Beware The Do-Not-Cross Line Between Service And Technology In Ad-Tech

by , Dec 24, 2013, 7:00 AM
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Let’s begin with two basic no-frills premises: the promise of technology is to make manual tasks easier; individuals and companies buy technology all the time to do exactly that. On the other hand, services, which can be defined as the people required to make the systems work, are also a key component of any business landscape.

In our advertising and technology world, we’re seeing an extended trend that demonstrates a blend of services and technology offerings even within companies, while at the same time witnessing “technology” players adding “consulting service” practices to their businesses. Should you listen to a consultative salesperson who is making a recommendation on ways to use their product, which has their personal and company’s success aligned, instead of yours?

In the complex, intertwined and often-misunderstood world of ad tech, forward-looking companies are adding staff and/or consultants to help navigate this landscape. And, with the many options created by the digital marketplace, brands do need more assistance in defining their overall strategy and finding the best tool-set to support it.

Can a provider be both a services and technology organization and deliver two different efforts under a single moniker?

Before you can answer, be clear on why you need such services for your brand. Here are a few examples of where an outside consulting practice can be a valuable and collaborative partner:

  1. Vendor selection is a huge part of any ad tech business strategy. An independent consultant will be able to bring you an honest appraisal of vendors that best match your strategic goals. How often would the consulting practice of a tech company bring in other vendors? And how comfortable are those vendors working with a branch of a competitor?
  1. Get maximum value for your services budget. This is the question of your partner’s internal priorities. If a company’s main value is in their technology platform, the main investment will be in developing that platform. Your feedback through the services arm may help to shape the technology, but is your goal to help your partner develop their technology? Will they or can they provide you a cost-benefit analysis for hiring them?
  2. Perhaps the biggest value an outside resource provider can deliver is an extra set of hands, because a married offering is not going to lend their “consultants” to your team to provide actual work.  A truly great consultant looks, speaks and acts like a member of your team and helps you with your goals - not the goals of their bundled technology offering.

It’s ironic that ad tech, which has offered so much promise of transparency and accountability in our business, has muddied the waters with the introduction of service practices. To take an extreme example from another industry: remember when banks and brokerage companies started working together as one unit in the early 2000s? Coupled with loosened restrictions and oversight, this led to one of the worst financial crises in the history of the United States.

If the 2008 economic abyss taught us anything, it is that transparency and clarity is of critical importance to any organization – and the consulting stratum within a corporate infrastructure is one place that merits careful and prudent oversight in an ongoing basis.

So where is that sacred church-and-state delineation between the two?

To get the most from your consulting firm, you must know the answers to these questions. Otherwise, you are likely to have an expensive disappointment. That’s not to say a single company couldn’t do both; there have been successful examples over time, such as IBM and Oracle.

The bottom line: be aware of your goals and be aware of partners. Above all, make sure you are getting clear and defined transparency when it comes to demarcating the line between their technology and their services.

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