Data Changemakers 12: Ido Biger, Chief Data Officer, Yes TV
The Data Changemakers series is a set of interviews and interactions with people who have spent their careers working in or around data and data management initiatives. They have a vision for the data journey and we want to understand what they have learnt and how that drives what they do today. What are their war stories and what advice can they give others embarking on the journey?
Ido Biger is the Chief Data Officer at yesTV – Israel’s only provider of multi-channel television broadcasts via satellite. Ido is responsible for making yes television a leading data driven organization. He manages 25 Data engineers; the business analysis units and the data science team in the company. Ido reports to the CIO as Head of BI & Data and to the CMO as the Chief Data Officer. He is also well known as a speaker internationally; a senior instructor on various courses for BI professionals and a lecturer in big data technologies and data visualization on the Tel-Aviv University’s MBA.
Could you tell us a little about your own background and how you ended up working in data?
It’s a funny story because I started as a basketball player and my coach was the Vice-President of Sales for a business intelligence company. After I graduated from Tel Aviv University with my economics degree, he asked me if I would like to be his personal assistant. That’s how I started my career in data!
From there I moved in to pre-sales for the BI system, talking to finance people explaining why their world needed a data warehouse, OLAP cubes- this was 2004, so data warehousing wasn’t exactly a standard. Then I went into professional services, implementing financial BI systems. From that point on I wanted to be the best data guy in the camp!
I got in to the Microsoft BI platform and then I started to teach… and from there I began to learn about this crazy world of data!
I did an MBA in Information Technology and continued to implement data warehousing solutions across many domains, including retail, pharma, telecommunications. Thereafter I went to work for Yes Television as their BI Manager where I was managing over thirty data engineers – and all this was whilst playing basketball, which is a very important part of my career!
I re-located to New York where I delivered professional services in big data and analytics for large banks- mainly Deutsche Bank but also for other big names such as Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, HSBC, Credit Suisse.
“I was working as a consultant, helping them leverage value from their data lakes and their big data analytics platforms. I was also lecturing at many conventions around the world. It was then that I started to realise that I wanted to be in data for the rest of my professional life.”
After a few years in New York, I given the opportunity to return to Yes Television as their Chief Data Officer. As well as managing the BI engineers, I am also in charge of all the analytics teams – so I’m responsible for the data platforms and the data itself! I’ve established a data science team here.
I am a lecturer at Tel Aviv University in Big Data Technology and Data Visualisation. I am working with the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya (IDC) to draw up a joint framework between the academy and business to collaborate on the use of data science and big data labs.
“Data really has the power to change organisations. My personal goal is to create as many ‘data driven’ organisations as possible, whether by doing this myself or by helping and teaching others how to do it.”
Basically my life is surrounded by data… and a little sport!
You are still playing basketball- how has that played a role in your data career?
I still play and I was a basketball coach- it is very important to me for two reasons. First, it is important for my mental health personally but there is a second reason:
“It is important because when I manage people at Yes Television, I try to coach them the same way that I coach my players, focusing on motivation, shared goals, what it means to win as a team and what it means for individual victory.”
What are the big challenges that Yes Television are facing in the world of data?
Television across the entire world is undergoing a huge change. We have IPTV, online platforms, players like Netflix and others, all redefining the question of “What do I need TV for?”
People today just want content and they ask “Why do I need a TV when I can get content from the web, from YouTube or Netflix?”
Television companies need to be real differentiators. YesTV need to show that they are not just a telecommunication organisation but that they can offer something different to Sky, Orange and BT etc… something that is different to what the rest of the world is offering.
There are three main issues we have had to deal with:
- One is customer service – we need world class customer service. It is a huge challenge to explain what television is for; what a good service is and the services that you can get from subscribing.
- Second is customer experience – if my experience of watching YouTube is the same as I can get from Yes Television, then there is no reason to have ‘television’. If we offer 4kHD, we need to make the best 4kHD in Israel.
“We needed to understand what it is that differentiates us from our competitors just to stay relevant.”
- Third is content. Netflix are investing $8 billion in content and this makes it difficult for us to compete. We need to operate extremely efficiently and we need to invest in the content that we already have. This is a huge challenge, so we need to be very precise in how we approach it.
We are obligated to invest 8% of our revenue into production of our own content, and we can’t see this is a problem or a hurdle to overcome, we need to use it to our advantage. So we decided that our professional identity will be defined by the creation of our own content – we will differentiate ourselves as movie makers! For example, we sold our number one series- Fauda – to Netflix and that has become a new revenue stream for us. We need to continue to produce this amazing content that we can sell beyond YesTV.
