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The Changing Role of CIO in the Biopharmaceutical Industry

By Andy Newsom, CIO, CSL Behring

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Andy Newsom, CIO, CSL Behring

“It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the most responsive to change,” Charles Darwin observed in explaining his theory of evolution.

Today the role of the CIO is rapidly evolving, especially in the biopharmaceutical industry, and  CIOs must recognize and adapt to these changes. The CIO’s role has shifted from technologist to business partner and change agent.  This is mainly driven by technology advancements and their adoption by the business, the pace at  which the industry is changing, and increasing competition.  For the foreseeable future this shift is expected to continue, thus it is important to understand how these factors impact the role of the CIO and IT as a whole for the biopharmaceutical industry. 

The New Age CIO must make the shift from technologist to business partner.  It’s no longer just about delivering technology but understanding the business process and delivering business solutions.   As the leader of IT, the CIO needs to ensure that the IT organization is led by business  rather than driven by technology.  This can be done through organization design, processes and governance.  The CIO and the IT leadership must be more active in connecting to the business, ensuring that the IT strategy is tightly aligned to the business strategy.  This shift from technologist to business partner will ensure the proper IT focus and result in delivering the greatest business value.

Unlike other industries which have shown flat to modest business growth, the biopharmaceutical industry has had strong growth in the past 10 years, often in double digits.   This has resulted in the willingness by the business to invest in IT, providing they are getting business value.  The CIO still needs to be a good steward of the company operational expenses, but at the same time, show where the proper investments can contribute to the required business growth.  Unlike IT organizations of the past where IT was viewed as a utility that didn’t provide much value, today most businesses view IT as a required strategic partner to support their strategic goals.It is clear to see that today’s CIO must deliver systems and services that contribute to the business objectives.

“As IT leaders, CIO needs to ensure that the IT organization is led by business, and not driven by technology” 

Almost all biopharmaceutical companies are global and therefore under pressure from  many regulatory agencies.  These regulations, which are constantly changing, include not just quality regulations such as those mandated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration, and the European Medicines Agency, but also financial regulations such as Sarbanes–Oxley and IT general controls.  In addition to compliance with quality and financial regulations, IT organizations also must comply with legal regulations such as data privacy laws. CIOs must be familiar with these changing regulations to ensure they have the proper governance in place to manage regulatory risks. It is important that today’s biopharmaceutical CIO is driving the proper quality culture and ensuring that solid IT quality management systems are in place.  

The biopharmaceutical industry is becoming increasingly competitive as more companies are joining an already crowded industry. This is driving growth in the industry at an accelerated pace. The challenge for the CIO is in keeping pace with business to ensure company success and not hinder business growth. Further, today’s CIO is tasked with managing the balance between performance and control. As more controls are introduced, IT performance can be negatively impacted, resulting in less efficient processes. The key to balancing and keeping pace with the business is to ensure IT has the right people, process, and technology in place.

It is also important to understand what has not changed substantially in the role of the CIO in the biopharmaceutical industry. Talent management has always been a key role of the CIO. It is critical to the success of any IT organization to find, develop, and retain good IT talent. Since the 1990s, technology has been a strategic driver for most all industries and not just the biopharmaceutical industry. As a result, more pressure has been put on companies to find and retain key IT skills and leadership. This trend is not expected to change, so it is important that talent management be a key foundational component of the CIO strategy. An organization is only as successful as the people who run it.

As Charles Darwin said, it is the species that is most responsive to change that survives. This is applicable to the role of the CIO in the biopharmaceutical industry. The biopharmaceutical business will continue to be a fast paced, rapidly growing industry that will rely heavily on evolving technologies such as social, mobile, analytics and cloud to support their competiveness in the crowded space. The ever changing regulatory environment will continue to be a challenge for almost every CIO in the biopharmaceutical industry. CIOs will need to be business partners and change agents that understand the business and are aligned with the business strategy. This will ensure IT is providing the highest value at the speed required by the business.

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