The Sadness of Post House Business Failures

Life running a post house hasn’t been a bowl of cherries for several years, but the news this week has been dreadful.

Two post houses, one in London, the other with branches across the Uk, I read have called in the recievers or are up for sale. The livelihood of at least 40 people are affected.

I know, and have had great help from, the leaders of the two businesses who are facing the abyss, and my heart goes out to them.

Staring a payroll in the face with no cash coming in is a desperate place to be. And when one or two big clients stop paying on time, or at all, the cash flow dries up; the game is over, if emergency cash cannot be found. Sometimes finance can be raised against assets or some other short term loan arranged, but money is hard to come by and the emergency proceedures can only be used so often.

Right now there is little cheer for many established post businesses. They are victims, to some extent, of the relentless march of technology. Often the resale value of the equipment purchased over the last few years may be below the value of the loans still being repaid that purchased it, meaning finance cannot be raised in this bleak financial climate. And with workflows changing, making some expensive infrastructure redundant or demanding the purchase of new, expensive, infrastructure, the pain just multiplies.

The majority of the skilled people who work in these companies will, I expect, find work elsewhere, probably as freelancers until some prosperity returns, but little thought is given to the people with whom the buck stops.

For the owners and business leaders the nightmare is devastating. It is horrible having to dismantle your business, to have to let people go; people who have worked so hard for the company and have put so much trust in your management.

It is wearying and mind-numbing in the run up to the crisis, your ability to think almost paralysed with fear of the consequences.

Over the years I have met many people whose business have closed their doors. They feel huge relief when the fear is finally met, when the uncertainty is over. Waves of sadness and disappointment and what-ifs queue for attention in the months that follow, but once the weight of the final decision has been lifted, some the mourning process can begin, for it is a process and it is grieving.

Can business failures in the post industry be prevented? No, not every one of them of course. But my feeling is that across the UK facilities industry we have failed to educate ourselves in business and strategic thinking skills, so that in many cases failure is inevitable.

So often have we seen that once a good idea has been had, a business gets established and the idea is pursued blindly until its natural demise, all then is lost until the next good idea rises from the ashes.

It doesn’t have to be like that. We are the masters of change if we so choose, rather than slaves to the status-quo.

I would love to see the new generation of business owners and industry leaders embracing learning. I would like to see our industry cast aside the view that training is something you grudgingly arrange for junior staff, that taking a course in something means you aren’t up to the job in the first place.

Unless our businesses’ leaders take pride in knowing the latest strategic thinking, in developing and sharpening their strategic business skills, then the sadness of business failure will continue. And that is a tragedy for everyone who works in or builds a business.

John Graves Antique Restorer

John Graves, my first employer, left the world of TV a while ago and trained as an antique restorer.

He now has a website at www.surreyantiquerestorer.co.uk that gives his contact details. I have seen the photos of his work and it  is superb. There will be a gallery of before & after pictures coming soon.

Search for Android PDF Readers

I have just downloaded the new Adobe reader for Android and I have to say I’m rather disappointed.

I now have 3 pdf readers on my Nexus One smart phone: QuickOffice, PDF To Go and now Adobe Reader. I had expected the Adobe offering to be the definitive app for the job but I was wrong.

I’m a broadcast technology consultant, which means reading a lot of PDFs during the course of my work. Whilst a many are just one or two pages long, most are considerably longer, typically running into hundreds of pages. Easy navigation is therefore essential.

Curiously, and most frustratingly, none of these readers allows one to jump to a specific page, which makes navigating through a 200 page document all but impossible. While 10 flicks is sort of OK to nip through the early chapters of a document, checking an appendix some 190 flicks away is frustrating and boring. Is page navigation really such a problem for the designers?

One tool that makes PDFs useable on tiddly screens is text reflow. I depend on text reflow to read documents when I’m away from the glorious big screen in my office.

Quickoffice is just useless; it has no text reflow at all, offering only fit to screen or fit to width options but nothing more useful.

PDF TO GO’s text reflow works pretty well. It allows me to flick through the document as I read providing a nice smooth scroll of the text.

The Adobe reader’s reflow is pretty dreadful by comparison. Yes, you can resize the text whilst in reflow mode (by annoying big onscreen buttons, not by pinch/stretch), but the reflow then does not scroll smoothly when you are paging, instead it snaps to the next chunk of text in a grudging sort of way.

Selecting bits of text to cut and paste elsewhere is something I’d expected to see as a basic. But as I have realised,such core cut & paste activity is a wierly futuristic idea for designers of modern day mobile computers. Only PDF To Go has the feature, Quickoffice and Adobe Reader adhere to the ‘…bit of an old fashioned feature; we’ll leave it out.’ philosophy.

