April Issue

NBCUniversal redirects IT to focus on innovation

CIO Atish Banerjea has embedded CIOs in the lines of business to ensure that they're working on strategic projects

Just a couple of years ago, the NBCUniversal technology organization was largely a back-office IT group that was not very well connected with business unit leadership.

Service levels reflected this disconnect, which had resulted from years of underinvestment. IT needed to be repositioned as a business partner that could help move the company's strategic agenda forward.

To gain the business's confidence, we first needed to improve our core IT services. This required investing in infrastructure and IT talent, which Comcast, our new parent company, was willing to do. We looked for areas that employees would really notice, like improving the help desk, increasing email inbox capacities and upgrading our mobile and desktop devices. When we moved our offshore help desk to Louisville, Ky., average satisfaction scores went from less than 1 to 4.6 on a scale of 1 to 5 in six months. We also virtualized servers in our data centers, so we can affordably increase capacity while also being more eco-friendly.

We embedded CIOs within our businesses, enabling these local CIOs to partner with business leadership on strategic projects. They can also tap into the core IT capabilities provided by the centralized technology organization. This matrix structure lets us enjoy the benefits of centralization and the agility of local delivery.

We've seen real business benefits from this approach. In partnership with our ad sales team, for example, we were able to simplify our previously fragmented asset suite into a single, comprehensive and customizable portfolio, supporting companywide ad sales efforts for our TV and digital platforms. This has allowed the sales team to significantly grow top-line revenue and profitability.

Another example is in our sports business, which broadcasts large-scale events such as the Olympic Games. The CIO for the sports group teamed with business leaders to develop a system that will help make remote event productions more efficient and profitable. We expect to see benefits from this new system, beginning with the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

We're also increasing our engineering talent pool to move the business forward with technology innovations. We are improving our hiring and retention practices for this group, and have developed a world-class facility at our NBCUniversal Technology Center in New Jersey, featuring open floor plans, telepresence and digital displays.

We're also working with startups to pilot emerging technologies such as access control and navigation tools for our theme parks. Data analytics is another huge growth area for us, with the goal of delivering even more value to our advertisers and content consumers.

We are much better connected to the business lines that we support than we were a couple of years ago. Now, we have CIOs for each line of business sitting at the table, talking about the value that technology can offer from a business perspective, and our business leaders have confidence in coming to them with the challenges they need to solve.

Atish Banerjea is executive vice president and CIO at media and entertainment company NBCUniversal. He is a member of the CIO Executive Council.

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