by Lisa Banks

ABC chief information officer talks multimedia

Apr 12, 2011
CareersGovernmentGovernment IT

Ken Gallacher may be the CIO for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), but that doesn’t mean he is the sole provider of technology to the broadcasting giant.

“The common theme has been about getting out there with the team and the business, especially with the business and directors that are driving and shaping our technology,” he said.

Stepping into the role of CIO at the ABC about 10 months ago after a stint as a partner at accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, Gallacher has held CIO roles at AMP and Westfield, but he said there has been no such thing as an average day since starting work at the iconic broadcaster. “We’ve been working on a couple of major projects around strategy, so often the mornings are a bit of a sit down and a briefing on where each of those is heading,” he said.

“Another ‘typical’ day would be when we’re in the throes of going live with some of our new technologies — there is a whole transition happening there.”

From a people point of view, the passion in this place is amazing

As well as using new technologies across the business, Gallacher said collaboration and technology are intrinsically linked at the ABC.

“A big part is recognising that our people understand our audiences,” he said. “Technology is such that some things must evolve more quickly, and an example of this is the use of Twitter on our show QA.”

Gallacher said the passionate drive of the ABC’s workforce has made it both a joy and a challenge to join the organisation as CIO.

“At first, it was like drinking from a fire hose — there was so much to take on. I started early on saying that I was going to focus on strategy, major projects, some of our key operational challenges, and on people [who are] absolutely number one,” he said.

“From a people point of view, the passion in this place is amazing. One of my challenges as the new kid on the block was coming up to speed and learning how to support that so the passion across the organisation carries on.”

Being in charge of technology projects across the areas of TV, radio and online has been a constant juggling act for Gallacher, who said projects must be driven by the needs of the business if they are to be successful.

“We have to ensure that when we transition in these projects, we do it in a way that is sustainable; that it is not only driven by what the business needs and wants but that we can sustain and support the business,” he said.

One such project is the much-discussed MediaHub content broadcast system, a joint venture between the ABC and regional network, WIN Television. Development began in 2010. The project drew criticism when an IT core switching fault disrupted broadcasting services, but the system has allowed the ABC to effectively double content delivery in the last 12 months and service two new TV channels.

“The MediaHub is a joint venture and we’re in the process of providing the technology to that,” Gallacher said. “It’s a huge and amazing step towards broadcasting on a national basis.” A refresh of the ABC’s internal technology is also on the agenda, including the recent launch of the organisation’s intranet and an overhaul of the content management system. “These [projects] are very much owned by the divisions and we’re working with them,” Gallacher said.

Gallagher and his team have also developed the IT behind ABC News 24, although the CIO said he took a hands-off approach towards creating the infrastructure for the project, as the individual departments own and shape the technology.

Next: Distributed structure — multiple IT paths meet the ABC’s needs.

Page Break

Distributed structure

With so many different elements to the business, Gallacher said there are multiple paths IT must take in order to meet the needs of several different areas.

“There is no single path that we’re taking. A person may be listening to our digital radio, but those who are listening to jazz would be different to those listening to Triple J,” he said. “Similarly, we have four TV channels out there which are all tuned to a different audience… but then there’s all of the online stuff and our iView Catch Up is a good link to traditional [broadcasting] but it’s bringing it to where people want to watch content.” To keep up with delivering content, Gallagher said he has a close working relationship with content division managers.

“My focus is on delivering technology to the divisions — TV, radio, news and innovation, plus a variety of others,” he said. “The focus of the innovation [team] is online and my focus is working with them on some of the applications and the technology but not the content.

“Similarly, our SAP system is outsourced and very much owned by the business services group. I work with them around the infrastructure and the like.”

“As well as having a variety of divisions, the ABC is based on a distributed model. Certain activities of technology that are driven and led by people in the business.

“We have to make that model work because the medium is the technology.”

On the horizon

With so much change, Gallacher said 2011 will be a year for delivering on promises made during strategic plans of 2010.

“We’ve established finalising the ICT strategy across the ABC,” Gallacher said. “Part of my challenge is to keep that alive and deliver and work with the business to drive value out of that process.”