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AstraZeneca CIO David Smoley interview - From transformation to innovation agenda

Edward Qualtrough | Sept. 5, 2017
AstraZeneca CIO Dave Smoley discusses the global pharmaceutical's three-year transformation, and building on the platform with a new innovation agenda for competitive advantage.

"It could be a technology solution, or a process solution, or it could be purely pushing back and helping the business understand how they can maybe improve things on their own without necessarily needing IT," Smoley said.

Part of the new way AstraZeneca works with its suppliers has been engaging with startups, which Smoley described as being an important part of the company's innovation agenda.

"We are really trying to tap into the startup community," he said. "We are working with many companies that didn't exist five years ago, who typically have developed their products with only cloud, mobile and usability in mind."


Transformation to innovation

The CIO over-simplified the three-year transformation as being "not easy but fairly formulaic in a way", although some of the figures related to the programme highlight what simple 'meat and potatoes' business can achieve.

More than $700 million in savings since 2013, which is the equivalent of more than 80% of Smoley's yearly global IT spend. The 2016 senior leaders meeting, held virtually for the first time, saw 1,700 AstraZeneca employees connect from over 60 global sites, which the company estimated to have saved more than 2,700 tonnes in carbon emissions. Smoley is also sponsor of a productivity initiative based around simplification projects which AstraZeneca believes unlocked more than 750,000 hours in 12 months alone, which the company is keen to dedicate to developing its science.

"The last three years have seen a huge transformation across AstraZeneca, with the move away from a risk averse, siloed and slow-moving company to one that is now proud to embrace fast-paced innovative and entrepreneurial values," Smoley said. "IT has played a key role in driving and enabling this change."


Entrepreneurial mindset

The culture-shift and different mentality at AstraZeneca is the platform for the company to be more entrepreneurial and embracing of a startup mentality, according to Smoley.

"Being much more open to taking smart risks and being a bit like a small biotech as opposed to a large, multinational pharma company," he said.

Smoley said that backing from AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot was important to the success of the project, with the Chief Executive driving the idea of a culture shift in the science, manufacturing, commercial and IT functions at AstraZeneca.

"Pascal Soriot, our CEO, is committed to technology innovation," Smoley said. "He truly believes information technology is a key enabler and is important for our success, and he's supported that very visibly and vocally over the past four years.

"That definitely sets a bit of a tone from the top."

The CIO has been running sessions on emerging tech and the opportunities provided by digital, proposing to the senior executive team a "list of hot technology areas". Each month the group convenes on an area like artificial intelligence or machine learning and discusses what it might mean for the industry, Smoley explained.


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