Advice on Digital Transformation, from ITV Studios and Zoho

Discover how ITV Studios leverages innovative technology and low-code platforms to transform TV production workflows and enable creatives to deliver compelling content using Zoho software tools.

17:21

Mar 20, 2024
30,737 Views

In this CXOTalk interview, Rob O'Brien, Head of International Technology at ITV Studios, discusses the digital transformation of television production in response to the rise of streaming services. He shares how ITV is using innovative technologies like Zoho Creator and Zoho Analytics to centralize production data, enable quick decision-making, and support creatives in making the best TV shows possible. O'Brien emphasizes the importance of low-code development for rapidly building and adapting applications, as well as change management best practices for implementing new technologies across a globally distributed workforce. He also touches on ITV's multi-cloud strategy and their "watching brief" on the potential of generative AI in television production.

Episode Highlights

Digital Transformation in TV Production

  • ITV, the biggest commercial broadcaster in the UK, is increasing output for streaming platforms like ITVX to meet changing viewer demands
  • Innovation is key to creating the best possible programs in terms of both commercial value and customer proposition

Enabling Creatives with Technology

  • ITV's Global Innovation Hub focuses on enhancing workflows, systems and processes with cutting-edge technology
  • The goal is providing creatives and production teams with an efficient underlying tech stack to work quickly and effectively on shows

Implementing Zoho for Streamlined Processes

  • ITV uses Zoho Creator and Analytics to track show development, manage group risk, and centralize previously unstructured production data
  • Having a single platform enables quick access to data for leadership decision-making and reacting to the changing environment

Importance of Change Management

  • While implementing the technology was quick, the harder part was change management and getting buy-in across the distributed global teams
  • Keys to success included communicating the "why", providing training, and having strong leadership support and mandate

Benefits of Low-Code Platforms

  • Low-code enabled ITV to quickly build and adapt the system they needed, which would have taken much longer with traditional development
  • However, governance is still crucial with low-code to ensure even small changes are properly vetted and communicated before implementation

Exploring AI in Production

  • ITV's Global Innovation Hub is researching potential applications of AI and machine learning to create production efficiencies
  • However, the technology is not yet mature enough, and there are regulatory and copyright issues to resolve before implementing AI

Zoho's Compliance and Global Capabilities

  • ITV values Zoho's strong compliance features like encryption at rest and in transit, GDPR certifications, and SOC/ISO standards
  • As a global business, ITV appreciates partnering with Zoho which takes compliance seriously from an international perspective

Key Takeaways

Enabling Creatives with Innovative Technology

ITV's Global Innovation Hub focuses on enhancing workflows, systems, and processes with cutting-edge technology to provide an efficient tech stack for production teams. The goal is to enable creatives to work quickly and efficiently on their shows, ultimately creating the best possible programs in terms of both commercial value and viewer experience.

Leveraging Low-Code Platforms for Rapid Development

Implementing Zoho Creator and Analytics allowed ITV to quickly build a centralized system for tracking show development, managing group risk, and accessing production data for leadership decision-making. Low-code platforms enabled ITV to rapidly develop and adapt the systems they needed, which would have taken much longer with traditional development. However, proper governance is still essential with low-code to ensure even small changes are vetted and communicated before implementation to avoid disruptions for end-users.

Change Management is Key to Successful Implementation

While the technology implementation was fast, effective change management was the harder part of the journey. Keys to success included communicating the "why" behind the changes, providing training, and having strong leadership support and mandate. ITV is also exploring potential applications of AI and machine learning in production, but the technology is not yet mature enough for implementation due to regulatory and copyright issues that need to be resolved.

Episode Participants

Rob O'Brien is head of international technology at ITV Studios. He is always on the lookout for new technology that can allow the company to work more flexibly and develop new workflows.

