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How to master tech investment decisions at an agency

How to master tech investment decisions at an agency Julian Baring

Today's tech-powered media marketplace and agency world talks a lot about what technology means for agency talent. Agencies are the beneficiaries of an explosion of technology innovation and are naturally revisiting their organizations and re-tooling their hiring policies to focus on a different breed of talent. There is a new emphasis on applied technical wherewithal. Agencies have to get this kind of hiring right to compete -- but this can be a moving target. Why not learn from other industries on how to make tech decisions a core capability?
Just think for a moment how serious the competitive requirement in our industry has become. Whether an intimate knowledge of the tech driven ecosystem; engineering credentials; domain knowledge of various technology stacks; data analysis capabilities; or simply a basic ability to understand and operate the mechanics of today's intricate media and ad marketing systems, the agency staff profile is changing, because it must. However, while looking for the right people and hands-on tech chops, there remains a related, extreme need: Ensuring the agency makes the optimum strategic technology investment to allow this staff to thrive in the first place. So, how do other industries nail this?

Telecom as a prime example

Looking to the telecom industry as one that has a history of technology dependency, we see that the discipline of making technology investment decisions is a capability that permeates any organization there. That industry has procurement departments that focus solely on managing the technology evaluation and selection process. This is not a new standard for that industry.
For telecom organizations dependent on technology, the decision and selection process is part of the cultural fabric. It's often managed centrally, and coordinated to ensure the best possible outcome within a defined timeframe.
So, for agencies in a tech driven world, adopting comparable practices that ensure the optimum outcome in technology selection is critical to compete now and in the future. There are specific procedural cues to adopt from other industries that can and should apply to agency land. This ensures that as an agency enters the fragmented and exploding world of technology solutions, decisions to select and invest in technology partners pay off for the agency and its clients.

A look at pain points and remedies

Think about the scope of the "technical" needs agencies have and the solutions required to accomplish these:

  • Data analytics systems to track, report and leverage information in today's ever fragmenting, cross-media, multi-platform environment

  • Finance and accounting systems for tracking and reconciliation across multiple parties, partners and providers and markets

  • Campaign management and optimization tools, with greater bandwidth than ever before

  • A trading desk, and all the various aspects of the solution necessary to engage with and provide trading insights when buying media across a growing number of exchanges and liquidity pools

  • Workflow and asset management, facilitating collaboration, sharing, storage, editing, versioning, and communication

When selecting ways to service these needs, agencies face problems such as grasping the full scope of the requirements, now and in the future, to understanding how to validate and test what is essential from a functional perspective, as well as which technologies are "nice to have" and which are necessary from a strategic perspective. Agencies must have enough discipline to slow down and ask the right questions.
For example, are the right stakeholders charged with the right decisions? Does selecting a partner create an over-dependence on a particular vendor? Do we have complete awareness of the competitive set and all our options? Does a particular solution provide flexibility for future integrations or capabilities?
Here are a few operating principles that hopefully will help your team begin to establish a culture and order around technical decision-making:

  • Commit to making your technical decision-making a project

  • Assign decision ownership to the most logical stakeholders

  • Empower the right deciders to drive build, partner or buy decisions

  • If more appropriate, create a committee with the mandate to make the vital decisions

  • Ensure this group reports into a champion to keep the investment project on track

  • Establish a time-frame for an outcome

  • Determine the budget for making investment(s)

  • Refresh the organization, workflow to accommodate and ensure adoption of selected technologies: Nothing is worse than investing in an off the shelf solution, that stays on the shelf

  • Keep your commitment to training, on-boarding, and re-skilling (or hiring) as needed

  • Document prior to engaging with vendors, both functional and strategic requirements

  • Establish KPI's that measure and reward making the optimum decisions

  • Conduct post-mortems on selection processes

Managing tech selection and investing within the sometimes amorphous environment of agencies and holding companies is a challenge at best. Doing it poorly can effectively cripple an organization from competing. So, given the technology led landscape that media-buying and agency services continues to evolve into, the ability to make the right, optimum technology investments will become an ever more critical success factor. This is never an easy task, especially not in the personality driven environment exists in some agencies. But, mastery of these decisions is an agency's bridge to the future.
Julian Baring is SVP North America for Facilitate Digital.

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"Businessman at the start of his journey" image via Shutterstock.

Julian Baring is SVP North America for Facilitate Digital, a publically listed Australian technology firm, providing software and services to digital media agencies and advertisers. These include a best-in class digital campaign workflow solution...

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