Case Study 3: Genentech - Controlled chaos and the scientific method
“I have a high level of comfort with paradox and ambiguity,” says Todd Pierce. “That helps when talking about new technology.”
That’s a bit of an understatement from the vice president of corporate IT of Genentech, who is currently overseeing roll-outs of Google Apps and iPhones. “A lot of being successful is figuring out what tensions – what paradoxes and conflicts – to hold,” Pierce continues. “Combining what’s possible with what’s practical, holding that tension, determines how successful I am as CIO.”
Cycling in the latest innovative technology is an exercise in controlled chaos for Pierce, who sees his primary role as figuring out how fast to deploy emerging technology to gain the ultimate benefit. This, Pierce notes, turns out to be a pretty tall order with new tools being introduced at a faster rate than ever before. The scientific approach of a biotechnology company, currently exploring new treatments for cancer and auto-immune disease, is boon and bane for IT. It’s innovative, “but that scientific mentality makes it very easy for them to question what you’re doing,” says Pierce. “People here are very willing to try new things, but it can’t just be new. It has to be new and better. And you have to prove it.”
The company was using 5000 mobile devices, including BlackBerries, last year when the iPhone hit the market and Pierce saw a business solution. Genentech deals with a lot of image-based data, but no one could imagine accessing it with the devices they were using. Pierce saw the iPhone’s touch-screen interface as an enabler for a truly mobile Genentech workforce.
He tempered his excitement with a five-month study last year, for which he gave iPhones to a group of mobile device users on his IT staff. Eighty-five percent of users preferred the iPhone and to date Pierce has rolled out 3000 of them.
The key for Pierce is that he doesn’t have to get to full consensus before rolling out an emerging solution. Ideas are floated and tests are run. At a certain point, once everyone’s concerns have been considered and the potential value of a technology has been validated, says Pierce, “I become the decision maker.”
It’s not as scary as it sounds. “We have a CEO who would rather be fast and make a mistake and recover from it than be slow and miss something,” Pierce says. “We don’t have to do everything all one way, or wait for all the factors to line up. A lot of decision makers get caught in that trap.”
Instead, Pierce segments his user base. Not everyone needs an iPhone and maybe Google Apps isn’t a good solution enterprise-wide. “There are cultural barriers when you have this much diversity of talent,” says Pierce. “So we’re breaking things down into smaller segments. We’re allowing for more personalisation, more customisation, more choice.”
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