Based in the UK but with operations in 12 other countries, ITV Studios is a television production and distribution company owned by the British broadcaster ITV plc. Best-known for its output for UK channels such as ITV and Channel 4, ITV Studios is also intensively involved with broadcast production and distribution in the US, Australia, Germany, The Netherlands, Italy, Israel, France, Spain and Scandinavia.

Michael Krigsman is an industry analyst and publisher of CXOTalk. For three decades, he has advised enterprise technology companies on market messaging and positioning strategy. He has written over 1,000 blogs on leadership and digital transformation and created almost 1,000 video interviews with the world’s top business leaders on these topics. His work has been referenced in the media over 1,000 times and in over 50 books. He has presented and moderated panels at numerous industry events around the world.

Transcript

Michael Krigsman: Today we're talking with Rob O'Brien who is the head of International Technology for ITV Studios. We're discussing the digital transformation of television production, and we're here in McAllen, Texas with Zoho.

Rob O'Brien: ITV POC is a commercial broadcaster, the biggest in the UK, and a production business. I'm the head of international technology. 

What that means is I look after the technology outside of the UK and the U.S. I operate with a team in ten countries, and we look after both the corporate technologies (the network and the servers), the workplace technology, and also the production technology.

I'm also part of the Global Innovation Hub, and I work with our co-chairs on implementing innovative and new technologies into our business.

Michael Krigsman: You have a very broad, international team, a very large footprint.

Rob O'Brien: Yes. We're operating in 13 countries, 16 production labels. It is a very eclectic mix of people that we work with and different types of companies that we deal with. Yeah, it's very broad. 

Michael Krigsman: We're discussing digital transformation. Streaming services like Disney and Netflix have changed television in so many ways. How does an organization like ITV manage in response to this?

Rob O'Brien: ITV's broadcast business responded to this with a product called ITVX, which is our streaming platform. We got three billion streams in the last year, and we're looking at increasing our output for streamers and offering a compelling programming for those. So much so that by 2026, we're looking at having 30% of our production being for streamers. 

Michael Krigsman: What is the impact of all of this on your organization on your team, which is so technology-based?

Rob O'Brien: We want to really enable our creatives with the technology. That's the most important thing that we try to do, I think, inside my part of the business. To do that, we're looking at innovative ways of delivering new solutions to make better programs for our clients. 

Innovation has always been part of the program making, from black and white television to color, SD to HD, color now to HDR. What we're trying to do is use these technologies to create the best possible product for our customers both in terms of commercial value but also in terms of a customer proposition. 

Michael Krigsman: I have to imagine that the workflows and the processes of keeping this organized and running must be so complex, so challenging.

Rob O'Brien: We have many budgets, many schedules of work, many sort of run orders and different schematics of things that we don't see. We have a lot of kind of paperwork that goes alongside any given production. And on any given day, we have 400 or 500 productions in production. 

Michael Krigsman: How much of your work then is around new technologies, better ways of working, really thinking through the innovation aspects?

Rob O'Brien: Within ITV, we have something called the Global Innovation Hub, which is led by some of our directors of production, which is all about learning about innovation, seeing where we can enhance our workflows, our systems, and our processes with new tech, bleeding edge technology, and understanding where we can add value to our production. Where we stand, generally, is twinning the technology with what the creatives want to make the best possible shows. 

Michael Krigsman: When you say twinning the technology, can you elaborate on that?

Rob O'Brien: We're talking about giving the creatives and the production teams a good underlaying technology stack that really enables them to be as efficient as they possibly can and work as quickly and as efficiently as they can on their shows.

Michael Krigsman: Can you give an example of that?

Rob O'Brien: We use Zoho. We're here with Zoho today.

Michael Krigsman: Mm-hmm. 

Rob O'Brien: We use it for some of our group risk processes, so we're capturing (into Zoho) a lot of information about our TV shows right upfront of the production process. Then we're bringing that into kind of a single dataset, which can then be scrutinized and reviewed and changed very quickly in a single platform.

Michael Krigsman: We are here at Zoho Day 2024 in McAllen, Texas. I appreciate that Zoho is making our conversation possible. 

