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Sanjeevan Bala, group chief data and AI officer, ITV

Sanjeevan Bala, group chief data and AI officer, ITV

How is your organisation using data and analytics to support the corporate vision and purpose?

 

As with most organisations at the start of a data journey, we have used data for reporting purposes aligned and driven by business verticals. The newly-developed data strategy is linking the use of data to the three pillars of our corporate “more than TV” focus, to transform broadcasting; to grow UK and global production; and to expand direct to consumer. The biggest shift is moving to a model that uses data in a more predictive way and starts to join the data dots across business functions.

 

Looking forward to 2021, what are your expectations for data and analytics within your organisation?

 

Having set out a data strategy that is linked to the corporate strategy, 2021 is about enhancing our capabilities across talent, technology and process. We have three core areas of focus:

 

  • Data governance - ensuring we have the right quality of data to drive the value use cases and to socialise the data strategy across the group;

  • Leadership - attracting and nurturing leaders to grow and develop a culture where neurodiverse talent can flourish;

  • Data literacy - evolve our culture to empower everyone in the organisation to derive value from data.

 

Is data for good part of your personal or business agenda for 2021? If so, what form will it take?

Absolutely. ITV has a well-developed corporate social purpose strategy, we plan to use data to achieve four key outcomes:

  • Encouraging better mental and physical health - Encouraging everyone to eat better, move more and look after mental health;

  • Fostering creativity by embracing diversity - ITV is for everyone, no matter their background, race, disability, sexuality, gender, identity or expression;

  • Reducing our impact on the environment - Creating programmes with the biggest impact on the audience and the smallest impact on the planet;

  • Giving back to our communities - Helping our colleagues and audiences give time, support and money to benefit others.

 

What has been your path to power?

 

I first realised the power of data when I started in investment banking in Australia, seeing the value that could be created was both eye-opening and terrifying. I wanted to get a broader understanding of how other businesses worked, so I moved to New York to join PwC as a management consultant. I was fortunate to work with progressive companies that were shifting from being product to customer centric and were launching direct to consumer digital experiences.

 

As the internet bubble was taking shape, I built a number of start-up digital businesses in Silicon Valley. In 2001, I moved back to the UK and acquired expert understanding of data and analytics at dunnhumby, where I was responsible for developing customer-centric strategies for clients in the media, online and financial services verticals.

 

At Channel 4, I developed and delivered a data strategy to create value in three core areas:

  • B2C to deliver a more tailored experience, resulting in increased viewing;

  • B2B to deliver new advertising products resulting in incremental advertising revenue;
  • And, finally, internal efficiencies.

I’m now at ITV with a group-wide role and developed a strategy for using data to drive revenue and EBIT growth spanning studios, broadcast, and media and entertainment divisions.

 

What is the proudest achievement of your career to date?

 

Starting at a green field site at Channel4 with no data, technology or people capability to building an amazing award-winning team that has continued to focus on delivering the data strategy, resulting in a number of world-first innovations. We developed an outstanding culture, one that balanced creativity and academic research with applied business value, resulting in the team having a direct and material impact.

 

Tell us about a career goal or a purpose for your organisation that you are pursuing?

 

As a creative business, we know how to tell compelling stories through content. Embracing our creative culture, we plan to dial up the stories we tell with data to help showcase the “art of the possible” and, in doing so, will make it accessible and easy to understand.

 

How closely aligned to the business are data and analytics both within your own organisation and at an industry level? What helps to bring the two closer together?

 

In the wider industry, you often see a few themes:

  • Build it and they will come - Companies collect all the data (as it’s cheap to store), hire mythical unicorn data and AI scientists and build the biggest cloud data lake and wait for magic to happen;
  • Siloed - Housing data teams off in one functional silo causes a disconnect to the overall corporate strategy and limits the use cases beyond the functional home;

  • Solutions looking for problems - Spin up lots of proofs of concept that are scattered across the organisation, but ultimately fail to deliver any real sustainable value beyond a few vanity projects that demonstrate what technology and data can do;

  • Culture - low levels of data literature leading to an ivory tower of data specialisation rather than driving wider adoption and cultural change.

 

In order to better align to the business there are three key steps we take at ITV:

 

  • Focus on the corporate strategy and map value-based use cases - this creates engagement and buy-in with exec and the board;

  • Introduce functional data strategists that understand how the business units create value and can persuade and describe the art of the possible with data - this creates business unit buy-in. The role ensures the work is closely aligned to business pain points and establishes shared KPIs for the data and analytics unit;

  • Educate and upskill - to ensure you can balance a business reporting pull with an innovation push to shift from delivering a defensive to an offensive data strategy. This moves the unit from a cost/service centre to a value creation unit.

 

What is your view on how to develop a data culture in an organisation, building out data literacy and creating a data-first mindset?

 

All too often, companies embark on large-scale training and development programmes that rarely succeed as the training is often too conceptual and lacks application to the immediate day-to-day. A more sustained approach is to secure top-down sponsorship as it helps to signpost the importance to the rest of the organisation and opens doors. Spending time with stakeholders to identify pain points that can directly benefit from improved data literacy will allow the training to be applied and is far more likely to be retained. Continue to build and share these case studies to build momentum and deliver a bottom up change.

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