SVG Sit-Down: NEP Integrated Solutions’ Scott Nardelli on Control Room Builds, Eventual Return to Live Sports
Systems integrators continue to develop safety procedures during the coronavirus pandemic
NEP Integrated Solutions is responsible for designing robust systems to meet the demanding requirements of broadcasters across the globe. For more than 35 years, the former Bexell ESS has offered experience and engineering expertise to solve the unique requirements of the broadcast, league, collegiate, corporate, esports, and entertainment markets.
To navigate the uncharted waters of the coronavirus pandemic, many in-venue teams are relying on at-home technologies to stay in tune with their facilities. While assisting with these virtualized and cloud workflows, many systems integrators are beginning to envision what production setups will look like when sports events return. SVG sat down with Scott Nardelli, SVP/GM, NEP Integrated Solutions, to discuss how external and internal communication is maintained, consider how safety is of the utmost priority, and predict what needs to be done to create the control rooms of the future.
How is the company continuing to communicate with clients? How is the team adopting new ways to attract new clients?
We have our traditional broadcast clients and league and Fortune 500 clients and have been using video conferencing with them prior to the pandemic. Whether it be [Cisco] WebEx or [Microsoft] Teams and now Zoom, they’ve all been using them. I’ve been using BlueJeans, which is a web-based conferencing program, to communicate with not only my team but my customers for years, so that part of it isn’t all that new.
The new part of it is the frequency of [these video calls], and I think that’s important because, even in our normal day-to-day business, it’s about being able to see somebody face to face. It’s good to actually be able to see how people respond sometimes to some of the things you say. The video aspect, which is more prevalent today than it has been in the past, keeps people engaged. To some extent, it makes you better prepared for work and helps set the stage when we are working from home and in a different environment.
How have travel and operations been affected since the lockdown? What guidelines are being put in place to ensure a safe working environment for all involved?
Every day is a new challenge since none of us have been here before. There’s no rulebook or guide, and there are no consultants to call up to tell you how to manage through coronavirus, but you have to have a plan. The plan we put together today may change tomorrow, but it’s better to plan out the work and modify that plan, instead of throwing your arms up in the air and say, “Well, we don’t know so we’ll wait until we know.” If you wait until you know, it’s too late. The sooner you embrace the situation that you’re in, make the hard decisions, and put it into action, the sooner you’re going to diagnose when you’re going to come out of this crisis. You’re going to have a baseline to look at. That’s the biggest issue for us.
We’ve been talking about our job-site protocol to protect our employees, so we’re all becoming health experts at the same time. I had a meeting with some members of my staff on the operational side. We’ve talked about surgical-level or some sort of protective masks and sanitization and how to clean tools. We’ve also talked about taking everybody’s temperature onsite, but what’s the threshold for where you re-check somebody? 98.6 is normal, but, if you show up with 99.2, do I reject you on that day and say, “Go home; don’t come to work.” There’s a lot of areas that are yet to be developed and to be finalized. Sometimes, those little details that get overlooked are the difficulty in the actual implementation of a good process.
Are your active projects continuing, or have they been put on hold?
Some [project timelines] have been delayed, but others have accelerated. From the design, build, engineering, and consultative part of the business, that’s still moving along relatively quickly at a decent pace. We’re in good shape there, and we have a fair amount of work. The integration side, which is the boots-on-the-ground installation, is fluid and very much day-to-day. With some of the cities and states starting to slowly open back up, we’re going to see some changes and be able to move [forward], but we have to remain agile. We’ve got to be able to pivot at any moment because the situation changes. For example, an installation team is going to go do a project in New York next week; then New York extends restrictions two more weeks, and we decide to go to Atlanta instead because Georgia is opening up.
Has the coronavirus forced the company to think differently about how control rooms are constructed? What new technologies can potentially aid remote workflows moving forward?
There has been a lot of discussions about it, and I don’t think anybody has the right answer yet. When you look at control rooms, there’s a lot of people in there. Is it possible to just put up plexiglass and separate everybody? Sure. There may be some temporary fixes, but there are a lot of deeper issues that underlie the positioning of people. It’s not just sitting within 6 ft. of each other and there being a sneeze guard in between. What impact does the ventilation system have? How does that air transport from one part of the room to another? How is and when is [the air] filtered? There has to be some serious discussions not only on immediate methods but on the long-term prevention of spreading communicable diseases in tight spaces. I would suspect [that], if you don’t need to be in the control room, you’re not going to be [allowed] in there. I would [also] expect that [mobile] units and edit trucks, which have a lot of suites in them, might become more prevalent to help alleviate certain aspects of the social-distancing requirements.
From a technology standpoint, we can do what we need to do since it’s readily available. Everybody’s migrating to IP, and coronavirus [pushing remote production] to the forefront is certainly possible; I think it will because [it requires] less travel and lowers the overall risk. This might be a tipping point where people start to look at remote production a lot more seriously — not because of the pure efficiency mode but for the health and safety model and other benefits that it brings as well.
How will the sports-video–production community adapt its strategies in the next 12-24 months?
Without the advent or presentation of a treatment and a vaccine, most of what we’re going to do in the next 12-18 months is provide more-reactive solutions with an eye to the future and developing long-term creative solutions. It’s difficult to know what changes will be mandated and what will become best practices. Some may be temporary, and some may in fact be permanent. Ultimately, our strategy will be to work closely with our clients to help them navigate the challenges we are all facing due to the pandemic. Creative ideas and new approaches are going to be in high demand.
We’re all focused on the near term, but I would say most people in the industry are also focused on rallying their troops, keeping people positive, and keeping their attitudes up. As an industry, when challenged [In the past], we would share insights and information, and then everyone would develop solutions to overcome [an obstacle]. I think that will be the same [case] here. Similar to the science that is [seeking] a cure, we’re going to have the experts on our side of the business bring solutions to the problems that we have identified. We’re a resilient industry with a lot of smart individuals.