Anyway, the search for a good pdf reader continues.

Skillset Post Production Standards Review

If you work in Post Production you might be concerned about the standard and relevance of new entrants coming into the industry. Sometimes it seems that the right skills aren’t being taught, and the right training isn’t available.

Skillset wants to change that, but they need our assistance.

They want to create new Occupational Standards in Post Production that can be used to create new qualifications.

This is a big challenge for our industry, because these standards will be recognized by Government and the ensuing qualifications can be embedded in education, enabling universities and colleges to produce industry-savvy practitioners who have the right mix of skills to feed our industry.

It’s not going to happen overnight, but the best chance of it happening at all is with the industry’s input.

If you consider yourself to work in any section of the Post Production industry, Skillset are inviting you to look at the DRAFT work they’ve done already to help them make it better.

Please go to http://skillsetnews.org/2KF-2YD/s2.aspx , download any docs that relate to your expertise and comment on what you think by filling in the online questionnaire. Give as much time to this as you want, even a little helps.

This is not a bureaucratic or academic exercise: real change in education and training will come from this, but only with your assistance.

Real Talent Exposed at AMI Awards

Yesterday I was fortunate enough to have been invited to the first ever Ability Media International (AMI) awards held at the impressive Kings Place in Yourk Road London.

The awards celebrated the achievement of highly talented individuals across all forms of media: dance, opera, theatre, film, television, interactive, online, community etc.

The recipients were all at the top of the league and all have a disability or have enabled disabled people to realise their talent.

The point of the day was to emphasise not that each of these people were in some way exceptional (though they all were) but that each of these people is mostly normal, mostly just another soul trying to live a fruitful life, trying to achieve some goal.

Like other people a few have big dreams that they have managed to turn into reality.

I was truly excited by the awards. I felt the breadth of achievement, judged purely on the merit of the talent under scrutiny, not weighted with sympathy or well meaning, was a clear signal that this country’s talent pool comes in every shape, size and shade.

We are incredibly fortunate to live in the UK; it enjoys an enviable global respect for its arts and media output. We could lose that respect if we don’t nurture it.

The industry brings valuable money into our economy and employs around half a million people. But what drives the creativity? What forges the talent? Where do these extraordinary people come from?

We used to believe they came, pretty much exclusively, from white men, aged around 20 to 40. Well educated, fit. Able bodied.

We don’t think that is true any longer of course but we are still missing rich seams of valuable potential talent by assuming disability negates creativity or ability.

I believe our country should have the best, the very best, people with the most creative ideas, the most honed talents, leading the way. In my view that means seeking out those special people across the entire population, no matter what state they are in physically, mentally or socialogically. White, twentysomething, fit, able bodied men are just as valuable as anyone else but they are not the only source of our nation’s creative fuel.

Our society, in common with many others, has assumed people with disabilities are not as creative as an able bodied person, but that simply isn’t true. The AMI awards showed that to be the case incredibly clearly.

The AMI Awards is an initiative by Leonard Cheshire Disability, itself an astounding organisation.

Hope I get invited again next year!

Of screens and computers

This post is something of a wish / to do list really.

I already use a couple of screens when I’m working but really would like to have a couple more.

The trouble is I don’t really want one poor struggling PC providing the grunt for all the screens.

Actually I would prefer at least a couple of independent machines running the screens, so I can happily shut one machine down without having to rebuild the entire desktop at start up.
However I’d also like to be able to drag and drop documents between all the screens. Can it be done? I think it might be possible but don’t yet know how.

That DAM Show

I have just been listening to the first episode of my good friend Colin Birch’s latest online magazine That DAM Show.

The programme is a much needed overview of what’s happening in the world of Digital Asset Management and looks at issues here and in the USA concerned with storing and, perhaps more importantly, finding material.

The numbers are huge: the amount of material being generated by us all (text, audio, video etc) is incredible and growing. Not all of it worthy of archiving perhaps, but archiving is only a part of the issue.

I was heavily involved with researching DAM technologies and issues for a business we were looking to develop while I was running Molinare, which would have required a lot of capture, meta tagging, storage & retrieval. All fascinating stuff to me.

Sadly, back then in 1999 – 2002, the technology was still too expensive for us to make the numbers work commercially and we eventually had to put the project to one side.

Today of course DAM is absolutely central to a successful creative industry and, dull though it may appear be to some creatives, being able to put your hand on something you need quickly and accurately surely comes high on a list of requirements, even in small organisations.

That DAM Show is well worth a listen to and I wish Colin and his co-hosts success with it. I’ll be tuning in for more!

You can find it here: http://www.thatdamshow.com