No matter where in the world you live, RCS is legendary for its Field Technical Services (FTS) teams who perform our on-site support and training. While all of them deliver an outstanding level of service, the way they go about it often varies considerably.
In order to perform their jobs, the members of our field service teams have to be multi-talented. They need to have an extensive knowledge of the Windows platform and network topology. A thorough understanding of radio station operations, preferably gained through hands-on experience is also important. Many of our global field service team members have ‘paid their dues’ behind the microphone as program directors or production managers.
And it goes without saying that FTS team members also need a thorough understanding of both current and legacy RCS software, from installation/setup to usage scenarios.
Just as important to a successful field service engineer as an abundance of tech savvy, are ‘soft skills’. At the end of the day, the job is about making the customer happy and leaving a positive impression of RCS. That isn’t always easy. Customers may be stressed out and anxious about changing to new software.
The ideal stance is a friendly, patient approach. All field service engineers are willing to go that extra mile for customers, and often work out of hours to achieve this, whether on call or not.
Brian Willard, FTS Manager for North America notes, “The ability to manage your own time while working independently to complete a project is key. Also patience, patience and more patience.”
Spending too much time on the road, and living in hotels can be hazardous to one’s mental health. FTS managers try to strike a balance for their team between office time and on-site visits. FTS offices in China and Taiwan try to limit the duration of on-site visits to two weeks.
At RCS Australia, General Manager Mike Crothers says, “We’ve had a busy couple of years with some back-to-back installs, but ideally each install should be at least two weeks apart.”
The policy for North America, as explained by Brian Willard is, “Two to three weeks on the road, followed by one to two weeks at home, seems to keep everyone happy and sane.”
Technology never stands still, and continuing education is a part of the field service team’s job. Many members will do this on their own due to a personal interest in technology. Additionally, the Support Manager and Operations Manager may identify areas of training that are required due to changes in technology. Some offices set aside a weekly training hour. Each session covers a different topic, with the responsibility for presentation rotating between team members. Exchanging information with the client’s engineering/IT teams can also be informative.
Mike Crothers adds, “We keep up-to-date regularly with globally renowned press releases, read publications such as MIT Technology Review, TechCrunch, VentureBeat and Fast Company. For broadcast industry news, it’s essential to read RadioInfo and RadioToday. Listening to customers is vital. A lot of the time, clients will tell us about a new technology project or things they have seen, and it’s in our best interest to consider these moving forward, and ponder how they benefit our products. Finally, looking at demos of products that are readily available in the Radio/Software space, and thinking about any uses they may have in our applications.”
At the latest NAB Show, RCS formally introduced Zetta Cloud, a new product enabling customers to minimize the amount of software and equipment they need to have on-side, and also take a huge step forward with disaster recovery. How will the rollout of Zetta Cloud affect FTS operations?
Brian Willard comments, “Just as with any new RCS product/version or other new technology, the team will be ready to adapt to the changing landscape. It may mean less onsite visits and more teleconferences. It could be trips to data centers or more centralized operations to assist with non-traditional hardware installations. The knowledge and experience that this team has in every aspect of radio/audio delivery operation and the industry itself is what makes them unique. The way the job is done and the tools to do the job may change but the goal will remain the same and this team we always have an important role one way or another.”
Max Davies, Managing Director of RCS New Zealand adds, “Whilst the nature of work may change, I expect that volume of sales, training and specialist config/consultancy will remain as it is. Of course, the option for online training/videos etc. might reduce on-site visits, but that is already an option for us, regardless of the Cloud.”
“The main difference will be that support arising from hardware suitability and architecture should be reduced. Also, I assume that the mechanism for software updates will change fundamentally – and this should also reduce workload, so long as it is done properly – otherwise the reverse will be true as I think ALL cloud subscribers will be updated simultaneously.”
All RCS FTS engineers are road warriors. Most have developed their own strategies for making the best use of their time in the air and at hotels. Mike Crothers advises, “Prepare a balance of work and recreation during your travel time with Office 365. This makes the ability to store your offline work easy so that you can continue the second that seatbelt sign is off, but it’s also essential to constructively balance that with recreation. Setting aside some time for specific tasks and then use the rest to watch that documentary you have been itching to see is ultimately the best way.”
From Mag Hsieh, Manager of RCS Taiwan, the advice is, “Organize and discuss issues with clients ahead of time to make sure everyone and everything is ready when we arrive on site.”
Simon Tims, Support Manager for RCS New Zealand adds this checklist. “Work on your own installations of the products you’ll be installing or training, in case there are new nuances in later releases you haven’t had time to try yet.
“Continue to work on support issues as usual, if they can be tested or investigated online. Watch the latest RCS product videos. Take online courses. Get to know the local area, so you can better connect with clients in future conversations. Spend time with clients outside of their work environment if possible, to build relationships. Don’t forget to bring all necessary chargers, adaptors and cables – and make sure they’re in your carry-on luggage!”
No matter how much organization and advance preparation goes into a project, RCS FTS engineers must always expect the unexpected. Sometimes the surprises are humorous, sometimes frustrating and occasionally a bit of both.
From Australia, Mike Crothers shares his favorite story: “We were doing an install for NG Media, which is about 1,100 kilometres from the nearest computer store. The night before we were scheduled to go live, we discovered that there were no XLR cables to plug into the audio card. This had become necessary because the ‘Bush Bus’’ that we planned on using was stuck on a muddy Outback road due to the wet season. Finally, we resorted to cutting up XLR cables with scissors and soldering them ourselves.”
And this from RCS China Manager, Alex Meng: “Our strangest project was at Radio Lanzhou. We were a subcontractor of a large project, and did not know what had been promised by the company who signed the contract with radio station. After arriving on site to do the installation, we had to renegotiate what our responsibilities were, and what would be handled by the main contractor. We were very happy to put that one behind us.”
Simon Tims has a few more stories to share: “I once arrived on site for an all-day, five-person training session. Two people turned up, one of whom had left the station, but came back just to see the training. Another time, I discovered that a customer had more than 80 staff to train inside three days – all of them were volunteers with very little radio experience!”
Another problem he recalls involved hardware. “Once I replaced an A-serv, expecting to move a network card over, only to discover the outgoing machine had a server class motherboard with four onboard NICs. Then I noticed an NIC in a dead machine standing right next to it. More of a strange solution than a strange problem. I could have driven to the computer shop down the road, but this was far more interesting.”
Every onsite install is really a team effort between FTS engineers and the management and staff of the client’s station. Our field service teams from around the globe shared some ideas on the kinds of things that customers can do to make the project go smoothly.
Mike Crothers: “Our most successful client visits are driven by them. They entail regular client meetings leading up to the visits, so that all planning and structural issues can be informed, and time can be allocated to tasks ahead of schedule.”
Brian Willard adds: “It is essential that they are prepared and really invested in the project. We are only one small piece of the puzzle, it is the customer who ultimately determines if the installation is a success for them.”
Simon Tims shares this checklist from the New Zealand office: “Support from the client’s management team is essential. Customers need to provide timely and accurate responses to advance requests for workflow information and for data. They also should ensure that hardware is installed and checked out in advance of our arrival. All relevant third-party and the customer’s own engineers and technical staff should be available and/or contactable. Management needs to notify all staff of training sessions, and ensure that they attend. And finally, they need to come to the table with a willingness to learn and accept change.”