NBCUniversal's CIO Partners With Ad Sales to Expand Revenue Opportunities

Atish Banerjea, CIO of NBCUniversal, talks about the media giant's sales consolidation platform and also advises future CIOs to spend as much time understanding the business as they spend staying up-to-date on the latest technologies.

atishbanerjea cio nbcu

NBCUniversal is a major media and entertainment company that owns and operates a portfolio of television networks, a motion picture company and theme parks. In this installment of the IDG Enterprise CIO Interview Series, NBCU CIO Atish Banerjea spoke with Chief Content Officer John Gallant about NBCU's biggest opportunities and challenges. Banerjea discusses how the company is using technology transformation to drive innovation. He outlines NBCU's CI project, which is driving the IT team's partnership with the ad sales organization to create new sponsorship and revenue opportunities that capture the value of the media giant's broad portfolio of media properties.

Banerjea talks about NBCU's Smart Bar, which is loosely modeled after Apple's Genius Bar, but applied and adapted to benefit the enterprise. He also discusses a partnership with Temple University and how that is helping develop future skill sets and talent pools critical for growth. Finally, Banerjea shares his vision of how the role of the CIO is evolving to include an equal mix of technology and business savvy.

atishbanerjea cio nbcu

Atish Banerjea, CIO of NBCUniversal

Banerjea is a member of the CIO Executive Council – IDG's peer-based global community of leading CIOs. For more information on the Council, click here.

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CIO.com: What are the big opportunities and challenges for NBCU? What's uppermost on the minds of the business leaders you're working with?

Banerjea: I think one of the big challenges we are facing from a business perspective is a concern that was highlighted in an employee engagement survey. The concern was that the systems and processes in the company could use quite a lot of improvement and the primary driver for that was that there had been significant underinvestment in some of the core technologies, both from a people perspective as well as from a technology perspective at NBCU in the last few years of the GE ownership.

The result: our core services and the quality of our infrastructure had both fallen to fairly low levels. There was a lot of dissatisfaction from the business units that involved the services that were being provided to them by the core IT group. That was one of the big challenges we had to jump on right away. How do we rebuild credibility of the IT organization and really raise our game in terms of the core services that we were providing to them so that people became engaged and interested the clients in doing some business with us.

It's a fundamental block-and-tackling challenge that we had to go after to start with. Some of the things that we did immediately to help for that was that our Level 1 help desk was actually offshore, in India, and the quality of service (QoS) was abysmally low. For the most part, people didn't even bother filling out our client engagement service at the end of the course, but for those who did, on a scale of five, our rating was lower than one.

CIO.com: That's tough to achieve.

Banerjea: That is pretty tough to achieve actually. What we did was we picked that up and moved that domestically here to the U.S. We have our helpdesk now running out of Louisville and saw a very dramatic improvement in the QoS. So right now we are trending up at 4.7 out of 5 on the scale in terms of our customer satisfaction. We are really rebuilding it.

Part of it was the reputation: local language, local culture, being able to pick up on the cues and be able to really interact with our business clients in an effective manner. Another part of it was that when we had this offshore in India, we really didn't have any significant technology or tools behind the help desk in terms of playbooks and having documented answers. So a lot of the knowledge and the calls that they were fielding were in people's heads and depended on who was taking the call. If you got a good analyst, you got a reasonably good result, but for the most part if you got other people there were really no tools or processes.

In response, we developed, very extensively, books that the new technicians are using. It is much more documented, much more organized and a much broader breadth of the type of questions we get are covered. That's really helped the service. In addition to that, in terms of the actual onsite support that people get here in the U.S., we had only a very generic Level-2 support organization here that was trying to service the entire company across so many lines of business. What we did instead was reorganize our level-2 help desk by business unit and we co-located it with the business units that we are supporting.

These technicians are now well-versed in the particular business that they are supporting, they are colocated with them so their responsiveness is much more immediate. That raised the satisfaction levels in terms of the immediacy of getting support when needed as well as having the confidence that a knowledgeable technician would be assisting them with their specific issues.

The other big thing: our infrastructure in general -- both at the client level as well as at the basic core IT infrastructure level -- was really outdated. So we put a PC refresh and a laptop refresh program in. People had seven-, eight-, even 10-year-old desktops and laptops that they were working with. The program we put in place meant the oldest laptop that we can possibly have in the company now is 4-years-old. We are trying to get to a three-year refresh program.

In terms of infrastructure refresh, servers, storage, we put quite a bit of capital into bringing the level of the IT infrastructure into a significantly better state than we were before. We are not where we would like to be, we still need to invest more to get to the point we'd like to be. But in terms of the outages we were having, in terms of the failures we were having on core network switches going down or service and storage going down, we were basically able to significantly improve on that and we leveraged virtualization very hard as we were doing this infrastructure upgrade, because we didn't want to get drawn into a situation where our cost structure got heavily distracted by the investment we were making.

