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CIOs must step into the digital leadership void

Martha Heller | Sept. 23, 2016
In this excerpt from her latest book, 'Be the Business: CIOs in the New Era of IT,' contributor and IT executive recruiter Martha Heller discusses the CIO's role in digital leadership.

As a precursor to developing a governance model to facilitate an enterprise digital strategy, Smoley led the executive team in a conversation about what AstraZeneca should be doing in digital. That conversation went well enough that Smoley took it a step further.

“I took the CEO and executive staff, and we spent a week in San Francisco,” says Smoley. “My CTO and I hosted the trip. We met with a group of really interesting cloud companies, some with products and services specifically for the life sciences.”

After meeting with some bigger players, Smoley and his CTO curated a half day of meetings with startup companies. “We did speed dating with a bunch of healthcare-related technology companies, and our executives were completely blown away,” he says. Some of AstraZeneca’s leaders thought that the trip would be a waste of time. Why should they travel so far just to meet some technology companies? “By the end of day one, their eyes were as big as saucers,” Smoley says. “They couldn’t believe how much innovation was in the room. They said, ‘We need to be part of this, and we don’t have to do it all on our own.’ ”

From the goodwill created on the San Francisco tour, Smoley established AstraZeneca’s first “digital center of excellence.” To lead the center, he enlisted a marketing leader from elsewhere in the company who had both the customer perspective and some experience with systems implementation.

“The digital center of excellence spans the whole digital strategy piece, including social, apps, websites, devices, sensors, data analytics—all of it,” Smoley says. While the center is a business construct that stands next to IT, Smoley’s CTO is an official member of the group. “I want to make sure we’re having one conversation around what technology can and can’t do, not two,” Smoley says. “We want to avoid the scenario where there’s the digital conversation and then there’s the IT conversation.”

AstraZeneca’s CTO has considerable responsibility in the digital center of excellence. He scans the horizon for new technologies; connects people across the business who are looking for technology solutions with the right VCs, IT staff, or IT vendor partners; and develops policies and standards around platforms and development.

As CIO, Smoley’s responsibility is to get the center off the ground, select the right leader from the business to take it from infancy to maturation, and champion “digital” as an enterprise-wide strategy. “People have varying levels of urgency on digital,” says Smoley. “Some think we have other things to think about and can wait, and others believe we’ll be left behind if we don’t move now. My role is to facilitate the conversation and build the digital center of excellence model so we are informed and ready to take full advantage as opportunities present themselves. Digital is an emotional area and a new space. There are no clear roadmaps.”


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