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Building a Video-on-Demand Asset Status and Verification Reporting Application for a Large U.S. Cable Company

Communications | Application Development

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TEKsystems developed an asset status and verification application for a large U.S. cable company to assure availability of its scheduled video-on-demand content to enhance the quality of its service and improve customer satisfaction.

Founded in 1963, the client is the country’s largest video, high-speed Internet and phone provider to residential customers and businesses. The company currently serves 21.6 million video customers, 20.1 million high-speed Internet customers and 10.5 million voice customers across 39 states and the District of Columbia. It is also part of a global media and technology company that is one of the world’s leading communications companies. TEKsystems and has had a strong national partnership with the client since 2003.

To remain competitive, companies focus primarily on two things: customer acquisition and customer retention. Companies seek to continuously grow their customer base by offering new or innovative products, competitive pricing and high-quality services. However, once the sale is made, the work is not over—it is just beginning.

Companies need to focus significant efforts on customer retention, as it has a direct impact on an organization’s bottom line—a 5 percent increase in customer retention can increase business profits by 25 to 125 percent.1 Businesses have to keep pace with the market—evolving their products per demand and keeping their prices cost-competitive—but they also have to focus on providing top-notch customer service. All of these efforts can positively or negatively affect customer satisfaction levels.

Few industries are as familiar with this principle as cable companies. In today’s home entertainment landscape, households have a variety of ways to consume video content: cable, satellite and online streaming services, among others. Consumers have the ability to choose which video provider they’d like to use based on types of services offered, cost of service and reliability of service. Once an end customer has chosen a provider, their satisfaction with that service will continue to impact that provider’s revenue. If they are not satisfied with the product or service, companies may offer paid services for a free or discounted price to keep those customers at the loss of profit opportunities, or those customers may choose to take their money to a competing entity.

Apache Web servers, Java, Oracle Database

The client, a large U.S. cable company, receives video-on-demand (VOD) content from five main content deliverers. These deliverers regularly issue delivery pitch lists (DPL), which are commitments to provide the specified content to the client. The client uses the DPLs to pay those deliverers and ensure the assets are uploaded to their system and delivered as promised. However, for various reasons, the content does not always arrive to its designated location within the system when it is scheduled to.

The client’s current process was causing several issues. First, it was affecting customer satisfaction because subscribers were calling customer support because advertised content wasn’t available. There were also billing issues (i.e., discrepancies between paid content vs. received content); as well as loss of ROI on advertising dollars spent on promotional campaigns since content advertised was unable to be accessed and/or purchased.

The question was simple: Is the content available for use? However, the situation was highly complex because the client’s system is complex—the company supplies more than 80,000 pieces of video content every day, and as new units are delivered some are also removed. The client uses a database that unifies VOD programs, the menu folders and subscriber entitlements. But the database does not store a record of content beyond its license window end date; therefore a DPL retroactively compared against VOD content in the past may report inaccurate details.

The client was using a manual process to determine the discrepancy between scheduled and available content. However, using manual efforts meant the client was running the risk of administrators making certain assumptions because they couldn’t go through all of their delivered assets on a daily basis. The client’s VOD team knew that to improve its VOD service, it needed a better process to verify the presence and availability of expected content on the VOD system.

The client decided to build an asset (i.e., video content) status and verification application (AS&V) to determine which asset titles have been properly distributed, correctly placed and available to subscribers in systems throughout the client’s footprint. The AS&V application would evaluate the content present in the VOD library and available within the VOD system, and then compare it to a list of scheduled content provided on the DPLs. The application would develop a delta report (i.e., a report noting the differences between the scheduled content and the actual content available) that would provide accurate, real-time information to help the client’s analysts quickly and efficiently identify if the gap in programming was due to an internal or deliverer problem. The delta report would help the client’s team see their current, available content inventory and give them the ability to have a high probability of delivery of VOD content to subscribers.

The client did not have the bandwidth to address this issue on its own and turned to TEKsystems, a trusted staffing augmentation partner since 2003, to discuss partnering together to design an AS&V application.

TEKsystems recommended a two-phased approach to developing an AS&V application: Inception and Execution/Construction. We would begin the engagement with a four-week Inception process. Our team would visit the client’s headquarters in Philadelphia to meet their team and better understand their business problem. During Inception, we would also define a product backlog, architecture, release plan and acceptance criteria.

