In our running series, Information Age speaks to Dave Lowe, chief technology officer at Croud, on how he sees the digital marketing industry moving forward from a technology perspective.
Croud is a global digital marketing agency, powered by people, custom-built tech and the world’s first crowdsourced network of digital experts. It has four offices across the US, UK, and Australia, with one based in London just 3 minutes from our office.
In Information Age’s pursuit of understanding the great variety of chief technology officers that work for technology-led companies in and around our area, we have embarked on a mission to find out what type of CTOs are here, what it takes for them to succeed and what challenges they face.
Maintaining the infrastructure
Many CTOs fulfil different roles in their organisation. Some are product-focused, while others are more business-orientated. Lowe fits into another category, he describes himself as a “hands-on” CTO, who focuses on the “management of infrastructure”.
“Coming from an engineering background, there is always the desire to know exactly what’s going on right down to the bare metal, and while I don’t write much code these days, I am more involved in the infrastructure side of things.”
He explained that “config as code” means that the management of infrastructure is easier than it used to be, and uses the same ideas that engineers are already familiar with, such as version control and continuous delivery.
‘Move quickly and seize the opportunity’
As is the case with the majority of industries, disruption is on their doorstep and those that don’t innovate will perish. Digital marketing is no different and you have to be able to move quickly to make the most of new opportunities.
“Despite all the planning in the world, if a new opportunity arises to be first to market, you have to move with it,” said Lowe.
“This typically presents challenges around meeting previously defined objectives, but it’s up to me to communicate to the business that “doing X means Y doesn’t happen” – and then inevitably having an answer to the question “OK, so how do we do X and Y?”
This ability to effectively communicate in a way that is understandable – surrounding tech and business strategy alignment – is another important trait that CTOs must increasingly have.
The skills shortage: Taking its toll?
The digital skills crisis has been well documented and is a persistent problem that both the public and private sector are looking to address. And this collaboration is absolutely vital. If business leaders and politicians are not on the same page, the skills gap will never be filled.
Overcoming this hurdle is one of the main employer challenges facing businesses in different industries, and for CTOs looking to build out their teams.
“With two UK hubs – one in Old Street and one in Shropshire – one of the main problems we face at Croud is recruiting good-quality technologists in Shrewsbury, where a number of the engineering team are based. The team we have is great, but finding good people takes a long time. Throughout my career I’ve worked predominantly in London, where talent is more readily available, and I underestimated how difficult it can be to hire elsewhere. We’ve recently had some good experiences with outsourcing, so that’s something we’re probably going to try and expand over the next 6-12 months.”
Learning on the job
The idea of upskilling or retraining is not exclusive to entry level employees, and even CTOs need to learn on the job.
“Lack of familiarity with Croud’s tech stack was another challenge,” explained Lowe. “My engineering background was pretty much exclusively in Microsoft, whereas Croud are fully LAMP. Thankfully I got up to speed without too much fuss, and in the process had my eyes opened to the world of Docker – we moved fully to Docker last summer and this has had a huge benefit across the entire DevOps workspace.”
Automation ‘will start to deliver on the hype’
The digital marketing space is already seeing a lot more automation around things like bid management, and this is only going to continue. Croud is leading the way in this space, according to Lowe, where the company is building smart tools to replace laborious, manual tasks such as search query reports and account health checks and alerts. “These tools then suggest required actions which our in-house team can use to plan and action account activity with one click.”
“In 2017, our automated PPC daily checks, for instance, reduced the amount of time taken to complete these tasks by 46%. However, despite such impressive results, we’ve really only scratched the surface of the opportunities automation will bring for digital marketing, and are excited to continue innovating in this area.”
The ongoing developments surrounding automation in the digital marketing industry are mirrored by the innovations being delivered by AI and machine learning. These technologies “will start to deliver on the hype,” said Lowe. This is another area in which Croud is heavily involved, including by leveraging the power of Google’s machine learning-based tools such as Dynamic Search Ads and Smart Bidding to deliver increased efficiency and better results for clients.
‘A changing landscape’
“Digital marketing is changing fast, with AI and machine learning coming into the mainstream not only via the likes of Google but also via the major cloud providers. With the barrier to entry now pretty much gone, we’re likely to see lots of new players entering the market with fresh ideas, which is exciting.”
“Cheap cloud computing also means that storage and analysis of massive amounts of data is no longer the preserve of large organisations with huge IT budgets. Another area that’s likely to see massive growth is personalisation outside of the standard performance channels, whereby, for example, ads shown on TV or radio are uniquely tailored to an individual.”
Information Age is on a journey to meet the different chief technology officers who have offices in and around our base in Old Street; what defines their role, what it takes for them to succeed, what challenges do they typically face and more