Users of Avid’s Sibelius score-writing software have been up in arms following the US media giant’s closure of the Finsbury Park office in July. Senior product manager Bobby Lombardi has since been installed as head of product development. Does he have what it takes to quell the fury of the ‘Save Sibelius’ facebook campaigners? He talks to Dave Robinson about software development and integration, and why the Adobe model has got it right.
(PSNEurope) Did you volunteer to take this post on?
(Bobby Lombardi) I’m very involved in the product planning for Avid’s audio products, both hardware and software. Some of that involved the integration of Sibelius into Pro Tools 8.
I didn’t hear about Finsbury Park until after it happened. Due to legal reasons, only a few people inside of Avid were made aware of the decision. Also out of respect for the great work the UK Sibelius team had done, Avid wanted to communicate with employees directly affected before involving others within Avid. But I when I did find out, then I saw what was happening on the social forums, the growing concern…
Avid had every intention of sustaining the product and doing the right thing. But I realised it was an opportunity to step up and say, ‘I really care about this and I care about the users’. And I think I am [the best Avid person for the job], mainly because of my academic training. I have a deep knowledge of orchestration and composition; I have a background that touches on every aspect of what the customers use Sibelius for, including the publishing aspect. I think I can relate to customers on their level and understand their requests. [Lombardi pursued doctoral studies in music composition at Stanford University and holds music degrees from the Royal Conservatory of Liege Belgium, Florida International University and the State University of New York.]
What’s the main message you want to present to the press and public right now?
Obviously different people are interested in different things – some in publishing, some in future workflows – but the number one question has been about the development status of Sibelius.
If you look at Avid’s acquisition of Sibelius, we’re trying to [create] a global development team, a network of developers spread out between Boston, San Francisco, Kiev (Ukraine) and a small group in the US Midwest. The thinking is, we align all development for all people who are working on Media Composer, Pro Tools as well as Sibelius and all the other apps we maintain. All teams are grouped together and working together. The goal is supertight integration between the teams for ‘interop’, giving us the ability to be a lot more agile with the releases. The result, you end up with releases that are more stable, with more frequent updates: we have a big release each year, but four smaller ones during the year as well which focus on user issues.
There are people on the forums who are pleased that it’s YOU who is in charge of this, Bobby, but you’ve also seen the weight of dissent out there. What can Avid do to prove to Sibelius users that they are in safe hands?
The best thing is to keep development going, and going quickly. So we need to get the update out when we promised; ensure that updates are stable and that support for the product continues in the way users would expect; and we need to be open and transparent about future development, what we’re keeping and what we’re not. I say that because I would like to focus all the development about Sibelius, Sibelius First and the Scorch products – I care a lot about the publishing world, as well as the creatives that are composing, but I do think there are a number of older products that probably should be retired. However this doesn’t include any within Avid’s current range of professional music products.
One of the misunderstood areas of the transition is the call centres, the support centres, they remain in play. Users should not feel that they are left without support for their product.
One of the blog posts I’ve seen is, ‘It may be OK that I have qualifications to see this transition through, but the reality is, you need developers too’. Now, the good news is, we are absolutely staffing up to handle this transition, and in many ways we’re moving people around internally. As an example, a lot of the staff worked on Pro Tools – you probably have between 80 and 120 people on the engineering team at any given time for the PT released – and out of that, easily 75% of them are musicians. So what we’ve done is told our staff if anyone wants to be part of the Sibelius transition, they can be part of that.
There’s a commitment internally; there’s a commitment externally too, where we are posting a number of jobs to the website right now in different geo locations, and certainly trying to retain internal Sibelius staff where possible.
Does that mean there will be staff transfers from the UK?
There’s no change to the Sibelius support staff located at our European headquarters in Pinewood Studios. Unfortunately, none of the Finsbury Park staff will be transferring from the UK. This won’t impact our development plans for Sibelius in any way – we have strong experience and expertise across our multiple development hubs. Remember, Sibelius has been embedded in Pro Tools since 2008, and we’ve many musicians and composers on staff. I like to co-locate developers and testers in one area, and then have multiple small teams that work together using agile software development methodologies (‘Scrum working’).
Can the ‘brain trust’ of Finsbury Park – all that knowledge, all that experience in developing Sibelius – really be securely transferred to other teams in other places?
Look at Avid Scorch for publishing. When I think about the complexity of the product, about the visual rights management and using it with apps, and iOS development… now I think about development in Finsbury Park, there was only one individual heading up that development. But on the side of Media Composer and Pro Tools, I have a Scrum of five doing that. So [those Scrums] could manage it a lot better.
Also, think about the expertise we’ve gained in SDK (software development kits) in the past 20 years, [working with] the iPad and moving applications to different platforms. The goal for me with Sibelius is not just to sustain things, but also to increase their usability in the third-party publishing world. It’s a transition but it’s also a very forward-thinking way of modernising the code base, and it will make Sibelius a bigger player at the end of the day.
Another point to make is, the transition has been happening over the past month. We have had a small team that has been going backwards and forwards between London and the US, myself and some engineers too; and we’ll be back again after IBC to spend some time with Daniel Spreadbury and the developers in the temporary space that they’re in for most of October.
I agree, there are certain expertise scenarios where the transition is going to be more difficult; but there are others where there are just great benefits – deeper integration [into Pro Tools] and more that Sibelius has yet to explore.
You have to acknowledge that closing the London office presented Avid with a cost saving, as it says in the statement Avid made to Save Sibelius… [Quote: “The cost of developing software in London is very high, which regrettably led us to close the Finsbury Park office.”]
That would have been a concern… but the statement [to Save Sibelius] is a bit out of context – we do like to spread development teams, we don’t ever have one team in one place any more.
The wider community is not impressed with Avid at the moment, because of the way the company has handled itself of late. Two years ago at the Pro Tools 9 launch, Avid said, ‘We aren’t the evil empire any more!’ The Save Sibelius campaign and others reckon Avid is back to ‘evil empire’ status. Do you see their point?
Well, of course, I was there for the ‘9’ launch and I can appreciate how you are putting that suggestion together. The only thing I can say there is, whenever you are dealing with changing the business, it’s going to have a negative aspect, there’s no way to avoid that.
The bit that I truly believe – and what I would rather focus on – is how what we are doing is optimising how we release and develop product. When I look at Pro Tools, Media Composer and Sibelius, those need to come together much like many of the applications come together for instance like with Adobe: you can work in one way but it seamlessly integrates [with audio or video]. Everything collaborates in groups. That’s not where we were headed with the Sibelius direction.
It’s a difficult thing to say, but Avid owns Sibelius, and Sibelius wasn’t running at the same rate as the rest of the company, so it was important that Sibelius used the same structure, so it is agile. People who walk into a store and buy a copy of Pro Tools or Sibelius, they need to think that the software has been written by the same group of people, so it will work together.