Continuing our series of interviews with industry leaders, Kris Oldland speaks with John Cooper, Head of IT and Workflow Solutions in Sony’s Professional Solutions unit in Europe.
John Cooper is man with not just one division to oversee but many. Each has particularly demanding service challenges and, of course, due to the high technology industries that Sony inhabit, each is also an ever evolving sector.
With a pan European team of around 110 field engineers working alongside other members of the wider Sony workforce and various third parties, Cooper’s responsibilities are essentially across the entirety of the non-consumer portfolio of the tech giant, and it seems service is an increasingly important part of the wider business strategies and plans.
The areas that fall under Cooper’s remit also each have their own unique service challenges.
Firstly there is Sony’s healthcare solutions unit which has evolved from simply producing medical printers to now working on much more adventurous projects with hospitals and surgeons such as transmitting operations as part of a training program and even potentially aiming towards remote surgery by utilising a mix of cameras, high quality displays and 3D technologies. Of course in such an environment, uptime is essential. “As a service challenge it’s quite an interesting one as you don’t want anything to fail mid-cut as it were” Cooper comments wryly.
Quite simply, the clients in this division are reliant on the technology functioning for them to make any money at all
And whilst the pressure on the service operation here is perhaps not a matter of life and death as it is in Healthcare, it certainly still exists. Quite simply the clients in this division are reliant on the technology functioning for them to make any money at all, so if the projectors fail, then they don’t pay.
And of course then there is the Classic AV/Media side of the business, the largest of Cooper’s divisions and a key area for Sony as a whole. Again the pressure to deliver reliable uptime is paramount.
With high profile clients including the unusual (Sony is responsible for the archiving and recording solutions for Vatican City) to the more standard broadcast clients such as UK terrestrial provider ITV and Spain’s Telemadrid, there is an expectancy for the products and solutions they provide to be wholly reliable.
As Cooper states “if you think about News and just TV broadcast generally that whole industry was built around reliability. It’s so rare for the screen to go black and so it’s [100% uptime] an expectation.
Challenges of service complexity
To deliver these expectations Cooper’s team is comprised of a number of differing elements within the service -chain focused on maintaining the various different technologies at play. Firstly there is a service management team that focuses separately on those technologies with a team of field engineers with the requisite skills based in and around Europe. Then there are the other equally important components of Sony’s service delivery such as centralised repair locations, where they pull all sorts of technology back to a select number of places across the continent to get fast turnround time.
Essentially, part of their service operation is in the field, part of it is remotely placed in terms of repair and then in addition to this they also employ a number of remote technologies that allow them to log in to systems quickly to make initial diagnosis.
And in the midst of all that there is an ever increasing complexity within their product set which in turn adds further complexities to the organisational structure, making the smooth handling of operations even harder.
Cooper outlined three facets to this complexity. One is the increasing challenge of potentially lots of different partners in the service chain. “IT workflow solutions for example, might well have an oracle database plus harmonic storage and we have to look at the whole piece," he explains
Sony’s customers are reducing their own internal expertise with many shedding engineers. The technology is much simpler to operate so that skillset is lost on the client side
In a modern cinema the technology is much simpler to operate so that skillset is lost on the client side, adding further emphasis on Cooper’s team to be able to work at optimum efficiency. As Cooper asserts: “Our ability to diagnose has to be very good because the fault diagnostics aren’t always fantastic as you might imagine.”
Finally, there is the fact that Sony themselves are also facing their own price pressures. The price of a high end broadcast cameras for example, have fallen dramatically in the last ten years and this hit to the bottom line also is of course felt by the service division. “We used to be able to, in certain instances, give some of our service elements away for free because it was built into the margin, that’s no longer possible," Cooper concedes.
Bespoke service offering
And it is these challenges that have ultimately led to Sony having to adopt a much more focussed approach to their service.
“In order to protect our customers and to deliver the levels of service that we want to be recognised for, we give a fairly high level of service at point of sale but then we sell our additional service contract offerings up to any level including up to full bespoke.” Cooper explains
Customers more and more frequently are seeking to engage with Sony on a pay-per-usage basis
A perfect example of this is a new system Sony have just implemented for Telemadrid. Replacing a previous Sony system which was over a decade old, the suite contains the latest technology and is provided on a pay-per-usage basis. “It’s a fully managed system, and in that instance it’s all about the service - the technology is just an enabler.” Cooper explains. “And we are starting to see the pressures on the broadcasters, big lumps of cash are harder to come by, many are now starting to ask about pay per usage. Then it’s all about service delivery, ” he adds.
With such significant shifts in business principals, service is quite rightly becoming a much more fundamental part of Sony’s wider business strategy.
As a result of these shifts however, Cooper and his colleagues needed to revisit their existing service infrastructure, with a view to replacing their 15-year-old legacy system with something better suited to the growing complexity of their service organisation. “We used to be able to, in certain instances, give some of our service elements away for free because it was built into the margin, that’s no longer possible,“ Cooper concedes.
And it is these challenges that have ultimately led to Sony having to adopt a much more focused approach to their service. “In order to protect our customers and to deliver the levels of service that we want to be recognised for, we give a fairly high level of service at point of sale but then we sell our additional service contract offerings up to any level including up to full bespoke,” Cooper explains
Add to this the growing trend of servitization, which for Sony at the moment is currently something of a pull market with their customers more and more frequently seeking to engage with Sony on pay-per-usage basis.
As a result of these shifts however, Cooper and his colleagues needed to revisit their existing service infrastructure, with a view to replacing their 15-year-old legacy system with something better suited to the growing complexity of their service organisation.
Look out for Part 2 of this interview, when Cooper will talk about how he and his team reviewed both off-the-shelf systems and customised solutions to determine which was fit-for-purpose, their reasons for making the choice they did and the impact on the service operation.