be interacting in someway with the media and able to apply judgment as to whether there was any issue with the media.

With automation in media systems as advanced as it is, it is possible to pass media through aworkflow without a human ever viewing it end-to-end. Much like in an airport, if everything about the passengers and their baggage is within the defined constraints, the process will be quick and efficient – issues only arise when there is an exception – when the passenger’s bag is a kilo overweight, or the media file fails an automated QC.

Combining automation with a human touch 

The challenge we have to face in the media industry as file-based delivery increases and SDI disappears is how we handle these exceptions in the workflow in a fast and effective way, combining automation with the human touch to ensure the quality of our output.

In order to do this, we need to unify manual and automated QC through a single interface that enables users to both make judgment on automated measurements and add commentary to QC reports. Taking this approach ensures that media “failed” by automated QC can quickly move on (or back) in the workflow and where an error has been “over-ruled” by a human, the certificate of trust can follow the content. Once trusted, the media should pass through the rest of the workflow without issue before flying off into the sunset.

At AmberFin, we have learned that whilst automation is good, there is still an important place for human intervention in media workflows. I can’t help wondering how long it will take – and how many travelers’ journeys will be affected – before the airlines come to the same conclusion.

If you would like to learn more about AmberFin’s unique approach to enterprise-class workflow automation

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