Managing Disruption

As part of my job, I do my best to keep an ear to the ground and keep track of what operations people are talking about. Amazingly enough, it’s 2011 and issues like late creative and discrepancies still pop up. Being overworked, underpaid, understaffed, and underappreciated are part of the job and always a topic of discussion. This year, however, there are two themes that seem to underlie most of the conversations I’m hearing ops leaders discuss. They are related, but one has a positive spin and the other is one of concern. Each I think will have macro level impacts on operations.

First, it’s exciting to be in operations right now. It’s as if the display marketplace as a whole has decided to give us a turn and see what we can do to take our industry to the next level. There is no shortage of new tools to work with. Powered by the cloud, vendors are offering solutions to problems too costly to take on a few years ago. Real-time bidding has also revolutionized how dollars flow from buyers to sellers and how operations and sales work together. I’d even go so far as to say that the number of traffickers that have never used a fax machine (or even know what one is) is growing. It almost brings a tear to my eye how far we’ve come.

From ops veterans, however, I’m not hearing glee, but a more cautious, measured optimism. Doug Weaver, founder and CEO at Upstream Group spoke at the IAB Networks and Exchanges event a couple of weeks ago and pointed out that we as an industry have some problems and we don’t have all the time in the world to solve them. For all our brilliance, we haven’t unlocked the advertising budgets that still go to television. We’re still primarily a performance marketing opportunity and not a brand play. The technology of online advertising has been funded on potential, and not what it can do today…and funding isn’t limitless.

Operations people are aware of this and a theme to a lot of the discussions center around where this industry is heading. Those conversations don’t often result in something tangible with which to develop a personal, department, or company strategy around. I know for me, it’s frustrating because a lot of time is being spent talking about the things that aren’t going to move the ball for our industry.

Alas, I’m an operations person at heart, and that means I’m going to create a plan to move forward – even if everything is still shifting. It’s something I will continue to work through, but here are some initial thoughts on what to do considering the mix of excitement and doom and gloom in the air:

Designate yourself “manager of disruption” for your company. Every segment of our industry will undergo disruption, and business models are going to change. If you are smart enough to know which model is going to work before everyone else, we will all probably work for you someday. In the meantime, prepare. Do what you can to make your company flexible and nimble. Question those who speak in absolutes. Get out of the day-to-day and talk and listen – especially to those at a level above yours.

Avoid dead ends by modeling things out a couple of years. Change is the only constant and no one has a crystal ball. You can, however, look at the amount of effort required to implement the latest and greatest craze and know better than anyone else if it’s going to pan out. Will a new video ad server really pay for itself and be worth the effort? For many, yes. For some, no. Does your company have the fortitude and understanding to build a private exchange and actually sell it? Will your company be nimble enough to adjust that private exchange when the industry focus changes? Be the person asking these tough questions.

Once in a while, skip a version. Someone is reading this on the newest mobile device and scoffing at my point, but understand that operations is responsible for onboarding new ideas and then maintaining them. If all your attention is chasing every new opportunity, you aren’t focusing on optimizing what already exists on your plate. Being first to market with an iPad app I’m sure paid dividends, but perhaps focusing on streamlining the sales process will do more than trying to make iPad 2-specific alterations.

Keep calm and carry on. Some Chicken Little will cluck that I’m wrong about this, but the Internet is only going to grow in importance in people’s lives whether it be on a computer, a mobile device, or television. Wherever people go, marketers will follow. People will need content and someway and somehow they will need to pay for it. In other words, for all the twists and turns coming to our industry, someone will want to put a digital ad in front of a person and need someone to do it. Perhaps ops is the only constant.

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