Q and A with Mike Leo, CEO of Operative

Yesterday at the IAB Ad Ops Summit I had a chance to speak with Mike Leo, CEO and President of Operative. Operative was the principle sponsor of the event and Mike had just given a presentation about how innovations create operational pain. In his talk he stated that it is way too hard to execute a campaign and it is also way too hard to integrate with partners. His suggestion for companies is to implement a business management system in order to operationalize innovation. He feels companies need to focus on customers and products – not technology.

I sat down with Mike at the conference to discuss this and also to talk about Operative.One and the Solbright acquisition.

Q: If there has been one common theme this year in all the events, it has to be complexity. Do you think we need to remove the complexity, or just make smarter decisions about operations?

ML: I think the question is, are you a slave to the complexity or do you control it? Can people create a way of doing business that enables complexity to be simplified? Companies need to have the ability to manage innovations.

Q: I saw the video of your presentation at DPAC with Lorne Brown. Our own Rob Beeler wrote a follow up article calling out the industry addiction to Excel. How does the industry solve inventory management? Is operations going to be able to kick the Excel habit?

ML: If it’s inventory or pricing, the number one problem that makes this hard to manage is people continue to do the work in production systems rather than business systems. It’s about having everything in one place so you have visibility. Getting out of Excel is step one. Step two is starting to understand how the different pieces are related.

Any business management system will help you achieve that. There isn’t a leader in any other space that is able to do this without one.

Q: The press release about the Solbright acquisition was one of our most popular feed articles this year. I’ve read a lot about what you’ve had to say about the acquisition in the press. I think this speaks to ad ops wanting to streamline not only the sales process, but their internal business systems as well. What are your thoughts?

ML: We are focused on digital advertising. Any company that implements any business management would be further ahead than they are today. You cannot succeed without it.

Q: What are some actionable steps that ad operations teams can take towards implementing a business management system?

ML: Our industry is used to an amount of operational pain – we think it’s normal. Operational innovation is not about adding a new technology. It’s about thinking through the jobs we are trying to get done and reinventing ways to do those jobs.

We are going to be spending a lot of time with our clients asking that same question. Ops is standard, ops is repeatable, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need to take a step back. Let’s look at it from a process point of view.

Q: What’s in store for current customers of Solbright, and also customers using Operative Dashboard? What is going to happen for them over the next few months?

ML: People love change – they just don’t like not knowing what it’s going to bring. Operative needs to get to know you. The only way is to understand what is happening in their businesses today.

People are going to find that there are significant benefits to working with a company that has a foundation in services. We know what these people are doing every single day. Our focus is going to be on talking and listening to people. Our approach is going to become focusing on outcomes first, software second.

I’m confident we won’t find anyone that won’t experience immediate lift. We have a lot more people focused on customers and more R&D dollars to spend on them.

Q: So how is Operative.One different from Dashboard?

ML: It is more focused on supply chain management, demand-side planning, and business intelligence. It gives you the ability to integrate into the rest of the industry. No one delivers value by themselves anymore. You have to have insight into how you and your partners are delivering value.

Q: Will Operative.One allow people to implement innovation partners like FreeWheel easier?

ML: Yes, there’s a lot more motivation for them to integrate because it’s not a one-off anymore.
Our goal is to make it easier. We are an innovation platform. It will be easy to adopt, with less pain.

Q: Traditionally people wouldn’t think about Operative working with ad networks. What are your offerings for ad networks and how does the Operative.One Network help the unique challenges that network ad ops teams face?

ML: The Operative.One Network offering is really Operative.One Digital combined with Partner360. It brings the supply chain into one view.

We build functionality around partnering. If it’s five sites or 5,000 – it’s the same functionality, but at different scale.

There is not a publisher that is delivering a product without partnerships involving people outside their office. Just about every publisher, every network – everyone is becoming a marketing services company. All of those players need to be able to integrate together. From my point of view, it’s a matter of degree.

Q: In your opinion, what does the future look like for operations – what challenges will they face and what do they need to do now to prepare for it?

ML: A lot of what we do today is going to be automated. You cannot code chaos.

Ad ops needs to be willing to ask, “How can I get my people focused on things that require brains?” Let’s get our people out of data entry.

Ad ops leadership needs to be willing to displace themselves, and that is how they will make themselves more valuable. Make yourself redundant so you can be more of a strategic partner.

One of the biggest lifts I’ve seen is enabling smart people to focus on clients and innovation and less on infrastructure. They are smart people who know how to create great value for clients.


If you are a current Solbright customer find out more about the Operative.One transition at http://operative.com/solbright/faqs.php