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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.

"We are an information-driven business, so we have positioned ourselves a lot more effectively now. Information is the core thing, not the technology, and that is what is driving the way we work. So we have a much more business- and information-led strategy rather than technology-led," he says.

Changing to an information-led operation from a technology-led one has required Kirby to carry out some major operations on the leadership team within IS. Some of Kirby's messages are tough and would have been difficult to live through for all concerned, but when you look at the dire straits companies like Yahoo, Nokia, Kodak and HP find themselves in today, the longer term consequences for people, the economy and society are harder than these difficult decisions Kirby has had to make.

"We had a lot of good technology people. The challenge that IS had was a leadership and business outcomes issue." Kirby explains that these good technology people did not feel valued, perhaps didn't communicate well within the organisation and faced constant criticism over technologies like email. This created motivation problems within IS.

"That created a parent/child relationship, as IS was too eager to please, rather than help the business change and bring in new ideas," he says.

"They were not as skilled at people development as they needed to be. But there was excellence in execution and managing the costs base," he says.

"The first thing I did was make sure that I had the right leadership team, and that meant changing 80 per cent of the team within six months. Now we have a much stronger blend of experience in technology, business and working styles.

"IS leaders have to be leaders of people first rather than being experts in the subject matter.

"The common thread was a passion for people. They have to be people that could embrace pace and ambiguity and they had to have a strong alignment with the business. For me that was the same in procurement. You have to have a business conversation first and then fall back on the subject knowledge.

"We have spent a lot of time making sure that what we now do matters to the CEO and CFO. They have given positive messages that they see IS as important to the company," he says of the two-way support required and delivered.

"We have pillars or foundational capabilities that sit across our future state architecture; collaboration, externalisation, consumerisation, on-demand, information visibility and exploitation, information lifecycle management, application lifecycle management and end-to-end process management. We also have business area-specific requirements, such as within R&D where we have many data sources that need to be analysed, integrated and fed back to the scientists," he says of the information challenge and opportunity.


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