We wanted to make the most effective use of the investment dollars we were given so we were highly leveraging virtualization, especially on the server side, as we were doing the upgrades. We had some studies done by a consulting firm [Accenture] and so on, that have shown that in terms of virtualization, just as an example, we are significantly ahead of some of our competitors in the industry. We've been able to do this, not in terms of just improving the QoS, but by being innovative and using cutting-edge technologies.

CIO.com: I know one of your big goals, and this ties back to overall business goals, is really driving innovation through technology transformation. I want to talk about how you're making that a reality today. What are the things that you're doing around technology transformation that drives innovation? I know one, in particular, is the CI project.

Banerjea:Our CI project demonstrates some of the forward-thinking perspective and it's one of our great partnerships with our ad sales organization to essentially put a system in place that is helping the business transform. I'll talk a little bit about it to give you a context of it. Previously, when we were selling, the ad sales process was pretty much in the brand-by-brand phases here, and the concept of portfolio selling was not really there, so when our CEO decided that that's the direction he wanted to go he brought in a new leader for the ad sales organization. He put the responsibilities to her to sell ad to the portfolio across the entire NBCU portfolio. The challenge of that, of course, from a technology perspective, is that the systems that we had, like our basic core ad sales inventory and graphic systems, were also segregated brand by brand.

With 30 or 40 systems here, if somebody decided to do portfolio selling it wasn't particularly useful for them to only have access to brand- by-brand data. The CI project essentially was a project that was intended to consolidate all of the various ad sales platforms that we had across the company into a single entity, into a single system, so that you can first of all have all your data, all of your inventory data and so on across the ad sales portfolio in one system and then to be able to build a set of analytics on top of that that can then be able to allow the business leader there to be able to make very quick and very real-time decisions.

What we have now is a process called Upfronts, where all of the large agencies come in and they sort of buy ads in a targeted manner in large quantities. In order to be able to run Upfronts successfully, you obviously need to have a real-time data board, ad inventory [to answer]: What have you sold? What is the meaning? What did the agency do last year? Where do you want them to be? To have all of this data in one place and in one system -- and then to have some degree of capability in terms of analytics of that -- has been a real driver as we have partnered with financial organizations to move the ball forward.

CIO.com: That is a huge initiative. What has been the business impact of that?

Banerjea: I think the ability to optimize the portfolio and get more ad revenues from the inventory that is available has been the significant business transformative initiative. So the business impact is the ability to sell the portfolio in a much more effective manner and really monetize the ad value proposition that you get from it, in terms of maximizing the ad dollars you can get from that portfolio. That's really been the value proposition.

And, as I was saying before, this is in very close partnership with our ad sales technology group. We are providing all of the technology, the systems and the infrastructure. They are providing all of the business know-how and the knowledge, in terms of what are the types of business drivers and types of things they are trying to optimize. So it's a very good partnership with our ad sales technology group that has allowed us to be able to achieve this.

CIO.com: One of the things, in reading about that initiative, that struck me was that by organizing this information better, you will have more opportunities to do analytics on this data in the future. How do you see that evolving?

Banerjea: On the analytics side, I think that's really the secret sauce here, to be honest. Because when you have all the data in one place you can do really good things with it in terms of being able to put tools on top of that to get business insights in a more effective manner, in a more real-time manner than you were able to, which allows you to do what I was talking about more effectively.

A good example is the Sochi Olympics, this was the first time that we were able to have a big data infrastructure sitting on top of all the data that we collected and be able to give real-time information as the Olympics was progressing. It's a 17-18 day event, so you don't have a lot of time to analyze data and make decisions. You have to be able to do it fairly real-time.

If an agency came and bought a block of ads from you, you have committed to them a certain number of impressions and that so many eyeballs will be on your ad when they show it. The analytics technologies that we built allowed us to have a real-time analysis of when the ads were being shown during the course of the games, whether we were over-delivering on the impressions that we had committed, whether we were under-delivering. You can imagine if you over-deliver, you are throwing value away. If you're under-delivering, then potentially you have penalties you have to pay to the advertiser because you didn't meet the goals that the advertiser had set for you and had paid you for. So you have to get it just right.

And in order to get it right you have to be able to evaluate in real-time, which could allow you to say, ‘OK, I'm over-delivering.' If an ad is under-performing in one area, we're able to adjust its placement to capture more impressions. This is the first time we were able to actually have that level of analytic capability. Again, we're just dipping our toe in the water here, because we have just about gotten CI to a point where we've got our cable entertainment group on there. We have still got the networks to go.

It will be spring of next year before we even have all the properties in the same system and the analytics capability at a very rudimentary space, so the promise of big data is there. We have already shown a few things that we can do. This year, for example, when we went to the Upfronts, the amount of real-time data and the capability that the axis organization had was significantly ahead of what we had last year, but much more to come. We'll have to stay in touch with you and keep you abreast of all the big things we'll be doing here.

CIO.com: On this issue of driving innovation you mentioned that there were two or three things. In addition to the CI project, what are they?

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