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Lindsay Carter on ITV’s ambitious data transformation

The programme director for group data strategy is...

Lindsay Carter is leading a sweeping data project at ITV. As Programme Director for group data strategy  – reporting to the broadcaster’s CTO in a project governed by the COO – she describes it to The Stack as a “really big, exciting programme of work” that aims to transform content delivery, monetisation and promotion for ITV.

ITV is an integrated producer broadcaster (IPB). It creates, owns and distributes content on multiple platforms globally. Its studio arm runs 50+ labels in 12 different countries supplying over 200 channels or platforms. Its UK arm is the largest commercial producer in the UK and claims to reach 90% of the UK’s population.)

In a heavily disrupted, fiercely competitive content and broadcasting world ITV has been keen to take a more data-informed approach to the business; challenges include expanding its direct-to-consumer offering, for example, as well as using more data-informed approaches to what it produces and where it shows it.

As Lindsay Carter notes, there is a lot of work to do. Asked what the challenges were vis-a-vis data under the business-as-usual approach at the company, she says frankly: “We were really missing the potential of data. This has been about reimagining art of the possible. In each area of our business we have strategy leads and it has been a case of working with the strategy leads to take stakeholders  on a journey towards understanding what can be achieved using data; where their pain points are and what we can do to address those pain points.”

With an approach to sourcing and cleaning data in place, her team has set up a data mesh (“It’s a bit like a marketplace. We have users in one part of the business, publishing data into the mesh, and in other parts of the business, they can discover it and realise the value; we're connecting producers with consumers”) a primary focus has been ensuring the business is involved in the project each step of the way she says.

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To execute a data strategy effectively she emphasises, you need to co-develop an approach with the business. As she puts it in an email: “It’s not about low hanging fruit, but instead co-creating an approach with stakeholders that unlocks the value mapped out iteratively in ‘thin slices’. With each cycle, the business starts to realise small tangible benefits early and in doing so builds trust, confidence and ultimately cadence to move faster.”

Her team is delivering the programme using an Agile-based methodology that targets value cases and business outcomes. As she puts it in a call: “We started by engaging with all parts of the business areas within ITV and identifying selection of use cases. We then had to determine how we were going to deliver the data programme. I think we quickly came to the understanding that we had to engage the business. This is not a data project. It's not a tech programme. It's about business change. That’s where my skills came into play.

“What we had to do was reimagine the products and the services that we could offer; the commercial models that we were able to create, and the marketing approach. This was based on a value chain approach and looking at what content can we make? How can we promote it? How can we distribute it? How can we monetise it? The media and TV business has been through a lot of significant digital disruption in the last few years and it's unlikely to stop anytime soon. In a world where content is king, ITV has got some really core strengths: we've got an extensive production studios business, and a big back catalogue. And so what the ITV data strategy is doing is harnessing these capabilities in a constantly evolving  marketplace.”

A key focus, she says, has been getting every stakeholder to feel a sense of ownership for delivery of the programme: “Although I’m accountable for delivery, I can’t do that without the business. So it’s really important that the business, technology, and data teams – without forgetting compliance, governance and security! We’re particularly focussed on the last mile problem, because for all the cloud solutions we create and the machine learning models we deliver, if we don’t deliver that last mile solution, we don’t deliver anything. So we’ve been very, very focussed on giving the business the data and tools that they need.”

Switching to both an Agile approach and a more data-driven one in a highly creative organisation is no mean feat. Creatives can often understandably feel like too much emphasis on data-driven targets is putting the cart before the horse and narrowing the scope for innovation, The Stack suggests. And in companies not used to Agile approaches it can feel alien. How has she tackled that issue as data programme director?

“In my experience, you firstly need to spend time understanding the DNA of the organisation - at ITV we are a creative publisher broadcaster, so we have incredible human storytelling at our core - not data, not technology. [But you can] work together to co-develop a vision that embeds a co-ownership mindset from the outset, you have a shared, vested interest to make it happen…. [and] perhaps the most important step is sharing what you’ve learned, openly and candidly with stakeholders and steering groups.  This makes the Agile terminology more accessible and understandable and creates a safe space for teams to learn. For each learning cycle we are able to demonstrate to the business stakeholder, how it informs the next iteration.”

Ultimately, she notes:  I think the days of centralised tech and data teams are long gone. We knew we wanted to create a decentralised model that involves bringing people together with diverse experiences, from different industries, different backgrounds; putting people together from different parts of the business with different thought processes, and creating a real team that has a drive and a spirit to deliver.

“There’s still a lot of work to do but trying to drive growth strategy through the use of data and AI across the business is an exciting programme that I am really keen to deliver successfully.”

See also: The Big Interview: Bloomberg CTO Shawn Edwards on democratising alt data and educating the cloud