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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.

"In these tech engagement sessions part of what we do is not only titillate and inspire, but also inform a bit what these people might not know about," he said.


Executive engagement

It's because of initiatives like executive engagement and the transformation plan that the IT function is held in good regard at AstraZeneca, which spurs the CIO on and perhaps pushes IT beyond its comfort zone.

"The senior executive team has a very healthy relationship with IT and the view of IT is as a real partner in delivering business goals and objectives," Smoley said.

"I'm not sure the senior leadership is particularly leading edge from a technology standpoint, but I think in terms of attitude, and interest and willingness to engage and discuss, the senior executive is very much there and that's good because it pushes us and creates a challenge for us."

This is one of the key modern capabilities of the CIO, which Smoley said was to be a transformation driver and value-add to the organisation.

"If you can connect people and be a catalyst; bring people together and share best practices, share lessons learned and accelerate - then that provides value to the company," Smoley said.


Competitive advantage

Despite pressing on with innovative technology initiatives following the organisation's technology transformation, Smoley said that "running brilliant IT" was still an important part of the CIO role.

"The twice as good for half the cost tagline never really goes away because you can always look at how you can improve and apply it to almost anything," Smoley said.

"Going forward what we've said is we're going to push the boundaries of technology."

The three focus areas were "running IT brilliantly, digitising everything, and innovating for competitive advantage".

"We have to do all three. You could envision it as a pyramid because running IT brilliantly is where most of the money goes, and it's where most of the people are, and it's what you have to do if you ever want to get to the discussion around the other two areas," Smoley said.

"If your email's not working, or your network's slow, or SAP is falling over, nobody's going to want to talk about the next cool technology or innovation. Making IT run brilliantly is so very important and we talk about it every day and you can't take your eye off that ball."


Emerging technologies

The CIO acknowledges that finding metrics to measure the success of a new mentality and innovation agenda is not as straightforward as it was for 'traditional IT', but that AstraZeneca was tracking experiments rather than success and failure.

"On the innovation side, what we do is measure ourselves in terms of the number of pilots that we're running and the number of pilots that actually transform or convert, if you will, into advanced instruments and scale-up," he said.


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