The National Association of Broadcasters has served as the voice for the USA’s radio and television Broadcasters for nearly a century. For a quarter of that century, Enabling Technologies has served as NAB’s strategic advisor. After many successful on-premises and cloud projects together, we’ve assembled this summary of the team’s collective lessons learned and experiences.
About the National Association of Broadcasters
In its role as the premier trade association for broadcasters, NAB:
- Advances the interests of its members to the federal government, industry, and public affairs.
- Improves the quality and profitability of broadcasting.
- Spotlights the important ways stations serve their communities.
- Encourages content and technology innovation.
NAB’s members include broadcast radio and television stations and groups as well as major television networks - ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX and Univision.
There is plenty of innovation happening at headquarters in Washington, DC. and Senior Vice President of IT, Michael Tow, summarized the strategy, “We always want to provide our staff with the best possible tools and latest technologies. Doing so helps them deliver better response and services for our members.”
Conventions Department Champions Teams
An example of NAB leaning toward the latest technology is with the use of Microsoft Teams, “Since we’d been on Skype for Business Online, moving to Teams was a natural evolution. We knew Microsoft was sunsetting Skype, so John and I decided it was best that we engage Enabling [Technologies] ahead of migrating to Teams.”
In the quote above, Michael is referring to John Gray, NAB’s Security and Network Administrator, who recalled, “Our first deployment of Teams was in our Conventions department, who was asking for collaboration tools.”
The Conventions team spearheads the NAB Show, the organization’s most visible production. It’s a big deal, often attracting 100,000 professionals from media, entertainment, and technology. There, leading companies display their latest innovative tech and tactics to reach audiences on all the latest platforms.
Mr. Gray elaborated, “It's a huge show, with multiple contractors, consultants, and vendors. Before Teams, our power users would have to send many emails, and it was a huge headache back then. Now, they’re all in one place working on up-to-date information. The benefits have been tremendous!”
Such external guests are allowed to access NAB’s Teams environment, but only a few selected people are allowed to create Teams and invite guests.
In his 20 years at NAB, Michael knew they chose the right pilot group, “The Conventions group has a large team, and they love the collaboration features. The NAB Show crosses multiple departments, which paved the way to get buy in from other staff. Champions in Conventions started teaching other departments to use Teams. We didn’t have to force the technology. The rollout from Skype for Business to Teams probably went as well as any project we've done here at NAB.”
“Not only did our users love Teams,” continued Gray, “they embraced it! They were adamant about sharing Teams with the entire organization. As an IT professional, you're always aware of user adaptation to any product or security measure, but this was seamless. It not only made us look good, the organization loves it!”
Calling Plans Get the Call
There are several options to connect Teams to the Public Switched Telephone Network. NAB set an early trend of moving to Teams Voice with Calling Plans, porting numbers to Microsoft. With Calling Plans, the telecom connection occurs in Microsoft’s data centers.
Tow recalled, “It was an easy decision to move from an on-premises phone system to being completely on the Microsoft backbone. We have the reliability of Microsoft’s billion dollar infrastructure, and we avoid the costs of not administering infrastructure or doing upgrades.”
Microsoft 365 Set a Solid Foundation
NAB hadn’t always been all-in with the Microsoft cloud. At a tipping point eight years ago, NAB dove deep into pilots of Google Suite and Microsoft 365. After a close look at Google, Gray recalled, “There were too many benefits and it was a very easy decision to go away from Google and [forward] to Microsoft 365.”
Mr. Tow’s department handles all internal IT, security, and A/V operations, plus supports the public affairs website development and SQL. “Office 365 gave us improved security tools that come with the platform, excellent collaboration tools, and the ability to access your data from anywhere,” Tow elaborated. “Being on Office 365 also allows us to stay up to date with the latest software without having the extra costs of doing upgrades on each computer. That saves time on the management and deployment of Office that we used to do every few years.”
Lessons Learned in Adoption and Change Management
NAB has gained a lot of experience with modern work since 2015. “I think employees are more receptive to constant change now,” said Tow, “especially with cloud services. More of our challenges came back in 2015 when using OneDrive and SharePoint for the first time. The products were fine but just moving files from an on-premises file share to SharePoint was a big culture shift for our organization.”
Gray agreed, saying, “Now it’s almost seamless. Anything that IT mentions related to a cloud solution, everybody is willing to jump on board. It was harder, for instance, when we moved from an analog phone system to Skype with softphones. Now, they don’t even want physical phones on their desk.”
