Data punter

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With big data causing big headaches and innovation posing new challenges every day, Komli’s Andrew Reid tells Lucy Clark why Australia needs to pull its socks up

Starting out in the world of work as a print journalist, Andrew Reid found himself in the right place at the right time to switch direction and become a digital pioneer.

Today, as managing director of Komli Australia, Reid is instrumental in driving the big data agenda Down Under – with big clients like Twitter and The Economist to keep him on his toes.

“I started out as a cadet reporter for News Limited,” he recalls. “In the early ‘90s we set up Advanced Media. It was a skunkworks – a small group of us would build business plans and research new innovations. Out of that came News Interactive, which became News Digital Media, and that’s where I cut my teeth in the digital space.”

A world away from shorthand notes and door knocks, Reid is now head of digital media technology platform Komli, helping marketers get the most out of their digital advertising.

It’s an industry Reid is visibly passionate about, and no less so than when it comes to the perils and pitfalls of big data.

“In Australia, we are in a mess quite frankly when it comes to how we manage data in the digital media space,” he states. “There is a lot of talk around big data, but not enough talk around smart data. There is a lot of smoke and mirrors around the ability to use it. Through pressure from clients and people who know data very well, we’re starting to get our house in order now.”

With big data in mind, Reid believes Australia is on the cusp of big change.

“I’m very optimistic about the digital market in Australia, particularly for this year and next, where we’ll start to see the benefits of more focus on quality data,” he explains. “The advantages of programmatically selling display haven’t hit this market yet. We are still 18 months to two years behind the US in that regard.”

Headquartered in Mumbai – which means lots of late night calls for Reid, who is based in Komli’s King Street Wharf offices in Sydney – Komli builds its own technology and generates data through its published partnerships.

Komli’s own platform, Atom, has just been launched. “It’s a new technology for us, and it’s home grown so we know it inside out,” explains Reid. “It means we save money by using our own technology, and it’s more effective that way.”

With offices in India and across the Asia Pacific region, Komli is in a unique position. “India’s market is emerging in terms of digital technology, whereas Australia is an advanced digital economy,” says Reid, who travels into Sydney every day from his home in Leura, in the Blue Mountains. “We have to work out how we build technology – do we build it to suit India, or Australia? It’s that healthy conflict that ultimately leads to a better product. We also switch things on and off to suit local conditions.”

Of Komli’s 500 employees, 35 are in Australia and three in New Zealand. There are no plans to take Komli to the US or Europe. “We have high growth targets and they can only be met in markets like South East Asia, India and Australia,” says Reid. “We want to be the best solution in the region.”

The company was proud to win Twitter as a client in South East Asia. From that, Komli is working with Twitter in Australia too, until the social networking behemoth opens its new office in Sydney later this year. “That’s indicative of our strength as a group in social media,” says Reid. “It’s a building block, there is real opportunity in the social media space.”

Big data isn’t the only big challenge. Reid, who left his role as managing director of Nielsen Online to join Komli in 2011, also cites innovation as a tough test for the industry.

“Everyone faces that challenge – how do I utilise new technology? And what is coming round the corner? Do you use something now, or wait to see if something better comes along? This level of innovation, and who can afford it, is what’s separating media companies. We approach it through our people. If they come to you with a technology or analytics background it helps the business overall. That’s the competitive edge.”

Over the next 12 months, Reid sees this competitive edge achieving great things for Komli, as the company aims to double its media reach to 12 million Australians each month through “aggressive expansion on the media front” and a strong focus on real time bidding for mobile.

“It’s aspirational to say you want to be the leading digital media group in Australia,” he says. “We don’t have all the answers, but I think Komli is good at placing bets. We’re prepared to take a risk and, of the 10 bets that we make, maybe two will come off, but those two will be astronomical
in their success.

“Without a doubt, those companies that are leaders in this field in five years are the ones that make big bets now. That I guarantee you.”

This interview first appeared in B&T magazine on March 29.

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