A collaborative effort between two clashing cultures – software and hardware – is becoming a top priority for the cable industry as IT and engineering disciplines merge.

Consequently, the deep impact of software on the cable industry is prompting a fundamental shift in how an operation runs, from billing and customer care to plant design and engineering, according to panelists during a session at last week’s Cable Show, "Crafting the Code: Software’s Rising Profile in Cable Operations."

"There are lessons and skills IT can bring," said Scott Hatfield, CTO for Cox Communications. "And the reality of the future is technology management. First is with architecture. The idea to passively take components and not think through the complexities is a mistake. Second is by truly achieving layer independence."

Hatfield also indicated that operations could benefit from greater use of both single-source software and standards, but underlined the importance of thinking clearly up front. "In the software world, you have to get the architecture right," he said.

Doing so calls for working across traditional disciplines, said Jenifer Cistola, vice president of cable information services at CableLabs.

"In some ways, cable is turning into software companies, like back office billing," she said. "And speed is almost everything, so there’s lots of collaboration needed. We now have CIOs who are actually directing our projects, and that’s important." (For more on the expanding role of CIOs in cable, click here.)

Effective cross-team collaboration sometimes requires an umpire. "We work with several disciplines at Cablevision regarding standards and help enforce those standards," said Chris Dressler, vice president of technology architecture for Cablevision Systems. "We act as a third party to help come up with agreements on standards between IT and engineering."

Yet strategic thinking remains a crucial part of the hardware-software equation. "We look at the technology strategy and incorporate it into our business," said Kashif Haq, strategic execution officer for Bright House Networks. "The challenge is trying to establish a culture where innovation isn’t coming from just one group and putting together an eco-system to meet business objectives."

And it’s a work in progress that is showing signs of improvement, said Yvette Kanouff, chief strategy officer for SeaChange. "Ninety percent of what we used to do was software, but it was all hardware-looking, and the industry was slowly making software irrelevant," she said.

Changing that perception, from Kanouff’s experience, required recalibrating software’s significant contribution to technical operations. "Now, we all see the value," Kanouff said.

Haq concurred. "We’ve always had software," he said. "Now we have a better understanding how applications work together."

– Craig Kuhl, contributing editor

Read more news and analysis on Communications Technology‘s Web site at www.cable360.net/ct/news/.

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