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.

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Banerjea: A couple of things are probably worth mentioning. One of the innovative concepts that we came up with in terms of driving the support levels up is this concept called the Smart Bar. And the Smart Bar is actually an area that we have set up in our technology center in New Jersey, where we have both consumer devices as well as all of the business devices, laptops and mobile phones on display.

The idea is very simple: When a business client comes in and they want to decide which mobile device is right for them for the type of work that they do, or which is the best laptop that they would want to use, they can try out all of these technologies, hands-on, live at the Smart Bar. And we have some of our best engineers onsite, helping them as they make these decisions.

In addition, somebody can just walk in and get anything that they need, so if I'm having a problem with my phone and I don't know what to do, my best engineer is there. I can get live hands-on support. It's kind of modeled after Apple's Genius Bar, but really we've taken that consumerized experience and applied it to enterprise.

The other thing we're doing there is offering training classes. So if a new version of iOS comes out and you want to learn the new features, we'll do a class. They learn all the new features of the iOS and how to apply them. It's really driven a much higher level of engagement, not only for the technology people we have in the building, but our partner, CNBC, who are on the same campus in a building across the street. Because of the Smart Bar they come into our building all the time because all these cool gadgets are out there, and with some of our best technicians out there, they can get help whenever they need it in terms of their own timeline. It's kind of flipped the support model upside down. Before, you have a problem, you call the help desk and then you wait. But now, when you have a problem you just walk to the Smart Bar and get what you need from it. So that's really the concept we are trying here and so far it's very, very successful.

CIO.com: Were there any other things along this innovation front that you wanted to talk about?

Banerjea: Obviously, all media companies, as you know, are in the throes of transformation. How people used to consume the product that the company had is changing rapidly and digital is playing a bigger and bigger role. When I was at Pearson, I saw this happen to the publishing industry. When I was with Dex One, I saw that happen in the media marketing industry, that technology and digital became the primary way we were consuming the products.

The same thing is happening here at NBC. The digital strategy is becoming more and more important. Obviously, a lot of our revenue still comes from the traditional method of how people used to consume our content, which, broadly speaking, has been called the linear mechanism. But more and more, digital is becoming important because people are starting to consume movies and shows and events like the Olympics on the Web. They might be looking at the gymnastics event streaming from their iPad as opposed to sitting in their living room and watching their televisions.

More and more we are seeing that in terms of consumerization of content, digital is becoming more important. So the technology group is playing a very important role there in terms of enabling the digital transformation of the company. We have this project that we call the Digital Backbone, which is taking all of the digital properties that we have across the entire organization and consolidating that onto a common platform. We are centralizing and consolidating things like the authentication service. When consumers provide their authentication data, the content management platforms, and the basic video player platforms [are combined] into a common platform -- instead of having the hundred plus brands that we have go out on their own and figure out, ‘Who do I post with? Who do I pick as my Web provider? Which applications are best to be used? Which Web servers do I use?' We are consolidating that into a common framework across all the brands.

Also there's the concept I mentioned before, which is broadening an industry. It's called TV Everywhere, which is the ability for a consumer to consume their content no matter where they are, on whatever device they want to use. The technology group is playing a fairly big role in providing the underpinnings of the technology platform to enable that. A lot of the development of apps and the deployment of those are actually being handled by the centralized technology team. So again, broadly speaking, I think the best way to describe it is as the company is transforming and the digital strategy is trying to really take effect and move forward. We, as the center of technology group, are helping enable those new generations of products and services for our customers.

CIO.com: I want to talk about some things regarding your role and different angles of your role at the company. You are responsible for a pretty diverse set of businesses: broadcast, cable TV, theme parks. How do you deal with that diversity of business in crafting an overall IT innovation strategy?

Banerjea: What we have done is organize the technology group in a way that allows us to be diverse and effective at servicing very different types of business needs. I was mentioning before, when in our previous generation IT organization, we had become a little bit disconnected from the business and part of it was the lack of investment and part of it was we were not structured or organized in a way that we could do exactly what you were describing. We were not organized in a way where we could be an effective organization for the theme park business, helping them to develop and deploy new rides or attractions and at the same time be able to work with the film business to help them roll out a theatrical distribution system. We were not organized to where we could do that.

One of the things we did after I came on board is we looked at the structure of the organization and said, ‘what do we need to do in order to be able to run the business of IT the way we want to run IT? ‘ Like core capabilities, infrastructure services, enterprise architecture, product development, corporate systems, how do we make sure that all those capabilities are being run in an effective manner, in a way that an IT organization should be able to centrally manage and run them? And at the same time be able to provide a very, very customized experience for each line of our business so that they feel that the service that we are providing to them is very much customized to them for their needs and they're getting it almost on a bespoke or one-off basis.