“The main challenge is to stay relevant in a competitive environment.”
You process a lot of sensitive personal data. How do you demonstrate that you are treating it safely and securely?
We were the first Israeli enterprise to implement cloud services through Amazon Web Services. It took almost a year of negotiation with the regulators (we have our own version of GDPR) but we now have a very safe and secure cloud-based platform.
“We were pioneers in a very difficult area, but now other Israeli companies are following us into the cloud – banks, telecommunications, retail. We showed that we can still keep customers’ data secure in the cloud, it is really just another way of storing data. The other companies can thank us for that!”
How do you track how personal data is being used?
We have a rigorous approvals process in place so that for us to use your data, we need to have all the approvals in place. Once approved, we use customer data to improve the three pillars of customer service, viewing experience and content.
You are well known on LinkedIn, with over 30,000 connections. How does that work for you, and does it bring any problems?
[Laughs] How did I get to 30,000 connections? In the States when I was in pre-sales, it was very difficult to get contacts with the C-Level. Not like in Israel where you can just pick up the phone. In order reach those people, I would make connections with the lower level people, people like me. Then I would get connected with the next level up, then the next until I had reached the C-Level. To get the top guy in the pyramid, I would need maybe 200 connections.
Then, as I got more into this world of data, I started to write articles and suddenly I had thousands of people asking for requests and I approved everyone- this may have been a mistake! I have maximum of 30,000 which is a LinkedIn limitation. I disconnected with 4000 people but now I am back up to 30,000 and I have 1,500 more people wanting to connect!
I use LinkedIn for two things:
- First, I am learning a lot from LinkedIn. I do not use it to look for jobs, I really like my job. I use it to learn from and be connected to my peers. I want to learn from the Chief Data Officer of Sky, or Orange, of Deutsche Telekom… I learn about their skills, what qualifications they have, what articles they read.
“I can improve my professional life by using this big data platform. For me it is about becoming a better professional.”
- Second, I use it for the topics I want to promote. I just had a meeting in Yes Television where I had 8 PhD students talking about the unified programme at the Academy of Business so I am using LinkedIn to get the echo and the publicity around this topic.
What are the skills, qualifications and attributes that have been vital for your success in the domain of data?
On a personal note, I had two life experiences that have helped me throughout the years. I was in the elite unit of the Israeli army – so when people say ‘I had a hard day’s work’, I know what a hard day’s work is! As a result, I have a really good sense of proportion, of what I can demand from myself, from my body and from my spirit. So my experience in the army was a very good, life-changing experience.
Secondly, my basketball career as a coach and as a player has made me treat people as ‘teams with joint goals’. It has also taught me to really work hard for everything you need, both physically and mentally.
“For professional skills, in a specific programme or technology, in today’s data world- and I tell this to my students as well- the most important characteristic for today’s leaders is the ability to learn.”
I have really worked on myself, particularly in the US, to ‘learn how to learn’. So, for example, e-learning, meet-ups, reading articles, writing articles and teaching.
“I always teach, because I know that if I teach in the University about the introduction to new big data technologies, then I have to know everything about those technologies. I can’t embarrass myself in front my students by not knowing what I am talking about. So being a university lecturer makes me a much better ‘Chief Data Officer’!”
Is there any other advice you would give to CDOs and other data professionals?
In YesTV, we have created a data science team. I have experienced many ways of establishing such teams, in banks and financial institutions all over the world, and I think there is a vital mistake made in the way in which most organisations tackle data science. I am not talking about the Googles or Facebooks, I am talking about real enterprises that have struggles in terms of funding and budgets.
“I believe that the world needs to better understand that the world of data science is not ‘magic’- it just needs the three pillars of management, IT expertise and data science. It is crazy to recruit an external data scientist and then try to teach them domain expertise. You already have the first two pillars, so invest in the third. Don’t invest in a data scientist and then try to teach him the other two.”
It is much harder to retrain a ‘data scientist’ from, for example, the retail world to the world of television. It is easier to teach a BI professional from the television world the skills of Pi, Python, R, Jupyter, RStudio, Pandas and logistical regression.
It is very important in today’s world that people don’t forget their internal resources. That is something about which I am passionate in my teaching- making sure that the BI professional has expertise in both pillars of the IT professional and industry domain expertise. We should invest in them and empower them to the world of data science!
That’s a very important message that I try to take with me wherever I go.
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