Every mid-size company recognizes eventually that it has outgrown the ad-hoc, local processes that allowed it to function from the startup stage. Whether a company stays within a single country or expands globally, there comes a point when the pieces have all gone their own way and a central hand and guiding strategy becomes necessary.
At Galderma, that realization came eight years ago, when the dermatology specialist brought me in, knowing that the firm had a problem with IT management. Galderma is a relatively young company, formed in 1981 as a joint venture between Nestle and L'Oreal. It's on a fast growth path, operating in more than 30 different countries from a Paris-based center, and when I arrived, the only consistent technology system in place was email.
My intended role at Galderma was to develop the central strategy and bring some coherence to the mess. The knowledge of how to do that -- my strategic orientation, if you will -- wasn't something that I came to through chance.
I started in the IT field with Bristol-Myers in the UK, where I was lucky enough to work with a few business leaders who valued IT and information asset management, and who could see their long-term strategic value. My conversations with them helped more than anything to instil in me a general understanding of business strategy and the key levers for IT.
When you become a CIO, one of the best things you can do to advance your capabilities and your position is to actively seek out business partners like these, and in particular those with decision-making capabilities, and build a strong working relationship.
The point of real change in how I viewed my role and that of technology, however, came when I became involved in a visionary project to develop customer relationship systems for not only Bristol-Myers' pharmaceuticals group but the whole of the company. Working closely with the leader of the project, our global director of sales force effectiveness, I had the opportunity to sit down and think about how IT could make a strategic difference to the company, from sales all the way through to the decision-making process in management. That experience changed my focus and role from being operational or tactical -- where you're thinking only about the next project and the delivery of services against agreed measures -- to a strategist role where I was looking at the value of data in the customer relationship and the value of the information asset to the enterprise.
More than a makeover
The environment I entered at Galderma was one that definitely needed help. In some ways, I'm still not sure that the people who interviewed me knew what their technology problems were, or what the business and IT strategy should be. They only knew that although they were functioning as a business, they could be doing so more effectively. They turned to me to create the glue for the company that would allow us to communicate and work as an efficient, fully profitable enterprise.
As soon as I arrived, I saw a clear opportunity to put in place a central strategy and instil an understanding of why such a strategy was important. With 28 ERP packages, we 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 and use data in an effective manner.
We couldn't afford to invest in a massive infrastructure replacement without approval from the business leaders who owned the country-specific systems. Getting that approval became the initial thrust of the IT strategy. I could tell the Galderma employees that a single system was important to the business, but I had to get people throughout the company to understand why, to see the value of a single system and to want to fund such a project.
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