Tell us about your work with Zoho. Give us an overview of that.

Rob O'Brien: We've been using Zoho for a few years within ITV Studios. We started looking at a system that could track our development processes. 

By development, I mean ITV is constantly coming up with ideas for new shows. We want to bring those ideas into a single database so that we can protect those ideas, but also share them around the group in the right way. Make sure we're not pitching the same thing to the same broadcaster three or four times, for example. 

I'm not saying that we did that in the past, but this enables us to ensure that we don't do stuff like that. Kind of that heavyweight spreadsheet scrutiny was required, and Zoho created and filled a void from there.

Later (and during COVID), we realized that we needed a better platform for how we manage our TV shows and our group risk systems. We're making 400 or 500 productions in any given day. That's a large amount of content.

Now before we had the Zoho system, we had teams of people with lots of unstructured data. Bringing that kind of information about where the shows are being made, who was in the crew, what the crew schedules were, and so many different places. It wasn't very quick.

During COVID, when we needed to make decisions really quickly, it became apparent that we needed something a bit better than manual, unstructured data. So, we looked into the market, looked around, looked at SaaS products, looked at COTS products. Couldn't find exactly what we wanted. 

We weren't prepared to go with that 80/20 rule where you get 80% of the product and 20% is missing. We knew exactly what our requirements were, so we realized quite quickly that a low-code platform would probably suit our needs. 

We settled on Zoho, and then we were able to quickly turn around, within six weeks, a platform for group risk. I think the technology itself came online very quickly. 

The harder part was probably more of the change management process going around to our businesses. But we had a lot of support from our leadership, and we were able to implement their system quickly.

What we've got today is a central group risk system and production system; we have dashboards and management reporting, so we're able to serve this data about our shows very quickly, scrutinize that data, and also react. 

That's really important for quick decision-making. But also, in this kind of geopolitical environment where things change regularly, it's more important than ever to make sure we're completely on top of our productions, where they are, what's happening, and what the schedules are.

Michael Krigsman: What Zoho products are you using for this?

Rob O'Brien: Zoho Creator and Zoho Analytics.

Michael Krigsman: You have this data in Zoho Analytics. You're using Zoho Creator to share it. What were you doing beforehand? It's a huge amount of data.

Rob O'Brien: We had lots of unstructured data. Our production companies were on top of the production and the data they needed to make their shows. 

But if our leadership were to ask, "Can I have some information about TV shows being created?" it would take a long time to get to them, and that's because that data was in spreadsheets. It was in emails. Some of it was in people's heads. 

Obviously, that's fine. But you can't react quickly unless you have the data. Obviously, during COVID, that was critically important. 

We haven't kind of buried this need for spreadsheets. We still use them in our business. But in terms of this specific workflow, we have a single system. It's much more efficient and able to scrutinize and give the data back to our leadership that they need at any given time. 

Michael Krigsman: What about the collaboration aspects? You're a very globally distributed workforce. 

Rob O'Brien: Yes, we have lots of teams in lots of different places all around the world all doing different things in terms of the types of programs that they're making. Having a single platform, it was challenging to roll out, I think. 

There's no doubt about it; change management was required. But we did have that leadership support which made it a bit easier.

I think the most important thing is that the teams trained on that data, trained on our system. They understood how it worked. They understood why we needed to implement this system. That made our process very quick.

One of the other things that I think is really important to ITV is compliance. We're very comfortable with the software in terms of its ability to encrypt at rest, encrypt at transit. Very comfortable with the GDPR certifications it puts in place, SOC and ISO. 

In terms of global business, I'm really happy to be partnering with a business like Zoho which takes that compliance seriously from a global perspective.

Michael Krigsman: For most organizations, making this kind of major process transition is hard. How did you go about it? Can you describe the steps you went through?

Rob O'Brien: We knew that we needed a product, so we went to seek the product, and we have some trusted partners who helped us with that procedure looking around what the right product was. We had to move quickly because COVID forced us to move quickly for this particular group risk product. 

