Integration of ex-Babcock Media Services into Encompass Digital Media

In January 2019, following the sale of Babcock Media Service to Encompass Digital Media, Angus Blackwood, Managing Director of The Hawk Media Partnership, was asked to lead the integration of the ex-Babcock Media Services business into Encompass’ European operations.

The main challenge was to relocate a large media services business from Wyvil Court, in Central London, out to Chiswick, in West London. Despite the relative proximity of the two sites, the complexities and challenges of relocating 233 customer services, 37 broadcast platforms and over 100 people between the two sites were immense. A secondary, but equally important challenge was to shut down and completely clear the Wyvil Court site, then hand the keys back to the landlord.

Wyvil Court had been owned by World Radio Network since the mid-1990s before its sale to Babcock PLC in 2015. As of 2019, the facility was running over 200 live broadcast services and had accumulated a considerable amount of broadcast equipment, fibre, satellite dishes and technical infrastructure. Most of these systems were ‘always on’ due to the 24×7 nature of broadcast services.

Migrating the business away from Wyvil Court presented three major problems. Firstly, the need to understand and unpick all the legacy systems, some of which were over 20 years old. Secondly, to design a new set of systems, compatible with Encompass’ technical infrastructure, that would be fit for purpose for many years to come. Thirdly, to migrate all services from legacy systems in Wyvil Court to a new set of systems in Chiswick, carry out system testing and seamlessly move 233 customer services whilst maintaining 24×7 service availability.

We started off by assembling a highly capable team, including principal engineers, operational support and programme management. We knew from experience that over-reliance on resourcing the team with ‘business as usual’ people, even with the best will in the world, we would not build a critical mass of engineers to successfully carry out such a complex programme. So we blended together a team who knew and understood both sets of infrastructure and additional experienced engineers from around the industry. We had limited time to mobilise the team, therefore hiring the right people was a critical aspect of this project. At its peak, the project employed over 30 engineers and the programme team was actively sustained over a 12 month period.

Dan Cherowbrier led the engineering integration team and Karen Chilton took on the programme management. Other Hawk Media Partnership support came from Mark Plowman, Hannah Chambers, Steve Palmer and Dave Hick.

After mobilising the team, we moved swiftly onto requirements gathering and system design. We structured the programme around infrastructure systems (e.g. control room infrastructure), Playout, TV platforms (e.g. Network, Direct to Home multiplex etc.), radio platforms (for multiple commercial and PSB organisations) and streaming systems (primarily used for live sport distribution). All of the 233 broadcast services required the infrastructure and platforms to be designed, built and tested in Chiswick before services could be migrated. This logical structure was used for all programme management including resourcing, financial tracking and reporting throughout the programme.

A key aspect of the infrastructure was rack space. To minimise the programme timescale and cost, it was essential to accommodate all equipment into the existing rack space in Chiswick. There were three rack rooms in Wyvil Court containing a total of 120 racks. By using virtualised environments and optimising system design we managed to shrink this to 15 racks, a massive eightfold decrease! Not only did this reduce the programme timescale, it also resulted in a much-improved rack layout and lower operating costs.

From the outset we wanted to create a state of the art Media Centre. Prior to integration, the two businesses each required 10+ operational workstations for 24×7 service management and engineering support. Combining the businesses therefore required a complete rethink of the operational area to create a new, impressive and purpose-built facility to accommodate existing services and future expansion. We engaged an experienced architect to help maximise the impact of this new space and make it fit for purpose for the operations and engineering teams. The significant investment in the London Media Centre was very worthwhile given the positive impact the facility has promoted.

To accommodate the 100 or so new staff joining from Wyvil Court, we carried out a complete refurbishment of the Chiswick first floor offices. This involved new office accommodation and meeting room facilities as well as a complete refresh of office furniture to welcome all newcomers and provide a comfortable and productive environment for everyone.

During implementation of the technical migration, the programme team placed particular emphasis on testing and operational handover so that all ‘front line’ staff had the documentation and training to manage the migrated systems and services. The operational transfer was not without its challenges, as would be expected with a programme of this size and complexity (affecting over 70 of Encompass’ customers). These challenges were overcome through high levels of engagement between the project team and the business teams. A notable key factor for success was the teamwork and collaboration of everyone involved. Programme activity peaked towards the end of 2019 as all services were transferred to Chiswick with a corresponding surge in planned works, which were managed with minimal impact on customers.

After 12 months of hard work and sustained effort by a focused, professional, high performing team, the integration was completed in January 2020. The programme was delivered within budget and timescale, all forecasted cost savings were achieved and customer services migrated with minimal disruption. Finally, after closing down and exiting Wyvil Court in January 2020, a new chapter could begin following the successful migration of systems and services to Chiswick.

Nick Thompson, Managing Director of Encompass Digital Media EMEA, said: “Working with The Hawk Media Partnership, and Angus in particular, was an easy decision. Our paths have crossed many times over the last 20 years and Angus has delivered numerous high-value projects faultlessly throughout that period. The team that Angus brought together proved to be exactly the right mix of technical and programme management skills, as well as a group of excellent communicators meaning the Encompass team were kept fully updated throughout the lengthy programme, and this team worked tirelessly to ensure they interfaced with the ‘home’ team throughout. Teamwork was perhaps one of the stand-out aspects of the entire programme, not to mention ‘on time and on budget! I have no hesitation recommending the services of The Hawk Media Partnership to anyone looking to embark on a large integration project. Great work everyone!”

Matt Lavelle, Group CFO of Encompass Digital Media, said: “The Hawk Media Partnership, and Angus in particular, was absolutely the right choice to handle such a critical infrastructure project of this size and complexity.  It required flawless execution every step of the way, under an extremely tight timeline with no margin for error.  Angus was relentless in his pursuit to deliver an end to end, state of the art media centre solution for Encompass Digital Media and he did just that – full stop.  In addition to the tight timeline, there was also considerable pressure to deliver on budget so that the business could realize significant synergies envisioned from the site consolidation.  Angus managed all of this with a level head and practical solutions for complex problems – an absolute pleasure to partner with him and The Hawk Media Partnership.  I strongly recommend them and would call upon them again as needed.”

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