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Moving Towards Strategic IT

Moving Towards Strategic IT

Has your company reached the IT tipping point yet? The point at which IT grows up and moves beyond local concerns to a more global, strategic view?

Has your company reached the IT tipping point yet? The point at which IT grows up and moves beyond local concerns to a more global, strategic view?

Every mid-size company eventually recognizes that it has outgrown the ad-hoc, local processes that allowed it to function from the start-up stage. Whether a company stays within a single country or expands globally, there comes a point when each function is too focused on location rather than on corporate direction, and an IT leader with a central guiding strategy becomes necessary.

At Galderma, that realization came eight years ago, when the dermatology products company, aware that it had a problem with IT management, brought me in to solve it. Galderma, based in Paris, is a relatively young company. Formed in 1981 as a joint venture between Nestle and L'Oreal, Galderma is on a fast growth path, operating in more than 30 different countries. But when I arrived, the only corporatewide technology system we had was e-mail. There were 28 ERP packages; we probably had a system from every vendor you can think of. Virtually every location had a different one, and that made it nearly impossible to centrally manage data and use it effectively.

My primary role has been to develop a central IT strategy and bring some coherence to the mess. It's taken me until now to change the company culture to one that values technology and information as strategic assets. The knowledge of how to do that-my strategic orientation-wasn't something that I came into through chance.

Origins of an Outlook

I started in IT 20 years ago in the United Kingdom as a systems support controller at what was then E.R. Squibb & Sons (it became Bristol-Myers Squibb after merging with Bristol-Myers in 1989). I was lucky enough to work with general managers who valued IT and information asset management, and who could see their long-term strategic value. My conversations with them about my role and the role of IT in business initiatives helped more than anything to instill in me an understanding of business strategy and the key levers for IT. When you become a CIO, one of the best things you can do to improve your abilities and enhance your position is to actively seek out business partners like these, especially if they have decision-making authority, and to build relationships with them.

My view of my role and that of technology really changed when I became involved in a project to develop customer relationship systems for the whole company. I had become associate director for sales, marketing and medical systems, and I was working closely with the leader of the project, our global director of sales force effectiveness. I had the opportunity to sit down and really think about how IT could make a strategic difference to the company-from sales all the way to the management decision-making process.

In the pharmaceutical industry, as in some other industries, we tend to look at sales force activity as the primary tool for measuring our investment with the customer, and sales or sales audits as the key measure of return. However, the relationship between a company and its customers is far more complex than that; we use multiple tools to change purchasing habits and measure success.

The problem has always been to collect this data from all the silos around a company, to consolidate it, and then present it in a meaningful or usable way. The hurdles are not just technical but also political. Persuading each country manager that there was value in consolidating shampoo sales data with infant nutritional sales data was a challenge.

That experience changed my focus and my role from being operational or tactical-where I was thinking only about the next project and the delivery of services-to a strategic role where I was looking at the value of data in the customer relationship and the value of the information asset to the enterprise.

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