We then went about understanding what exactly it was we wanted the product to do (to a very nuclear degree), so lots of working with our group risk teams, with our production teams, lots of communication with our leadership team, understanding completely what the product wanted to do. We then created our product.

One of the great things about low-code platforms is that you can output products very quickly. You can interact, write code very quickly. You can deliver something, turn something around, very quickly. 

We wrote the product. It was there. It was ready. Lots of effective communication with our teams who needed to use it. Then we set out going on our kind of change management journey.

Actually, building the technology was the easy part of the journey. The change management part took a lot longer. But we just thought about regular communications with our stakeholders and our production companies who were going to use the product. A series of training and events to make sure they get their training. 

But I think the key was having that leadership support, that mandate to use the product, and ensuring that our teams knew about why we were doing this. They need to understand the why, and that led to an easier implementation.

Michael Krigsman: On the one hand, you had leadership support and also the mandate to make this transition. On the other hand, at the same time, you had training and the various support activities to help people understand, "Here is why we're doing it, and here's what you need to do."

Rob O'Brien: That's exactly right. I think that's starting with the why was so important. I think once you started with the why, people can accept that. The implementation was much easier. 

Michael Krigsman: You mentioned low code. Tell us about that. Why was the low-code aspect so important to you?

Rob O'Brien: Because we wanted to do something quite quickly, but we also knew that lots of it might change, particularly as COVID kind of ramped down. We saw that might not need to ask the same questions of our team who manage different data and we wanted to know different things. 

We're also very aware that in a global environment, which ITV Studios operates in, that things change. We each have different bits of data. So, we need to adapt, our systems be able to adapt quickly. It's not the most complex system in the world, but it needs to change to accommodate the changes in the different regions. 

We knew that if we built something from the ground up ourselves with a large development team, those kinds of changes, that kind of ability to get to an initial product, would have taken a long time, a lot of effort to get to the requirements, then to get developers to write the code, test the code, release the code. It would have taken a long time to operate.

Probably by the time that we had done it ourselves, it would have been years. We didn't have years, Michael. We had, like, weeks. So, we went for a low-code platform because we knew that we didn't really need all the bells and whistles that a developer gives you. We needed a set criteria very quickly and knew that we could probably build it in a low-code platform. 

We did a bit of testing. Did a bit of playing around in the sandpit. Zoho was very happy to afford those kinds of tools to us. 

We were to learn very quickly that, with the low-code platform, we were able to build a product we needed from the ground up. So, we recognized that you can shortcut the development of this kind of product without all of the things that are series development things. 

As long as you've got your requirements, lots of communication and mandate, we could build our product very quickly. We settled on low-code because it really gave us the agility that we needed to get these products off the ground.

Michael Krigsman: The speed of development was really crucial. 

Rob O'Brien: The speed to get to a product was really important in the products that we're using. I think there were a number of other things that are really important to us as well: the GDPR piece, the compliance piece, et cetera. But the key function that we required was the speed to get to product.

Michael Krigsman: Does the low-code aspect of this make changes over time easier? For example, if you want to change the reports.

Rob O'Brien: Yes, we found that some of the more junior members of our team have been able to get running quickly with these products, which has been great for us – with a word of caution on that. I think you have to be careful when you're making changes to these products. Just because you can change something quickly in your product doesn't mean you should. 

You still need to have that kind of governance layer to ensure that everybody who needs to know about the changes accepts and signs off on the changes before they are made. This is a lesson that we've definitely learned the hard way.

Michael Krigsman: That's a really good point. I appreciate you bringing this up. Can you elaborate on this aspect, this governance? I think it's a pitfall that many organizations fall into because, after all, it's low-code, we can do anything, and it's really fast. 

Rob O'Brien: Well, exactly. Micro changes are very easy to achieve within the platform. The nature of low-code is that it is very agile and you can change things quickly on the fly. The challenge is we've got a large community of users across a large, global footprint who might not appreciate even the smallest change.

