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Sanjeevan Bala, group chief data and AI officer, ITV

Sanjeevan Bala

Path to power

I first realised the power of data when I started in investment banking in Australia, seeing the amount of 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 Coopers & Lybrand (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.

 

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.

 

What is the proudest achievement of your career to date?

Starting at a green field site at Channel 4 with no data, technology or people capability to building an amazing award-winning team that has continued to focus on delivering a successful data strategy, resulting in a number of world first innovations.

 

Who is your role model or the person you look to for inspiration?

Clive Humby and Edwina Dunn. In creating Dunnhumby, an entire industry was created. So many have tried to copy the model, but few have succeeded.

 

Did 2019 turn out the way you expected? If not, in what ways was it different?

In some ways as expected with a reasonable flow of high profile data leaks, fines and headlines. However, it still feels like we are at the tip of the iceberg, which means 2020 should be the one to watch.

 

What do you expect 2020 to be like for the data and analytics industry?

I am expecting three themes. First, data provenance – unravelling the data supply chain, in particular the advertising environments where brands and advertisers no longer know where data has been sourced and what permissions exist. Is it really that different to the sub-prime crisis?

 

Second, ethics and explainability – as technology commoditisation accelerates, truly understanding what is going on in the “black box” will become critical. We will see a number of headlines of unintended outcomes as bias plagues solutions.

 

Finally, regulatory powers – a demonstrable shift in how the regulator starts to impose powers, having given industry plenty of time to “get it house in order”.

 

Data and technology are changing business, the economy and society – what do you see as the biggest opportunity emerging from this?

As we embark on the fourth industrial revolution, the opportunities broadly fall into three categories.

 

Hybrid approaches – moving away from an either/or approach to AI, instead focusing on how best to combine machine intelligence with human creativity with tangible outcomes;

 

Digital transformation programmes – focusing on business processes at the outset to avoid the pitfall of simply building “faster horses”;

 

Ethics and values based – a shift towards a “data for good” set of organisational values vs pure commercial exploitation.

 

What is the biggest tech challenge you face in ensuring data is at the heart of your digital transformation strategy?

Two core challenges have emerged: Commoditisation of business process through technology – what you build today, will often be a service offering in a year or two. Keeping a keen eye externally to keep up to date with the evolving technology landscape will become a core competency.

 

Culture – top down buy-in is key, however, without bottom up buy-in and cultural alignment, your strategy will only partially deliver. Technology can’t fix this and is often overlooked.

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