Will the Real Technologists Please Stand Up?

OPS TV Recap: Will the real technologists please stand up?

I recently participated in a panel at AdMonster’s OPS TV discussing the future of cross platform measurement with Nielsen, TubeMogul, and Magna Global. We covered a lot of ground during our conversation, from addressing how to get digital measurement out of the toddler years to the need for content becoming a part of every ad conversation. However, there was one particularly interesting side topic that I would have loved to spend more time on. Janice Finkel-Greene from Magna Global, a division of Interpublic Group (IPG) that manages forecasts, insights and negotiations, said something very important. Her statement was effectively that this industry is driven by salespeople and desperately in need of more technologists.  

As she stated for this article, “the difference between PowerPivot [Microsoft Excel data capability] and PowerPoint is the difference between Science and Science Fiction.” The pivot table that gleans real conclusions from data is far different than the conceptual bullet points on a slide, and we have too much of the latter.

There are ample sales people selling tech, selling inventory, selling investment in the newest hottest ad tech company, but when it comes down to actually talking about what happens underneath all of the sales material, everyone scatters.  Much of the conversation on our panel was skewed towards data – audience measurement, analytics, predictions, and forecasts, and to me, it all requires a tech mindset.  Being tech minded means that you appreciate products, data, and workflow in a way that allows you to glean new insights where they aren’t obvious.  Our shortage of tech-minded participants is creating roadblocks for our industry where we are all confronted with slow innovation, stagnated workflows, and technologies that “just aren’t there yet.”

Tech-Think vs. Sales-Think

At my company OneScreen, we encourage employees to think like technologists across every department. This doesn’t mean you’re a coder; it just means you think in a technically intelligent way.  An employee who thinks like a technologist will be constantly learning about how it all works “under the hood” and will always be improving, automating, and innovating. From marketing, to human resources, to sales, I expect my employees to have a strong grasp of the technologies behind our business.  I believe this should be the standard for every digital business (and really every business) that wants to avoid becoming obsolete when the industry moves to the next “big idea.” No, my sales team doesn’t need to know how to build a video application, but they should know how to spot a VAST tag that isn’t working right.

Our account managers know the reasons why a Roku application might not be properly tracking its analytics. Our operations team can spot an issue with JavaScript or an XML content feed.  And, our marketers have to know how to write about all of it. If a process isn’t working for a client, or if they are looking for new areas to grow, I expect my employees to come up with possible solutions on the fly; and they do. This type of thinking may not always come naturally to employees, but if you build an open environment with plenty of opportunities to train, ask questions, and collaborate, it’s possible to encourage this mindset.  Ask any of the 85 OneScreen employees an “under-the-hood” question, and they can get technical with you – you’ll probably have to tell them to stop.

Innovation takes knowledge

The industry is trying; IAB recently launched its Digital Media Sales Certification, and I heard that all of AOL’s sales people have received this certification. I think IAB’s program is a great first step that encourages a more organized mindset for the quintessential sales person who has the reputation of not knowing what he or she is selling. But it is just a baby step, far from the technical substance we need in this space. It doesn’t address issues like integrations between systems, where each company currently only worries about its own scope.  And, I’m not even sure if the problem is a business strategy anymore, or rather, a lack of interest to go any deeper (technically) than what is required to make the next dollar of revenue. This deficiency goes from the very top down. I meet far too many CEOs who can’t talk shop with me because the scope becomes far too technical for them too fast.  If that’s not you, let’s chat.  If the CEOs are simply salespeople with no appreciation for the deep end of the product and tech, how can we expect their teams to be that way?  Don’t get me wrong – there are many success stories out there, just not enough.

Too often, industry stakeholders face vendors whose employees only learn the surface level of their offerings and don’t aspire to think outside of the box.  As I am sure Janice Finkel-Greene has experienced, conversations with a vendor’s sales person often end with responses like “We don’t do that,” “That’s just how our system is built,” or “I’m not sure.” Hiring employees who are well-versed in tech means that conversations and innovations will keep moving forward. I think many clients come in contact with vendors offering products that don’t fully fit their needs, but get them close, so they adjust their businesses and expectations around the product to make it fit. But really, it should be the vendor who reworks the product to the client, and this is only possible when you have a tech-minded staff.

Does automation equal a smaller work force?

Employers and employees alike may be concerned that a tech-savvy staff will translate to fewer jobs because it’s likely that processes would be simplified and some even eliminated. However, in my experience, the result is the exact opposite. While our business has continued to become more streamlined, OneScreen has more than doubled its employee size in just the past year. Yes, job responsibilities and even entire roles have been adapted as we’ve grown, but a valuable employee will always find better ways to use his or her time, skills, and experience. Surprisingly, I prefer creating a feature that is managed by humans first. It helps us understand how the feature should function when it’s built.  

Our team understands that the work they do today, will likely be streamlined and automated down the road, and they know that they will have to deal an entirely new feature, new process, and new idea the next month. For example, in transitioning from trafficking ad tags for our customers to our customers being able to doing it themselves through the Media Graph, we were able to build the technology from the bottom up thinking about how it really works, not just how we think it does.  This is what makes me excited about the OneScreen team.  I just wish the whole industry thought this way.