Whilst you can quickly go in, change some low-code around, change some buttons around in the interface – it's very easy to do that – you need to ensure that you have the proper governance in place so that you can make sure you understand why you're making this change, make sure you can convey to the team why you're making this change, and then go on the appropriate change management journey. If you just throw things here and there, you will quickly end up with support tickets asking about how to do things in the system that were once very easy to do and very well understood. 

Michael Krigsman: This governance or change control, over time, is crucially important to make sure that your processes flow smoothly and you don't have lots of support tickets, as you said.

Rob O'Brien: Absolutely. Sometimes it can feel like quite a boring and laborious process to go through governance to get the right kind of change in the regs and stuff like that. But actually, it saves time in the long term. As you mentioned, if you just throw things into production, which is so easy to do and so tempting to do with low-code platforms, you will end up with lots of support tickets, lots of teams trying to find out how to do things that they all were once able to do and were very easy for them.

Michael Krigsman: With so many users and so many developers, how do you handle rogue developers who just throw things in and say, "Oh, the governance, yeah, somebody else will handle that"?

Rob O'Brien: I think it's just about having quite a conversation explaining why that was a problem and perhaps just showing some of the support tickets that have come through so they understand the impact of quick and dirty changes isn't always the right thing to do.

Michael Krigsman: Again, explaining the why, as you said earlier.

Rob O'Brien: Explaining the why is very important.

Michael Krigsman: What about cloud computing? This also involved a migration to the cloud.

Rob O'Brien: ITV has a multi-approach to cloud computing. We often look at COTS, SaaS, and cloud computing as different things.

We did a migration to the cloud here. We do lots of things in the cloud. We're enjoying our journey into the cloud within ITV.

Michael Krigsman: Are you using AI in your productions?

Rob O'Brien: Within ITV, we're looking very closely at creating efficiencies in our workflow by using automation or machine learning. When it comes to generative AI, obviously it's a very hot topic at the moment. 

We have a research and development piece ongoing, and that's led by this group called the Global Innovation Hub, which I'm a leader of within ITV Studios. We've taken all of research and development into some of the tools that are appearing in the market for production. 

I'd say, right now, the technology is not quite ready for us to put into our production community. Also, ITV's approach is one of looking at how we can augment and improve our creatives' work. We're looking at that concept of co-piloting with AI. 

At the moment, the technology is not ready to implement into production. But we'll keep on researching.

Michael Krigsman: Right now, you are watching it and seeing where things are going and whether the technology will mature sufficiently so that you can incorporate it into your productions in some meaningful way – maybe.

Rob O'Brien: Absolutely. We have a watching brief on gen AI as, I think, any company probably has at the moment. I think, obviously, there are a lot of boundaries to AI that need to be resolved, not least regulatory, not least copyright issues. Then just the technology itself, I think, at the moment, if you were to generate something, it's not quite ready to go into a television program to be consumed by an audience just yet. 

Michael Krigsman: Rob, as we finish up, can you share advice on the change aspects of this journey? You described earlier that the change aspect was harder than the technology piece, and I think this is very common.

Rob O'Brien: I think it's important to start with why. Make sure all of your stakeholders, your community understands why you are trying to implement something. 

I would also say one of the most important things that you can do (something that we did) is get that leadership buy-in upfront and then keep on ensuring the momentum is maintained throughout the project lifecycle. That was critical for us. 

I think, without a leadership mandate or leadership support, we wouldn't have been able to deliver the technology. I think the two things I would offer to your viewers would be: A) start with why, B) ensure your leadership is with you.

Michael Krigsman: Rob O'Brien, Head of International Technology at ITV Studios, thanks so much for taking time to talk with us today.

Rob O'Brien: It was my pleasure. Thanks for having me, Michael.

Published Date: Mar 20, 2024

Author: Michael Krigsman

Episode ID: 830