With the digital publishing space rapidly advancing, and users demanding better online experiences, it’s imperative to stay up to date with the latest technology to match market needs.
But with such an urgent push for new technology, how can digital publishers make sure they’re choosing the right tech? And how do they ensure new projects are implemented with strong team collaboration between commercial and technology departments?
In this article, we interview our VP/GM, Product & Engineering, Chris Scott, to gather his insight on how to implement new technology smoothly.
When considering new tech tools, do engineering teams look at the investment in a different way to commercial teams?
“I certainly think that different teams bring their own unique viewpoints and skill sets into any buying decision.
In the past, tech teams have developed a bit of a reputation for favouring build-over-buy. I think this comes from a legitimate fear of handing responsibility for a critical capability over to a relatively unknown third party. This is exacerbated when technology, as a stakeholder, is introduced into the deal late in the process, after a commercial buyer has effectively made their decision and just needs it to be rubber-stamped.
If, on the other hand, technology teams are involved in a project from the early stages, most are far more open to implementing well polished best-of-breed solutions in the areas they consider secondary capabilities. I think that’s a really healthy balance; for core, differentiating capabilities, there’s a good argument for the tech team to build in-house, take full responsibility for the outcome and retain the ability to push the solution in a bespoke direction. However, secondary capabilities - potentially tools like Web analytics, identity management, payment gateways, etc., fall into this camp - are hard to justify building in-house. If a digital publisher, for example, invested $10m dollars in building a payment gateway in-house, it would still not be nearly as capable nor as stable as any of the tools generally available on the market, and it’s hard to imagine how a bespoke payment gateway could offer a competitive edge.
Now, on the other side of the business, commercially-minded buyers may be well attuned to the value they see in a vendor’s solution, but it’s very easy for them to overlook the true cost of implementation. In many cases, the products that the commercial team buy need to be, at least partially, implemented by the technology team. Often the integration team needs to deal with an extensive list of “details”, like security implications and performance ramifications, not to mention the actual development of any necessary integration. Where technology teams have developed an intuitive sense for the long-tail of work like this, the commercial buyer can often feel frustrated that the team is being pessimistic and adding friction.”
How can commercial buyers and technology teams procure new technology in a way that is collaborative?
“As with any successful collaboration, the key is in a shared understanding of why a product is being bought. While this can be brought about through ad-hoc conversations, aligned objectives - such as OKRs - can provide great common ground upon which to discuss the merits and drawbacks of a purchase. If a tech team can see that a vendor’s solution clearly brings about a company OKR in a way that the in-house dev team could not (in the course of a quarter or two), then they will fundamentally understand the drive for the deal.
In general, communication between the commercial buyer, the users and the implementation team will generally be more amicable and productive if all three parties are brought to the table early and feel like they contributed to the procurement process. In this stage, if the company has a strong culture and well aligned teams, common ground should be relatively easy to find. Of course, it’s natural that some teams will have friction and - even in the best run companies - departmental goals can be in conflict. In those situations, empathy and mutual respect for the other team’s skills and unique experience are imperative. If any one of those three roles - the buyer, the user and the implementer - are unhappy with the direction, then there is an increased chance the project will fail. If you don’t have willingness across the board, it may be worth slowing down and reassessing the rationale and other options before forcing a solution onto an unhappy tech team or reluctant user-base.”
Does the perfect tool exist?
“No, unfortunately, there’s always a compromise when choosing new tech (whether that's through cost, functionality, time or effort).
In general, the buyer is going to be choosing between one of three types of solution:
- An end-to-end solution, which provides a whole range of vertically integrated capability
- A best-of-breed solution, where the vendor focuses all of their R&D in one area
- Self-build, where the investment can be controlled very specifically (but you are likely to be starting a long way behind the market).
If you choose an end-to end solution, you’ll always be restricted, unable to tailor your levels of investment to the areas that you believe are most worthwhile. Consider a payment provider that comes with analytics. If you’ve completed an analytics project the year before and have industry-leading capability already, then you either use the payment provider’s bundled analytics (a downgrade), or you pay for it anyway but get no value from it.
As I mentioned previously, the alternative option many businesses choose, and the closest we can get to an ‘ideal scenario’, is through well polished best-of-breed solutions.
Taking a best-in-breed approach is often favoured because you can pick your compromises, choosing which aspects you would prefer to invest more heavily in and where to be more conservative.
Best in breed is also more flexible. Being able to update or replace one aspect of your organisation’s stack in isolation keeps options open to the business. This enables businesses to respond to changes in the market quickly and to test other best-in-breed solutions without the commitment of a full-stack change.
With that in mind, it’s clear that a best-in-breed approach can alleviate some of the initial pressure associated with choosing the right tech by leaving the door open to new integrations. Businesses can aim to build an initial best-in-breed tech stack that meets their basic requirements, and then refine and iterate this over time until they have a complete tech stack that fits exactly what they want.”
What should people avoid when choosing new technology?
“An obvious example that comes to mind is vendor lock-in. If integrating a new technology requires large implementation programmes from the outset, it’s possible you’ll have difficulty migrating to another software provider in the future should you decide it’s time to switch. Worse still, extensive integration processes might mean you’re unable to extract useful data from the original platform and transfer it somewhere else at the end of the contract. This effectively ‘locks’ you in with the existing provider, causing innovation to stagnate as you can’t switch to better solutions on the market.
Long implementation times and onerous contract terms are both red flags for buying new tech. In a mature sector, the basics should always be out of the box. Professional services and bespoke builds are fine if they are differentiating the buyer from their competition but are inexcusable if they are required to get table-stakes functionality. Any vendor with a large build component of an implementation will likely provide a lower quality solution and will almost certainly tie themselves into your stack tightly, so they are hard to replace later.
Above all else, look for easy set-up, integration, and transparent contract terms that don’t tie you down to one provider for the foreseeable future.”
Special thanks to Chris for helping answer some of the pressing questions that plague publishers today. For more help improving communication between commercial and technical teams, download our eGuide: “Think Like A CTO: How successful media and publishing CMOs are thriving in the digital age.”