We were trying to figure out how to do that. What we ended up doing is creating this concept of horizontals and verticals. The verticals are essentially in every large business line that we have, so we have got a divisional CIO identified for them that's part of my central technology organization but the way they're being set up is that we are embedding them into each business, so that there is, for example, a CIO for our parks business that focuses exclusively on parks and has a seat at the management table there to be able to help drive the business forward in a manner that is appropriate and individualistic for that particular type of business.

For any set of systems or capabilities that are specific to a particular business only and are not leverageable more broadly across the organization, we have a CIO for the business that runs those set of systems directly. For example, if there is a particular system that is enabling ecommerce for the parks business and we don't see a way to leverage that more broadly, the CIO for that particular business will run that set of systems directly. But, in addition to that, for all of the capabilities that we have set up in the horizontals, IT infrastructure, corporate systems, enterprise architecture and product development, the vertical CIO leverages the centralized horizontal groups, which are these core capabilities, to be able to deliver those services back to their client.

The beauty of this model, as far as the business unit head for the division is concerned, is they don't really have to worry about the complexity of IT. They don't need to talk to a different person for networking and a third person if they need their PC refreshed or a fourth person if they need to get some support on a particular app. They just talk to their CIO. And the CIO is then responsible for navigating the complexity of this technology organization and customizing and delivering the service back to them. So it's the best of both worlds from my perspective, that you get to run your IT capabilities in the most effective and efficient way, but at the same time it gives each and every business an experience that is customized for their individual needs.

CIO.com: In terms of getting to where you want to go, what kinds of new roles have you added, and then looking to the future, what are the skill sets that you think are going to be critical to continue to develop?

Banerjea: I think in terms of the roles that we have added I'll touch on it from two different angles. One, the vertical CIO roles that I just described were not in the organization before. So these are the roles that we added to say -- OK, we need a specific person to be embedded in the news organization that focuses on the needs of news or another person that will be focusing on the needs of film on the West Coast, another person that will be focused on the theme parks business based out of Orlando. So this concept of actually formalizing the vertical CIO structure and developing this in a way that they are embedded into the businesses and are supporting the businesses directly but at the same time are part of the centralized technology organization and part of the leadership team for my group.

We promoted internally some of the people that were in various parts of our organization into roles, and, in certain cases, we went out to the market and basically staffed these roles from the outside, depending on the business that we were supporting. So these are new roles. And the other function that I saw was missing here at NBCU is this enterprise architecture function. So we created a new enterprise architecture group that is actually looking across the entire portfolio of applications that we own across the corporation, as opposed to just looking at it in the vertical silos, the way it used to be looked at before and having a portfolio view across the entire enterprise and being able to look to craft a strategy and a portfolio actualization program that can really get us the best bang for the buck for the IT dollars that we'll be spending.

Another thing I want to touch on is that we were very highly indexed on outsourcing before, probably as a legacy of our GE culture. In the process we have lost a lot of our DNA for core engineering capabilities inside the organization. So we have staffed a significant amount of core engineering roles and we're trying to attract the best and brightest engineers from technology companies to come into the organization and staff those roles, because we really believe that fundamentally we need to own technology inside the organization, especially for IT-centric product development type of work.

All of the core engineering and architecture should be done here and then if you want to use offshore resources to develop it, that's fine, but we should not be in a position where all of our engineering, architecture, design and everything has to be relying on a third-party. So those are some of the new types of positions and roles we have added in the organization.

CIO.com: I was fascinated with your partnership with Temple. Can you talk a little bit about that and what you get out of that? I was particularly intrigued with the idea of bringing people from Temple in to talk to your existing folks as well as the talent development aspects of it.

Banerjea: It's a very win-win relationship on both sides. I am a member of their IT Advisory Board for the Fox School of Business. That gives me the opportunity to work with the people who are designing the curriculum for the MIS program there and give them some guidance on what things should be included so that they can tailor the program in a way that is useful so when the kids graduate from the programs they actually have great opportunities in the business environment because they are coming out with skills that are really relevant in today's world.

That's what I am able to contribute there. The benefit I get, as part of the advisory board, is I get to participate in the career fairs. I have an inside track on some of some of the best and brightest people who are coming up from the programs and am able to bring them into NBCU, whether it's as interns or fulltime employees.

The other thing is that Temple, especially for the MIS arena, is now the No. 1 school in the entire country in terms of the research and academics, which is great for us from a training perspective. We bring in some of these high-caliber professors and do training classes here, whether it's on specific topics such as information security or more generalized business knowledge. How do you teach IT professionals to speak the language of the business which, as you know, is the most important aspect if you're going to be successful in terms of developing the business relationship with the business partnerships. So we have had some phenomenal success with training classes where they have brought in some of their best talent in terms of academia and research and shared it with our business partners here. It's been great for us and we are looking to do more of it.

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