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On Air, in the cloud: Australian Radio Network's tech transformation and data-driven future

On Air, in the cloud: Australian Radio Network's tech transformation and data-driven future

The acquisition of Perth 96FM was the catalyst for company-wide change that has also transformed its technology team.

In early 2015, APN bought Perth’s radio station 96FM from Fairfax Media for $78 million giving the company’s Australian Radio Network (ARN) empire a presence across five state capitals.

The new team needed to be connected to the wider organisation, and fast. With limited time and resources, ARN’s head of technology Bill Cacalis turned to cloud providers for a quick fix that would eventually turn into an all-encompassing company-wide cloud strategy.

The approach would also transform the IT team.

“We’ve had to throw out the traditional rule book on compute,” Cacalis explained. “We’ve made this big shift from twisting wires to become an applications and data business.”

Perth calling

“Really quickly we had to take full operational control of that business. We didn’t have the luxury of time,” Cacalis remembers of the acquisition.

Over the course of a weekend the 60 strong Perth team were put onto Outlook (over from Google Mail), but email wasn’t the best platform to collaborate on the huge number of large files that needed to be sent between the various departments as they began to size each other up.

“Overnight we had to get sales reps to feed their forecasting back to head office, proposals to go the other way. We’re talking a large volume of files going back and forth,” says Cacalis.

The chosen solution – and “the only solution everyone could agree on” Cacalis jokes – was Dropbox. More than half of staff at ARN were already using Dropbox and the choice also solved issues around VPN access.

“It gave us instantaneous access to files back and forth, without the burden of IT getting involved every step of the way,” Cacalis says.

The partnership has since developed, and Dropbox is used for back-up and data recovery, which was again “rolled out pretty quickly”.

ARN were early local adopters of new Dropbox features – which have been frequently added as the company attempts to capture the enterprise market after building its own cloud (“the largest ever migration of a company from cloud services into managed infrastructure” claimed Dropbox’s principal engineer, Australian James Cowling last year).

Dropbox’s Office 365 integration and LAN sync (“we jumped on that as quickly as humanly possible” Cacalis says) have proven a hit with staff.

Adjusting the dial

With the Perth team able to collaborate and share files with the rest of the ARN group, they also had to be connected to company applications such as schedule, sales and billing tools and CRM systems.

“We had to take what we were given as far as the IT infrastructure and existing networks were concerned and quickly move them into ARN type process and procedures,” says Cacalis.

Installing on-premise servers and infrastructure was not a viable option.

“We didn’t have the people on site or the infrastructure, so all that reinvestment didn’t make sense for us, and with the speed we needed it in,” he says.

The team adopted Microsoft’s Azure to host its applications, as well as Active Directory and CRM.

Although some software needs to be local – like the studio playout systems – the cloud now holds all ARN’s business applications, the last of which was moved in August.

All we hear is, Radio Da Ta

ARN’s cloud strategy has given Cacalis’ 23 person technology team the chance to focus on the increasing amounts of data generated by the company and its parent group. In October, APN acquired the remaining 50 per cent of Adshel and at the same time completed the acquisition of Conversant Media, a digital media company.

Together, said APN chairman Peter Cosgrove in a shareholder review this week, the companies “offer a greater platform for growth operating in a more unified way”.

Key to that growth will be in a better understanding and integration of the data they generate, Cacalis adds.

"The data we analyse is allowing us to recreate a true customer journey from calling the KIIS 1065’s studio lines, listening to a live or an artist based station on iHeartRadio, or walking past an AdShel beacon," Cacalis says.

The company is even collecting real time data, age, sex, and mood at live listener events.

“They’ll be more collaboration between the acquired businesses," Cacalis says, "it’s all about improving our customers ROI and finding efficiencies between organisations. Predicting and forecasting, using machine learning, based on data we’ve already got. That’s a big thing for us next.”

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Tags dataapplicationsserversdropboxMicrosoftClouddigital transformationAustralian Radio Networkradiomachine learninganalytics

More about APNARNAustralian Radio NetworkBillConversantDropboxFairfax MediaGoogleLANMicrosoft

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