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AdAge: The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Agency Tech Stacks

December 11, 2013

Whether you're the head of media planning or in the finance team, you probably need to handle multiple technologies to manage across different tasks, media types and teams across the agency. How do you make sure you're lining up the right set of tools? Here are seven points you may not have considered when you're thinking through the tech stacks that power your agency.

How do teams work differently from each other? Since software stacks run across multiple functions—and often multiple teams—it's important to keep in mind how different teams function in different ways. Sometimes those differences are obvious—say, when digital teams measure with comScore, and radio teams use Arbitron. But other differences are more subtle — until you introduce the scale that software allows, and subtle issues become big sticking points. Make sure you know how teams work differently, so you can accommodate the differences and sync software across them.

Do you work with the workflow? Software exists to help people work better. To make the most of it, you need to make sure you understand exactly how people do their jobs—what steps people take within tasks, across tasks, and communicating between functions. The more tightly you can coordinate the software solutions you introduce with the ways people work, the more you'll get from your software and your teams. Go beyond asking how software fits with your goals, and also ask how you can make it operate best with the ways your employees actually work. That way, you'll be positioned to serve up solutions when employees can leverage them best, and you'll get more from your software and your teams.

Are you fostering choice? A huge part of building out a technology stack is giving your teams the greatest capability to choose amongst an array of options. That means knowing when you need more providers in your arsenal. It also means knowing when to provide interfaces (like drop-down menus and checkboxes) that make it easy to choose among the options that suit different workflows. Conversely, it also means thinking through when you want to simplify the offering across the agency, and give just one choice to everyone.

Do your partners play nicely together? When you assemble a tech stack, you're not just dealing with technology. You're dealing with the businesses that sell tech, too. And no matter how much you're investing in building a tech stack on your own, at some point you'll need your partners to sync together to integrate products. If partners take issue with working closely with other tech providers—especially if big egos get in the way—it's something you'll want to know up front.

Does it fit with your IT? It's great if you find a way to hook TV software to, say, a DSP. But if one set of software only works on PCs and one of the teams you need to loop in is all on Macs, then you might have a problem. To make sure you're getting the most of your arrangement of tech products, think through the IT infrastructure piece as well.

What happens if something breaks? The moment you tie different functions together across a single solution set, those functions become a lot more intertwined than ever before. That means it can be a lot more damaging if one piece of the puzzle breaks down—and, say, bugs in your social media software suddenly impact your TV buying. Make sure you've worked things out so that if one piece of software slows down, it won't hurt productivity across the board. And make sure you're storing the data you need to let everyone who's connected to the stack pick up right away once things are back up again.

How much automation do you want? Tech stacks are built around using machines to sync across roles. At the one end of the spectrum, that's a completely programmatic proposition: you flip a switch and walk away. At the other end, you can have machines that make the people smarter, faster, and more nimble—but that pretty much stay in the background. Ask: what needs high computational power and massive scale, and what needs human intuition or relationships?

While they are all critical, these seven things are hardly the only items to consider when you're building your agency stack. Have more of your own? Post them in the comments below. After all, tech stacks work better when more minds go into building them.

Via Adage