IBM Does IT for Belo

Texas broadcaster “out-tasks” some system functions

In an unusual arrangement, Belo Corp., the big Texas-based media company, has hired IBM to manage key aspects of Belo's information-technology (IT) infrastructure.

What both companies are terming a six-month transition period began April 1. Formal takeover of Belo's technology-support services by IBM begins Oct. 1. Also, on that date, Belo will begin to consolidate its nine regional data centers into two IBM data centers. The process is expected to take 12 months.

Under the terms of the recently signed comprehensive, 5½-year “out-tasking” services contract, IBM will take over operation of IT functions that support Belo's 19 television stations, cable news operations, interactive media and newspapers.

Belo says it retains responsibility for technology strategy. IBM, on the other hand, will render day-to-day tech support for what the companies call four key functional areas: data-center and server management, voice- and data-network management, help desk, and desktop support.

It's not out-sourcing

Broadcast technology, data management, and data administration and applications will remain in house. In short, outside of the newsroom, many day-to-day data and backend service issues will be handled by IBM. If the idea works, Belo's task-shifting might be the next big thing for broadcast groups.

Belo Chief Information Officer Caren Shiozaki is quick to distinguish the relationship between Belo and IBM as one of “out-tasking,” not outsourcing. “We will maintain control over strategic direction and establish technical standards and policies,” she says.

“When we've looked at some of these [technology] functions,” she explains, “we realized that these aren't necessarily core competencies.” So, for Belo, letting go of some of the tasks was not threatening to the heart and soul of the company.

Belo's relationship with IBM goes back to early 2005, when Shiozaki initiated technology-optimization studies in collaboration with the computer giant. As she describes it, discussion of specific functionalities seemed to spawn the question, “'Is this a business we want to be in?' The more we studied this,” she says, “it began to be pretty obvious we would be sending some of this work out.”

“Discovery period”

Currently, Belo and IBM are in what Belo Technologies Executive Director Dan Doggendorf terms a “discovery period.” IBM consultants are on premises at the media company's Dallas headquarters, familiarizing themselves with their client's technical operations. Several have visited and will be visiting Belo affiliates as well.

“The first round of discovery involves IBM learning how we do things today. One of the benefits is, they are so well-versed in how to do these procedures, they are bringing best practices to us,” Doggendorf says. “We are tweaking them to 'Belo-ize' them.”

During the year-long migration of Belo's nine data centers into IBM data centers, he notes, some Belo IT staffers will be displaced, but an indeterminate number will be hired by IBM.

Once the migration is complete, Belo will retain the capacity to monitor IBM's activities. Every request submitted to the enterprise help desk will go into a ticketing system accessible by Belo executives, who will also get weekly network-monitoring reports.

An added benefit

Shiozaki maintains that moving technology functions over to IBM's data center has an additional benefit: freeing Belo computing power for future efforts. “Our ability to increase our network capacity,” she says, “will be very important as we pursue a lot of our new-media initiatives.”

Belo also expects this capacity to be important in enhancing customer service and systems reliability with a 24/7 help desk and desktop services coverage for all technology operations.

“From a true best-practices integration perspective,” Doggendorf adds, “IBM's expertise will [enable them] to constantly bring new ideas to us.”