Pharmaceutical giant Novartis aims for service as its “north star”


Scott Owen Mason, COO IT and head of IT operations at Novartis, spoke at ServiceNow’s annual customer event in London this week.

Digital technologies and the application of a ‘service’ mindset can help “reimagine medicine”, according to Scott Owen Mason, COO IT and head of IT operations at pharmaceuticals giant Novartis.

Speaking at ServiceNow’s annual customer event in London this week, Mason described how Novartis is using the ServiceNow platform to look beyond process efficiency and has even appointed CEOs of service to improve the end user experience and cut out costs.

The end game, however, is not to just improve the company’s cost base, but to improve the speed to market for drug discovery. Mason said:

Our company mission is to reimagine medicine. With the scientific revolution and with information technology we have a huge opportunity to make that real. IT is integral to that and we are on a critical path to make that happen. A drug today takes $2.5 billion and 14 years from initial discovery to come to market, that’s a lot of time and a lot of cost before we can see the benefit to ourselves, to our loved ones.

We have the opportunity to reduce that, maybe 10, maybe 15, maybe 25 percent by applying digital technologies. Just to drug development itself. Most of the contribution is going to come from partnering with business from an IT standpoint.

Mason said that Novartis assessed where it was positioned in the market and soon realised that if it simply just continued to make incremental improvements, just adjust its approach here and there, that it would soon be “irrelevant”. He added that Novartis “couldn’t keep pace”, and as a result, reset its IT strategy so that it could become a value creator for the company.

This new IT strategy has three core principles – the three Zeros.

Zero One

The first pillar of the strategy, Zero One, focuses on stripping back the company’s unnecessary use of technology and slimming down on unwanted fat. Mason said:

Zero One is all about zero size. We need to take out everything that is not value adding, that is waste, that is creating overhead and creating future debt.

And so by applying that lens, we are taking out 40% of applications. We are taking out 100 data facilities. We are reducing the number of roles and processes.

Zero Two

The second pillar, Zero Two, is entirely focused on moving towards a deployment modus operandi that relies on standardised technology wherever possible. Mason’s belief is that customisations don’t generally add value and that Novartis should only be customising where it can genuinely differentiate and add value. He said:

Zero Two is zero customisation. Anything that is not core to differentiating how we go to market, how we innovate, how we sell, needs to be standardised out of the box. Our job as an internal IT organisation is to configure, to combine the different technologies, to apply them in the most standardised way possible, so that we are not creating the next architectural debt and having to apply zero size to those innovations. There are very few areas that we can be very laser focused on to apply customisations.

Zero Three

Finally, the third pillar, Zero Three, is focused on zero distance. This means ensuring that IT has the best understanding of the business as it can, so that it knows how to add value and where it can deliver the necessary tools. Mason said:

Zero Three is zero distance. Any of you in IT shops today, the most important thing is that we understand the business better than they do. Then we can be really effective, at the table, designing new ways to work, designing new business models, applying new technologies. The other aspect of zero distance, is that we have to be zero distance with our suppliers, with our partners. How do we innovate together? How do we apply out of the box innovation?

The north star

However, underpinning all of this, and what Mason sees as critical to Novartis’ future success, is adopting a service approach wherever possible. Using service as the ‘north star’ to guide all investments and decision making. Novartis has even appointed service CEOs, whom are responsible for reimagining how services could be delivered across the enterprise, negotiating with all of the different business functions.

Mason said:

What’s critical, what we are finding in this journey, is that there is one north star that we have found. We apply the three zeros, but the north star becomes one of service orientation. That for us was the breakthrough in the thinking. Services we think are valuable, because you start with the end user need and work backwards from that. We can work on processes, we can be great at those, but process effectiveness doesn’t guarantee any value. This has been the most critical thing.

There are two factors to this service orientation. The first, Mason said, is:

The implementation of service owners, true people that are empowered as mini CEOs of their service end-to-end, to be accountable for their customer experience and the value that’s delivered. Also to retire that service if it’s not delivering the value that was originally perceived. Look end-to-end and drive that experience and drive that value add on an ongoing basis.

The second being:

Applying an integrated service mentally, a service platform to the journey. Without that, we can’t get a seamless experience. It’s impossible. IT alone, we are building 35 processes on top of ServiceNow’s platform, to ensure we have an integrated, zero customisation of operating IT going forward. It requires us to build on top of, and apply standards, to really get that integration across everything.

And this service approach isn’t just an IT endeavour. Mason is working across all of the business functions – IT, finance, HR, etc. – to improve the cost base and the user experience. He said:

The exciting thing is working with our colleagues in the company shared service and beyond, to take the same north star. Most of what we do in IT today is not a requestable service, to the knowledge workers in the company and certainly not to our external customers.

But we have started to apply that across different functions, suddenly you can really have impact on a customer level. We have implemented three and we are extending that now – global service owners have a mandate to look across our real estate and facilities, our procurement, finance, IT, HR, and so forth. Just taking that lens, we are seeing KPI improvement opportunities of 30 to 50%, cost included.

Then it opens up, which is even more exciting, how do we support customers in a totally different way.

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Disclosure - ServiceNow is a diginomica premier partner at time of writing.