The 14-week Execution/Construction phase would be performed at TEKsystems’ Montreal Innovation Centre. We would set up remote access to the client’s infrastructure as all development work would be performed on their systems. Our team would consist of a delivery manager, senior manager, technical architect, senior business analyst, lead developer, quality assurance (QA) analyst, two developers and a technical writer.

We would build a stand-alone Java application to deliver the delta report. The application would pull the DPLs from the repository where the deliverers upload the content. The delta report would automatically run once a day and be stored and available for two weeks. The delta report would identify missing content in red so it could be easily located by an administrator. The report would be, in essence, a snapshot in time of the content inventory and the scheduled listings.

The report would be easily exportable to—and compatible with—Microsoft Excel, to enable users to further drill down into the data. Administrators would be able to filter based on a number of variables/factors: the deliverer; a single or multiple provider(s)/programmer(s); and demographics, such as national view, peer group view or zip code view of content. Administrators would have the ability to confirm content availability on local systems and identify geographically specific missing programs.

The TEKsystems team would use our proprietary Agile-based methodology TEKniqueTM for development, including processes such as holding daily stand-up meetings, writing unit tests, developing source code, integrating scripts into the build cycle and tagging the repository. User story points would be created and tracked through Agile sprints.

While the client’s IT team planned on conducting the QA and testing, we would also make our resources available in case any issues or questions arose. The project would not be considered complete until we received complete client satisfaction and sign-off.

Based on our long-standing staff augmentation relationship, plus the talent and capabilities at our MSC and the flexibility of being an off-site, near-shore solution within the same time zone, the client decided to partner with TEKsystems.

TEKsystems successfully created and delivered the new AS&V application on time, under budget and to the client’s satisfaction. The application is accessible to the client’s administrators through an online reporting portal and will be able to work with any evolution of that platform over time. The client’s enhanced reporting capabilities enable their administrators to validate available content by identifying the differences between what is supposed to be available on the VOD system according to the DPLs and what actually is on the system. The ability to have real-time reporting has improved operational efficiency by automating a formerly manual process and making it easier to reconcile billed vs. available content, as well as improved customer satisfaction through assurance of content availability and delivery.

The product successfully went through QA without any required fixes. The filters we added made it easy for the client’s team to cover a greater span of data (as opposed to standard manual queries) and find the information they need in a quick and efficient manner. The new insight increases the VOD team’s capabilities and insight into their business.

During the Inception phase, we helped the client’s technical team establish technical definitions for business terms, including a standard definition of what “available” meant for the organization. In large organizations, consistent definitions for key business terms are critical because when several employees define things differently it opens the doors for confusion and errors. The definition of “available” also drove decision making about what went into the report and how the client could filter that report—a significant business benefit for the client.

Additionally, prior to this engagement, the client’s VOD team was aware of Agile methodology but had not fully implemented the processes in their environment. We were able to introduce and mentor the client team on the Agile software development process, especially at the management level, where we were able to demonstrate the benefits of including business users in the development process to gain executive buy-in and ultimately develop a better product.

Following the success of this engagement, the client and TEKsystems have met to discuss further application development work, including building a rules-based engine to monitor contractual agreements with the deliverers.

  • Communication. The TEKsystems team communicated risks and delays quickly. Our delivery manager provided regular communication and consistently delivered contingency plans, making the client aware of where the project was behind and why, and where the team could make up time. The client felt assured that they understood the project status at any given time.
  • Preparation. The client greatly appreciated the preparedness of our team during meetings. Prior to meetings, information on what was hoped to be accomplished during the call was sent to ensure that the time on the call was maximized. Both teams were able to think about the meeting items in advance and make better use of time spent on the calls. This enabled decisions to move forward quickly, with everyone on board. Since the client had been somewhat skeptical of outsourcing the engagement to begin with, this effective and efficient communication had a significant impact on key client stakeholders’ view of the process and the desirability of working with a near-shore team at the MSC.
  • Focus on business use. Involving the client’s business owners throughout the process, and especially during the Inception phase, ensured we were creating a product that met their business objectives: a reconciliation report that users could access and manage.
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