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AstraZeneca's CIO Jon Kirby buys into technology

Mark Chillingworth | Jan. 18, 2013
Pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca has had a difficult recent history and like many businesses it faces some tough challenges in the near future. Jon Kirby, CIO at the Anglo-Swedish organisation, is part of a new leadership team facing up to those challenges.

It is not just Kirby's IS team that is pushing the technology boundaries.

"We have a lot of scientists with an incredible knowledge of IT and they know how they want the systems to operate and they are very demanding," he says. Indeed, Kirby has taken advantage of this knowledge base by taking on a former scientist with major credibility across the firm as his head of IS in R&D.

"That has created very clear lines and goals that we want to set out and achieve. We want to make sure the scientists are able to do what we pay them for -- making drugs, not trying to perfect IS. So we have eliminated a lot of the ghost IT.

"This was one of the most important recruitments. He has built a good team around him and it is making a real difference," says Kirby.

Each head of IS reports both to Kirby and to the chief of their respective business line.

"IS has to sit on these strategic teams. Their peers must understand how we understand their needs and bring them innovation through the IS network that feeds into the group," he says of the federated structure.

"It is worked that way to be sure that the business units have ownership of their information strategy. This way it translates into the P&L, customer loyalty and speed to market for that division.

"Also AstraZeneca has a really strong culture and ability to have dual reporting lines and it works well. A completely centralised group would not deliver the impact we are currently seeing."

Utility switch

Kirby says AstraZeneca IS has a "core operating cost of $1bn" with capex added on top of that. The IS team consists of 1300 in-house employees, including dedicated informatics teams within business areas. The UK accounts for roughly 500 of the 1300, and this is alongside staff who belong to outsourced providers. Kirby is also considering SaaS.

"Cloud is a key part of my technology strategy going forwards. What is important though is the information management as confidentiality is something that is important to this business.

"For the next 12 months we will transform the service performance to make it a utility like electricity. Our architecture needs to make sure we can deliver the critical business performance to drive new solutions.

"I think pharmaceuticals has been quite parochial with technology. We have existing relationships with suppliers that have been engaged with our business at a sales point rather than at the R&D point," he says. As an R&D-led company, Kirby wants AstraZeneca to engage with the R&D teams of its IT suppliers, as these vendors are also R&D-led companies.


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