Sky lights up with data expertise

Running a busy data and analytics department is always challenging. When it has to support a fast-growing business with tough marketing tagets, things

There are not many data professionals who can show a glossy video about the work they do. There are even fewer who have a line of people eager to speak to them after they have presented. The only person to enjoy both of these things is Simon Kaffel, data and analysis director of BSkyB.

Sky’s use of data in pursuit of tough business goals (ten million customers by 2010) certainly makes for an interesting presentation, as the packed audience at the Data Marketing Show can attest. As a media company, it has the resources to make even databases look interesting.

Yet it is probably another aspect of Sky’s commitment to data that stimulated so much interest – it is recruiting. “I am looking to recruit seven roles across the team, as it has grown following a recent restructure,” says Kaffel. “I am involved in the recruitment of all heads into the team, as I am eager to understand their fit in the business, the team and with the work we deliver.”

That work won 12 Sky Value Awards for the data department last year (and has garnered Sky four Data Strategy Awards), all nominated by internal clients for outstanding service. “I have tried to develop an environment where the team can be as relaxed as possible in their work, that as much stress from around the organisation stops with me. I have a fantastic team and their work is hard enough – misplacing ‘and’ for ‘or’ can have huge implications – so the last thing that they need is to have someone standing over their shoulders,” he says.

Personal relationships have also played a key role in Kaffel’s own career path. Having been one of the early adopters of Xchange Apps’ Valex software while working in the NatWest database marketing team, he heard that Sky had also installed it and were looking to recruit.

“I contacted them directly and got on like a house on fire with the head of database marketing and analysis. That was over nine years ago,” he recalls. With a managing director who used to do Kaffel’s current job and who reports directly into the CEO, Sky’s culture is very data-centric. Asked who makes use of his skills, Kaffel says: “Everyone. In effect, everything I do has an impact on everyone from the CEO down! Sky’s data is a key asset for the business. So therefore how that data is used is key to the business hitting its targets.”

Kaffel’s office is dominated by a diagram of Sky’s operational database. It is hugely complicated with so many tables and dimensions that only two people understand it, he jokingly says. As a result. Sky built the marketing database Olive to remove that complexity and make the data more usable to the business. Olive takes over 150 feeds many of which are daily yet, despite this, the data is presented in a simple and user-friendly structure.

“Some of the work that I am most proud of is the design and delivery of a data solution when Sky’s CRM solution went live, that ensured the business continued to deliver with minimal impact on their activity. In addition, I added some of the brains behind the build of Olive, which I still see as my baby,” he says.

As that rare hybrid of marketing and data expert, Kaffel may have been too successful. “We’ve done such a good job in communicating the benefits of Olive within Sky that people expect it to be the Oracle, providing answers to a whole host of bizarre questions. Managing expectations is a key challenge,” he says.

The relationship with Experian Integrated Marketing has also been a strong one and fundamental to the success of the project. “I consider them to be part of my department,” says Kaffel. It is that 24-strong team which is now growing in line with Sky’s growth plans. New projects are in hand that will demand even more support.

Sky is a great example of a data-literate business and Kaffel a brilliant ambassador for both the company and the data industry as a whole. Yet his own focus is just on the next challenge. He says: “We need to sweat the data assets that we have. We have spent a great deal of money on data and services – we need to continue to leverage as much benefit from that data as possible.”

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