IT and Business Management

Meeting the Challenge of Growth

By Jennifer Allerton, CIO, Hoffman-La Roche

Say "pharmaceutical company" to the average person, and they're likely to think of test tubes and people in white coats. But as a CIO, you think of data management.

It takes 10 to 12 years to bring a new drug to market, and every step along the way requires vast amounts of data to be:

  • Collected
  • Stored
  • Organized
  • Classified
  • Understood

At Hoffman-La Roche today we're working with nearly a petabyte of data in various forms of medical imaging, and it's growing at 60 percent per year.

Managing Data

In the pharmaceutical industry, supporting corporate growth and improving data management are intimately related. Hoffman-La Roche has doubled its business over the past five years and intends to do so again in the next five years. That means getting better at managing the data involved in bringing new drugs to market including:

  • Research data
  • Clinical data
  • Regulatory data
  • Informational data (to doctors and patients)
  • Safety data (feedback from doctors and patients)

In addition, what many people may not understand is the rather large gamble that's involved in introducing a new drug. It takes about four years and US$300-400 million to get a new manufacturing facility up and running, a facility that is often for only one drug. That means that about eight years into the 12-year drug-development process you have to make a decision about whether or not to start building the facility for a drug that hasn't been approved yet. You can just imagine the pressure this puts on the decision-support aspects of IT!

IT-Business Alignment

Over the past five years we have addressed these challenges in many ways. To help align IT with key business objectives and improve our scalability, we did the following:

  • Globalised IT
  • Introduced ITIL®-based processes in many areas of our company
  • Developed a set of IT architectural standards
  • Began reducing our cost structure by setting up an application development center in Poland and a technology and engineering center in Spain

And we are very interested in collaborative technologies such as videoconferencing and webcasting to improve coordination among the company's research and development centers worldwide.

What has really been critical for all these changes is not the technology, but the people. If you have the right people in the right job with the right skill set at the right time, you can do miracles. If you don't, it's a daily struggle. We had to develop an entirely new career structure and framework for IT to create an organization that knows how to work globally, virtually, and collaboratively, staffed by people who understand the pharmaceutical business and how their particular role supports it. This is the only way you can build an IT organization that is recognized as not just an order taker, but a real partner in the business.

International Growth

We focused on giving our people the growth perspective appropriate to a global company, enabling them to move up internationally and grow beyond the boundaries of their affiliate in a particular country. We are also very careful to recognize and honor the differences between technical and managerial positions, and allow people to transition between them to benefit their own careers.

Most important, we learned that we needed a way to measure the results of what we are doing. It can be difficult to extract hard figures for the ROI of major organizational initiatives, as opposed to more limited, technical projects. But supporting double-digit annual growth for five years is a pretty good metric of success.

And our improved agility as an IT organization was demonstrated by our role in the recent sell-off of two company divisions: we untangled IT systems in at least 60 different countries to achieve a clean separation in less than six months!

Internal Review

But really, our success is measured by our internal customers. We survey our users twice a year to determine whether IT is giving them what they need to get their jobs done. And we get fabulous results: More than 90 percent of our users in Basel, Switzerland—our biggest site—say they are satisfied or very satisfied with their computer systems.

We also conduct Employee Engagement surveys with our own IT staff to find out if they are happy and fulfilled in their jobs.

Every two years we perform in-depth interviews of 50 senior executives concerning their experience with IT services. We just completed our second set of interviews, and we appear to be moving in the right direction. For instance, in the previous survey, executives said that working with IT was too complicated; it was too hard to figure out to whom one should talk. So we implemented an account manager program to give people one point of contact for IT issues. The most recent survey indicates a great deal of satisfaction with that initiative: IT is now perceived as much easier to work with.

In the end, we followed the mantra of every successful CIO:

  • Focus on the business and the people, not the technology.
  • Identify your core competency.
  • Put the right people with the right skills into the right environment.

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