How Southpaw’s open source production asset management system moved 2G Digital from a fast to a real-time workflow
The Need for Speed
In the world of digital mastering, the work is fast and competition is fierce. No company understands that better than 2G Digital Post (2G), the mid-sized post production facility competing in the exclusive world of studio/network mastering.
On any given day, 2G might be encoding and re-mastering multiple seasons of episodic television for delivery to various digital platforms, editing theatrical features for network broadcast, creating versions for airline audiences, and much more.
2G’s goal is not to be the biggest post-production facility in the world – it is to be the best.
Achieving that goal takes speed and quality. Unlike feature films or visual effects, mastering projects takes days, not weeks. In this environment, companies who lack the talent, the technologies and the workflow to consistently deliver high-quality content on time to their clients will ultimately fail.
Post Production Roadblocks
With the industry’s rapid move away from physical media and into digital media, 2G found themselves with a number of growing challenges that were jeopardizing the speed at which they could deliver their projects:
- Storage systems were rapidly filling with an unorganized mass of digital files and data, making it harder for staff to find what they needed at a moment’s notice.
- The internal job entry and workflow system – a combination of a homegrown system called Strat2G – was unable to keep pace with the rate of jobs coming in. The process of entering jobs and connecting them to tasks, people and files was arduous, and the order system could only handle up to 60 titles at a time. 2G was getting orders for episodic work that included 120 titles and more at one time!
- There was no way to determine what was happening with any given job or title in real time. Determining a job’s status required information to be exported to Excel, and then sifted through to find the information needed.
In early 2012, 2G made the decision to look for a technical solution that could simplify and therefore speed up their workflow. They wanted a system that was easy for their employees to use and could be adopted by the entire studio.
After looking at a number of solutions, they quickly realized that commercial solutions weren’t an option. Many had nice interfaces, but in all cases, they were too closed as systems to modify in ways that would make adoption easier. Of the DAM commercial systems, most had little workflow functionality included, if any at all, and adding those features would take significant work. They also considered building their own, but they knew that would take a significant amount of work and money to start from scratch.
These realizations lead them to one solution: TACTIC ENTERPRISE from Southpaw Technology.
The Open Source Revelation
After selling commercial licenses for its software for a number of years, Southpaw Technology open sourced its production asset management system, TACTIC, in 2012. The move was done for a number of reasons. Chief among them was the fact that Southpaw’s TACTIC came out of the film, VFX and post production world, and the founders quickly learned that every studio’s workflow is different. Trying to support those varying workflows with a set of features did not work. The system needed to be more flexible than that.
So Southpaw spent its time creating the flexible building blocks – the underlying infrastructure – that would allow studios like 2G to dig into the code and start building their own workflow solutions. They reinforced their open source product with a Southpaw Solutions team, an experienced set of “Tacticians” that could help 2G (and other content creators like them) solve its core workflow problems.
“TACTIC was perfect,” said Chris Thompson, president and COO of 2G. “It came from the CG production world; so it had all of the production elements in it that we needed, such as asset management, project management, workflow features, customizable templates, and more. It was open source, so we could really get into the software and tweak it to our heart’s content. And without the upfront fees, we could invest in support from Southpaw’s experienced Solutions team, which helped us get up and running quickly in the development of our own solutions.”
After deciding to use TACTIC, 2G hired only one programmer for in-house system design and development, Matt Misenhimer, an experienced TACTIC programmer and business efficiency consultant, to mold TACTIC into the form most suitable for 2G’s business needs.
“Using the open source code of TACTIC ENTERPRISE, we quickly began developing an order entry system that tied to a new task manager,” said Thompson. “The order entry system allows us to enter orders far faster than what we had before. For example, we can now enter multiple orders at once, which is a huge time savings, especially when we’re doing episodic work. The system auto-populates tasks, and assigns individuals to the tasks. So in one system, we’re able to connect orders to tasks and resources, which is something we never had before.”
As people work on the tasks throughout the day, they enter what they’re working on into the TACTIC-powered system as well as how much time they’ve spent on each task.
“The whole system has really changed our thinking. It’s gone from ‘Oh, we can’t do that with our internal technology’ to ‘What workflow challenge should we solve next.’ That's a far better challenge to have, and open source TACTIC is the reason for that.”
Business in Real Time
With the solutions 2G has already built using TACTIC, 2G has turned what once was a fast-paced work environment into a real-time work environment.
“Because everyone is working in TACTIC, we can instantly see the status on every project,” said Thompson. “That enables us to identify potential bottlenecks before they become hurdles, and to shift resources to take care of any potential risks to schedules.”
As 2G moves farther down the path of creating a real-time workflow, they continue to see other opportunities for TACTIC.
“With TACTIC, we created a way to more accurately collect business intelligence about who’s working on what, and how long things are taking to complete. Using this information, we customized TACTIC to also provide a cost analysis and forecasting system for client work,” said Thompson. “We now have a clearer picture of how much jobs will cost, and whether we can pass any savings on to customers. With other commercial project management, shot tracking or digital asset management solutions on the market, building something like this never would have been possible. We simply couldn’t customize those systems enough to meet our needs.”
2G has also created an interface for clients. “Ultimately, our customers can use it to upload their work and send it off to us. Once we get it into our order system, our clients can see the status of their projects in real time. In fact, they’re able to see the actual file on the server and the status of the work on that file, as well as receive automated emails regarding important updates to their projects. That is a huge benefit for them.”
“At that end of the day, open source TACTIC has not only made us more efficient – it’s helped us stay ahead of the competition. With a faster workflow built on TACTIC technology, we can get more high-quality work done in a shorter amount of time. And in this business, that’s critical to our long-term success.”