Technology Means Nothing 2.0

  • A carefully crafted, well-defined process in media-operations is equally-if not more important-than the technology itself. It’s as much a truth today as it was 15 years ago.

In 2005 I wrote an article with a simple yet crucial premise, “Technology Means Nothing”. Within the piece, I elaborated on this claim by stating:

“It’s heresy to say that in our business, right? But the truth of the matter is that when it comes to some aspects of media operations it is the process that means everything. Without a well-defined process, technology means nothing.”

While much of the original article lobbied for the adoption of contract (order) management systems to control process, it also highlighted their overarching significance.  This specific technology imposes an order of operations on human beings, which can be jarring if not implemented with care.

“If (this) process alters your business so significantly, why do it? Why? Because you need to know, accurately, what’s booked as revenue every minute of the day. The current business climate mandates this. You adopt it because, when it is finally operational, you’ll have real time data comparing booked to delivered revenue. You’ll have accurate up-to-the-minute stats on sales performance against quota. You’ll have better business intelligence on which segments of your online business yield the best return. Depending on the system you choose, inventory management may also improve dramatically.”

How does the original article from 2005 hold up? Pretty well I think. Order management systems are now a staple among publishers of any appreciable size. Today, order management systems can centralize creation of digital and print orders – or digital and linear orders. Setting up the right process and workflow is still as essential as it was 15 years ago, and with proper training, a critical step in project planning for deployment.

A recent development in this topic is the growing trend toward consolidation in ad platforms. Now, there are vendors who can help consolidate CRM (in place of Salesforce), order management and business intelligence functions, across digital, print and broadcast, in a single system. What that doesn’t change is the importance of defining who handles which function in an organization and where the “handoff” occurs from one sales or operations stage to another. Even as technology offers improved solutions in our business, it will still break down unless the right business processes are applied across the entire organization.

Doug Wintz is founder and principle of DMW MediaWorks, a consultancy in media operations and project management, with long-term clients that include the market leaders in online health, entertainment, national and local journalism, streaming platforms and travel

Doug Wintz began his interactive career with Prodigy in 1988. During that time, he pioneered the sales and development of online applications for automotive clients Toyota, Ford and Autobytel, brokerage firm DLJ Direct and grocers Dominick’s and D’Agostino. He led the development of one of the first online ad networks for Softbank, managed sales/operations for gamesite Uproar and served as VP of Digital Media Solutions for Lycos.

“Technology Means Nothing”

(Originally Published for iMediaconnection 07/13/05)

Say it slowly. Repeat it a couple of times. “Technology means nothing. Technology means nothing.”

It’s heresy to say that in our business, right? But the truth of the matter is that when it comes to some aspects of media operations it is the process that means everything. Without a well-defined process, technology means nothing. In this column, I’ll spend some time specifically talking about contract management systems and how the mantra above applies to this function — a function that is attaining more importance in how established companies conduct media operations in the online world.

For the purposes of clarity, a contract management system enables online publishers to create a central database of booked insertion orders. In the best of all possible worlds this data is correct to the hour, includes all revisions and changes, and provides a real time answer to the simple question “how much revenue do we have booked through x date?”

There are two major events that are driving the consideration of contract management systems. First, the online media business is good. In fact, it is very good. The frequency and complexity of online orders is increasing. Overall media budgets are beginning to shift to online and even a slight shift is enough to create record sales quarters. In this environment, keeping track of booked revenue complete with multiple revisions during the course of a multitude of campaigns can be staggering.

The second event that is driving consideration for this media ops function is the bill called Sarbanes Oxley (SOX). This is the federal law that requires public companies to document their internal controls and processes designed to accurately report revenue — and companies and executives are now bound by it. So, if you tell your CFO that you know an online order is worth $55,123.25 because you kept the 10 emails that Joe in sales sent you –don’t be surprised if the color drains from his face. That’s not a disciplined process.

In reality, how many media operations groups have a contract database that can easily give immediate, clear insight on the contracts that are “booked” even before they get entered or pushed into an ad server for delivery? How many publishers still process the insertion orders they receive from sales using a series of free-form emails? How many keep track of insertion orders with a manually maintained spreadsheet? Finally, how many companies have actually adopted a contract management system only to wonder why it doesn’t do all that was expected. Come on — raise your hands — I know you’re out there.

So, fine. Technology means nothing. Contract management systems are important. But those systems ARE technology. So, what’s the deal?

The “rub” as Shakespeare would say, is that these applications impose a rigid process on sales and operations groups. That’s right, it is a rigid, disciplined and imposed process. There is no sugar coating this. It can easily change the dynamics of your company from a free-spirited start up to that of a disciplined corporate entity. It is incredibly important that the adoption of contract management systems and the associated process be communicated and supported at the highest executive level of your company — and that the expectations on how process will change be set up front.

Let’s think about how the process changes. First, forget about communicating that an order has been sold through a series of free form emails. Every element of the contract will be entered into a standard (!) contract form. The form itself imposes discipline. It can’t be completed unless even mundane client information is included such as address, phone number. Each line item needs to be described in detail. Revisions need to be re-entered in the standard contract form. No more ad hoc visits from sales to their favorite ad operations contact asking them to book another 100,000 impressions directly in the ad server as a favor. It needs to be input in the contract management system first — and that may very well need the approval of their manager. Even when a contract is cancelled, that is a change that needs to be documented. 

The adoption of a contract management system calls for a gatekeeper. Please, don’t ask a salesperson whose job it is to be on the street 99 percent of the time to be their own point person in entering contracts and any subsequent changes into this system. Don’t ask the ad trafficker who is trying to figure out how to fix a broken ad tag to be the policeman either. The process calls for an owner whose primary role is to make sure contracts are entered into the system and changed when called for.

If the process alters your business so significantly, why do it? Why? Because you need to know, accurately, what’s booked as revenue every minute of the day. The current business climate mandates this. You adopt it because, when it is finally operational, you’ll have real time data comparing booked to delivered revenue. You’ll have accurate up-to-the-minute stats on sales performance against quota. You’ll have better business intelligence on which segments of your online business yield the best return. Depending on the system you choose, inventory management may also improve dramatically.

None of the considerations above have anything to do with technology. It’s all about process. Make no mistake about it, you will be changing the way your company runs and the way divisions interact with one another. The more time you put into managing this change, setting expectations and describing the benefits, the better off you’ll be in terms of day-to-day operations.

Without the process in place, the leadership willing to communicate it and the people willing to follow it, the technology means nothing.

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