Publisher Headaches: The System Integration Identity Crisis

Are you digital publisher, or a systems integrator?

Many digital publishers are experiencing an identity crisis. They’re asking themselves, ‘Am I a digital publisher, or a systems integrator?’ Unfortunately, the answer isn’t clear.

As a member of a software company, I find the context of the question the most interesting.  Publishers and systems integrators are no longer mutually exclusive, but how far down the systems/technology company road does a publisher really want to travel?

Every company that publishes content online is part “tech” company, by definition.  These publishers worry about the CMS they’ll use, delivery networks they’ll work with, and how many site engineers and developers are on staff. These are obvious and important concerns that need to be addressed. If you can’t get the content out into the wild, then you really don’t have a company.

Most online publishers have roots that run deeper than digital. Magazines and newspapers have legacy publishing businesses that rely on subscriptions. Some online publishers may cross into television, and now every big publisher must have a mobile component as well. Each element in the publishing empire involves new technology and new complexities that must be managed. Some publishers have been utilizing various technologies for years — but now they’re expected to be everywhere. Every component – digital, print, TV, and mobile – produces data that could drive revenue in other areas of the company. Each has its own technology needs that must be managed for maximum efficiency, but at what cost to the overall business?

Are these publishers focused on producing content? Or are they technology companies that must become adept at integrating the systems used in all of their various products/platforms/technologies?

The exponential growth of the advertising industry has brought various technologies into play, and each brings its own unique specialty to the table. Under that table lies a great deal of confusion, because these systems don’t “talk” to each other as effectively as they might. The situation is similar to the conference-room tables in most offices, where you’ll see a tangle of wires, cords and cables tucked out of sight, many leading nowhere. That’s why publishers are undergoing this identity crisis.

Think about the number of third-party partners publishers need to deal with: One company provides only mobile ad serving.  Another manages sales orders. Yet another handles ad serving. There’s one for customer relationship management, one for billing, and another that provides only yield management services.

If we’ve learned anything from the past few years, it’s that isolated information doesn’t help you run your business. Each of the aforementioned systems needs to “talk” to each other, integrating to smoothly share and exchange information. If content producers and publishers are to derive any value from these partner systems, the systems themselves must achieve some form of commonality.

Which brings us back to the main question about what online publishers really are. Whose job is it to make sure this smooth integration actually happens?  Should the responsibility fall on the vendors that the publisher pays every month, or should publishing companies handle it internally? As consumers access content from multiple platforms (often participating in several media channels at once) publishers recognize the need for a systems integrator that gives them one view across all of their platforms, and makes the data in each system available to all the others.  Our industry is rife with horror stories of bad integrations, and there’s plenty of finger pointing. A publisher with multiple vendors told us that when it came to resolving integration issues, he wished he had just “One goat to choke.”

In an age when data is the currency of online media, every publisher needs to take a long hard look at its technology, and make some decisions. Seamless data integration will require internal investment as well as outside partnerships. Every publisher hires “analysts” to look at their data, but the next phase of online media might involve “systems integration specialists” to make sure that data is measured and used accurately. 

Would you like Chris to address your particular Publisher Headache? Drop him a line at chris AT aimatch DOT com or submit an editorial request to AdMonsters, and he may explore it in a future column.