On the second floor of Television House there is a door marked ‘Computer suite – no admittance’. Behind it lies a mighty intricate mass of equipment. In this article general sales manager peter golsworthy explains one of its functions and how in the new year it will give Rediffusion Television one of the most efficient systems of time booking for advertisers in the world – among other things.
There’s been a lot of talk about computers over the past year. And now the monster’s actually crept in. Been here some months in fact, purring quietly to itself in a remote corner of the second floor. It’s contained in a clinical and rather colourless cage: all impressively sinister and workmanlike. Students may observe the operation behind a glass-walled recess in the entrance corridor. In their air-conditioned, de-humidified atmosphere, the chaps on the other side look very much like us. In fact, some of them were ‘us’ but a short time ago.
So far there is nothing much different about this, nothing startlingly new, compared with the small to medium units (‘configurations’ as the boys call them) in a hundred and one other companies.
Having got your computer, the secret lies in what you want to tell it to do and the sorts of ‘reflexes’ you give it to do the work. Here, we are unique. Some of the reflexes – in the form of ‘programs’ – have now been installed and a mass of nerves tremble up to the third floor back, their ends waiting to be excited by the sensitive fingers of the teleprinter operators in the sales department. Then the system leaps into action, and we have the first ‘real time’ television time-booking facility in the U.K.
That is to say, we have a system which can give an immediate answer to inquiries for booking commercials into our broadcast programmes (note the subtlety of the spelling here – the computer ‘program’ is Americanised and shorn of ‘me’).
Why this should be an asset is something that our management debated at great length when the whole concept was investigated a year or more ago. Unless one has had experience of a complex booking system, it is difficult to appreciate why an expensive piece of electronic equipment is required to do the sort of job we are all used to seeing done fairly efficiently by a number of people.
Our booking system has to cope with up to 60,000-odd different items at any one time. These would cover two years’ worth of bookings. Most often we are concerned with ‘the next three months’ involving around 8,000 items. Each of these items may itself involve a great deal of attention, perhaps amounting to five or six booking amendments before it settles in one place for actual transmission. On average each booking involves five changes or ‘transactions’ – in computer terms. This means that our 8,000 items involve 40,000 transactions before each booking is comfortably settled for transmission.
The clerical effort involved in this is tremendous and, frequently, time consuming. Since the work has to be done by staff with a considerable understanding of advertising, with imagination and initiative, it can cause frustration and fatigue and, possibly, errors. Delays and mistakes, are not a good foundation for successful selling.
This is where the computer is helping initially. All the difficulties in making a booking and all the reasons for moving a booking around are built into the computer through programs. When one of these programs is activated by working a teleprinter then the computer does all the hard work and, on demand, prints back the result through the medium of the same teleprinter.
There are a prodigious number of reasons for making a change in a booking and not all these can immediately be written up in computer program terms. Initially, we worked the computer system alongside the more laborious old method, in parallel running. This is what we are doing now and in this period we expect to find certain refinements lacking in the computer system. Some of these shortcomings can be dealt with immediately, others may take a week or several weeks while another ‘program’ is written.
We (the computer section, as well as the sales department) have discovered plenty of snags. Wits have been strained and imaginations stretched to overcome the problems. Right now we are all doing rather well.
By the new year, we hope to have dropped our arduous ways and be operating wholly through the computer. The immediacy of the computer system will enable complicated bookings to be quickly resolved and, most importantly, a quick confirmation or an acceptable answer given to the advertising agents and clients to whom we sell our time.
This is only the beginning. There are still many refinements required to the system to perfect the concept of service to the buyer. Beyond that there are a multitude of internal problems which the computer must assimilate if it is going to earn its keep – the payroll is one significant item.
The future for the computer’s use in the sales department is almost boundless. Clearly, we shall have an opportunity to analyse our time and our time sales as never before. This related to research information from many sources, will provide us with a very strong aid to sales and help ensure the company’s future success.