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Sanjeevan Bala, Head of data science, Channel4

Path to power

 

I started off in investment banking in Australia in securitisation, but wanted to understand better how businesses worked, so I moved to New York and joined PwC as a management consultant. We were developing strategies for clients that were looking to shift from being product-centric to customer-centric. Around this time, the internet bubble was forming and I was wooed by the opportunity to build 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. I’m now at Channel 4, where we are using data to redefine how we acquire/commission content with production companies through to how we promote our content through to how we monetise.

 

What has been the highlight of your career in the industry to date?

 

The unique opportunity to work in a complete “greenfield site” at Channel 4 and now to reflect on how the capability has matured and become a global benchmark for international broadcasters.

 

If you could give your younger self some advice about how to progress in this industry, what would it be?

 

Understand the business outcomes that each function is trying to achieve and become more visual in your communication style. It can be quite a complex field, so spend time learning how to simplify concepts.

 

Did 2018 turn out the way you expected? If not, in what ways was it different?

 

With GDPR rolling out, I was very much expecting a greater shake-out of the industry.

 

What do you expect 2019 to be like for the industry?

 

I believe we will start to move beyond some of the hype of AI and begin to see practical use cases where tangible business value can be demonstrated. GDPR will most likely begin to shake-out the adtech, martech and data aggregation eco-systems.

 

Talent and skills are always a challenge to find - how are you tackling this in your organisation?

 

Acquire: We invested in academic collaborations with universities to bring in high potential talent and then focused on a three-year, on-the-job training program. Retain: Created R&D safe spaces in the roadmap to allow the team to explore and experiment with emerging techniques to create a continual learning environment, while finding creative ways to link the research to business outcomes. Outside-In: Recruit from outside the sector as it allows you to ask the novice questions no-one else wants to ask and brings in external thinking when solving business problems.

 

What aspect of data, analytics or their use are you most optimistic about and why?

 

Figuring out genuinely how to deploy AI at scale in a creative organisation as this will help break down some of the organisational barriers and potentially open up new collaborations.

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