Scaling to Meet Rapid Growth

Even glamorous businesses need gritty IT.

There is plenty of glamor around MobiTV Inc. The Emeryville, Calif.-based company runs a managed-service platform that delivers live and on-demand media to hundreds of mobile devices from content providers such as NBC, ABC, ESPN, Disney, Fox News, and Comedy Central. During the 2010 FIFA World Cup, the more than 100 million minutes of coverage streamed across nearly every major mobile operating system.

MobiTV technology platform powers the NFL Mobile application on Verizon, and Notre Dame Central apps for iPhone and iPad. Agreements with music labels made it possible for hiphop star Soulja Boy to perform at the company’s winter holiday party two years ago. In 2005, MobiTV won an Emmy award for "Outstanding Achievement in Engineering Development."

Headquartered along San Francisco Bay, MobiTV  has come a long way since it started in 1999, when it had trouble convincing potential partners that consumers would actually watch TV on their mobile phone. Today, the company has a managed subscriber base of more than 12 million and counting. But such success can create growth issues that aren’t glamorous at all – issues that enterprises confront when they quickly transform from a start-up to a "real" business.

"We were experiencing strains on our internal IT functions," says Chad Kalmes, director of IT for MobiTV. "These functions scaled as our subscriber base scaled. Not one-to-one necessarily. But, obviously, as the customer base grows, the employee base and associated internal functions grow with it. You need to acquire more sophisticated infrastructure for finance, for example, and ERP and customer-relationship management software tools. That’s when you realize that you’re not just 10 guys in a start-up somewhere anymore, working out of a basement. You’re not even 30 people sharing office space either. You have more than 200 people in a corporate complex now, and you need to act like a mature company."

For years, this meant matching the increase in IT demand with a "head count" approach, or, hiring more staff. The company knew it needed to invest instead in automated solutions when it came to the user-provisioning of hardware, setting up e-mail accounts, deploying software and performing other basic day-to-day needs. "When companies are in a certain growth phase, the first instinct is to just bubble up the head count," Kalmes says. "If you need more laptops configured, just bring in more people. But after a while, you reach a point where that’s no longer the most cost-effective way to do things."

MobiTV turned to Symantec and its integration partner, Blue Chip Tek Inc., to launch a package of Altiris solutions to better deal with incident, asset and inventory management, as well as system provisioning and patch management.

Previously, if an employee was having a problem with a laptop, the employee would have to call or walk up to the help desk, and whoever was available would try to assist. Symantec’s automated help-desk process routes an e-ticket about the problem to the right IT employee for more focused response and better SLAs/metrics on IT performance. IT management frameworks like COBIT and ITIL have been used as a baseline to help define best practices for the more mature IT processes MobiTV implemented.

Standard routines like user creation, security management, and systems provisioning/asset management have also made the transition from a manual process to a more software-enabled and supported mechanism, and the solution allows for better oversight of the IT, via an automated monitoring/maintenance process. "In the past, our employees just used equipment until it died, and then we bought them a new computer," Kalmes says. "With this new solution package, we have a greater visibility into whether there are issues involving a hard drive failing, or a computer overheating, or software containing defects. We get a read on everything that’s going on with our computers now."

MobiTV also implemented Symantec’s Enterprise Vault e-mail and content-archiving tool, which has helped reduce the drain that daily e-communications was having on infrastructure. "When you go from a handful of company e-mail accounts to 200 or more, you take up more and more storage," Kalmes says. "Keeping all of this directly on the mail-server disk can get expensive. This system allows for you to move the older information from the more expensive server disk to more cost-effective storage arrays. The data is still connected to the e-mail system. You can still call up all of your queries and information. But it’s not physically residing on the same expensive server disk."

The investment has produced results: The amount of time spent on service desks requests has been reduced by about 40 percent. The migration from the tier-one storage disk has reduced e-mail storage by 50 percent. And MobiTV’s "headcount bubble" has definitely leveled off, keeping staffing costs in check and even decreasing them, all while fueling continued growth and complexity in the organization.

"For a company that’s adding as many subscribers as we are all the time, it’s critical to find ways to run day-to-day tech needs without continuing to simply add more staffing to the IT department," Kalmes says. "That’s what this is allowing us to do."