When I look across the media sector, I see an industry which is struggling on a number of technology issues. I fear that it could soon find itself slipping even further behind other high profile industry verticals in terms of progress against those issues.
In making this claim, I’m not referring to just the usual “big” media issues – such as cloud, social media, personalised content and ‘big data’. My thinking also extends to the use of open source technology, the impact of technology on talent attraction and retention and how transformation of the technology base could achieve significant cost efficiencies.
Let’s start with ‘big data’ – in my view, the most problematic of those sizable front office concerns. More than other B2C verticals, media companies are still struggling to understand who exactly their customer is; finding themselves unable to gather and analyse the reams of available customer data effectively enough to be able to turn that data into revenue.
The understanding of the customer is complicated further as the diversity of channels to customers increases, opening organisations up to new customers with whom they may not have traditionally connected.
Securing customer numbers first and then monetising them later is eerily reminiscent of the dotcom boom. Turning that process around is extremely tricky when you don’t truly know who your customer is - or could be.
Yet the technology which allows for such computational data analysis is available. However, I believe that its implementation requires the whole sector to take an evolutionary leap forward as it will change the way media businesses harvest and analyse data.
Looking at this more broadly, when it comes to such customer facing technology, I believe that many media businesses would benefit from moving to open source technology stacks.
With new technology solutions becoming available at an ever more rapid rate, the benefits of open source technology are becoming more apparent, allowing companies to integrate these solutions more easily than if they were on a single, closed stack.
The rise of social media has shown how quickly new partners, and the need to integrate with those partners, can emerge. The window of competitive advantage is now extremely short.
Currently, media businesses are often solving the same technology problem time and time again across different titles or group, using different stacks, code and vendors. Expect therefore to see more turning to open source stacks which enable more efficient use of available library code.
Open source also appears to be the tech crowd’s technology of choice – and this links neatly to the point about technology’s impact on personnel issues. I feel that media businesses will struggle to attract and retain top technology talent because they are so far behind in terms of the technology they utilise.
Quality demands quality. A top sportsman for example is unlikely to sign up to a club unable to offer him the very best in terms of support, training, equipment and facilities. Techies are no different.
I think that media organisations need to remember that the undoubted strength of their brand may work wonders when attracting media talent – but that media brand is less attractive to a talented techie. They will be as concerned about working with the latest technology as they will be with the media brand.
At the moment, I believe that media’s tech set-up is hide-bound, with long tenure staff operating technology which is past its sell-by date. This is ‘only’ a medium sized problem now but, if left unchecked, will quickly get worse due to the increasing pace of change in the technology space.
Transforming the workforce is an expensive business so the better option may be to go down the partnering route, buying capability in a modular way when required. All this technological capability does not necessarily need to be retained in-house.
Overall, I think that media businesses could do themselves a huge favour by stepping back and honestly asking what technology do they have that truly differentiates them from the competition.
I think the answer will be “very little”. Like HR and Finance, large parts of the IT estate do not currently help to differentiate a media business – as the customer sees little evidence of it. Despite this, the industry holds a disproportionate amount of technology in networks, data centres, hardware etc.
I feel there is huge scope here for standardisation and commoditisation of technology solutions across any media business, releasing resources to be invested in developing customer facing products and services that really do differentiate and provide a competitive advantage. In fact, I would estimate that cost savings of as much as 20 percent could be made by doing this across departments, titles and business units.
If the media sector remains behind the technology curve, that curve is only ever going to stretch away further into the distance. I fear it could soon find itself increasingly technologically isolated.