To keep people up to date with Microsoft’s rapid improvements, NAB set up a team, aptly named “Microsoft Teams Power Users Group.” It’s made up of champions, who also act as owners of the other Teams in the environment. In its Channels, people post and give feedback on features that are upcoming. “People are still very excited when they hear about another feature coming down,” John explained. “They might post something they read or see, and it’s trickled down from the champions directly to our users. Not everything is on my shoulders to get user adoption. They're doing it on their own. I can't think of a better environment to work in.”
Portability Eases Pandemic Problems
Already using laptops and softphones, NAB’s transition to working from home had minimal disruption. “In March of 2020,” Gray began, “we literally told our users to pick up your laptop and go home, and the very next day there were no hitches. That is the number one user benefit of having everything in Microsoft 365.”
NAB had already been allowing staff to work from home one day a week. “We may have needed to send a Jabra speakerphone to someone,” recalled Tow, “but other than that, it was business as usual.”
Securing Devices, Apps, and Identities with M365 E5
Managing a fleet of remote PCs that are no longer attached to the LAN has challenged many an IT team, though NAB deftly handled it with Microsoft Intune. Intune automates monthly updates in deployment ‘rings,’ patching low risk users first before critical machines get updated. “Intune let us eliminate our old SMS server that we had. That has been hugely beneficial,” stated Gray.
“Microsoft’s security tools help us have another set of eyes on our infrastructure,” said Michael, “giving us those alerts and controls that we can put in place to protect our network.”
NAB is leveraging its Defender M365 E5 licensing, including Defender for Cloud Apps, to alert on any malicious activities. Azure AD Conditional Access has proven helpful to deny impersonation attacks from other countries. “With conditional access policies in place, that traffic is now blocked,” explained Tow. “Now, when people travel internationally, we ask them to let us know so we can unblock those countries throughout the time they are traveling.”
Keeping up with continuous change in the Microsoft portals takes effort, but Gray feels, “It’s beneficial because that just shows me that Microsoft is a step ahead of me trying to figure out the next feature or the next vulnerability that comes out.”
More E5 Value with PowerApps
For NAB, another asset in the Microsoft 365 bundle is the automation available within the Power Platform. “Enabling was instrumental in helping me create workflows for our human resources department,” said Gray. “We use a Power App for onboarding and another for offboarding. A hiring manager populates a form, which sends system-generated emails out to certain departments directing them on what they need to do. It's working well thus far.”
Keys to a Lasting Partnership
For over twenty years, Bill Vollerthum, Enabling’s CEO, has ensured that Enabling has stayed in lockstep with NAB. “We’ve always strived to deliver more than we promise for our friends at NAB,” Bill explained “We pride ourselves in truly listening to NAB’s needs, business challenges, and project objectives to cultivate a trusted advisor relationship. NAB has counted on Enabling Technologies Corp to deliver risk-averse solutions and highly competent consultancy to achieve successful outcomes on every project.”
Tow agreed, saying, “NAB and Enabling have been partners for over 20 years. My predecessor worked with Enabling’s senior leadership and set up our Avaya phone and messaging systems. We worked with Enabling to move to Lync 2013, Skype for Business Server, then to Skype for Business Online and now Microsoft Teams. Enabling also assisted in our rollout of Microsoft Office 365 and when we launched SharePoint, Enabling was with us throughout the whole process.”
It is software, so there are moments where things don’t work perfectly. Mr. Vollerthum acknowledged, “In cases where issues arose, we always did the “right thing” to benefit the Association’s interests and preserve their trust.”
Tow again agreed, saying, “For support, and anytime we we've had questions, the Enabling team has been able to help us move forward.”
With Enabling’s insight into Microsoft’s roadmap, “We’ve served as their guiding resource to earn them the maximum return on their Microsoft cloud investment and be a trusted business partner,” said Vollerthum.
That forward-looking guidance has been helpful for Mr. Tow, who acknowledged, “Enabling has always been great at keeping us up to date on the latest technology developments from Microsoft. We appreciate hearing about changes Microsoft is implementing or planning in the future.”
Enabling is grateful for the opportunity to serve one of our nation’s elite associations for over twenty years. With the NAB Show back in full swing, we look forward to seeing NAB’s success continue!