AstraZeneca CIO on how DocuSign and cloud are improving its work in life sciences

Profile picture for user ddpreez By Derek du Preez June 2, 2015
AstraZeneca's CIO Dave Smoley explains how he is adopting DocuSign, Veeva, Workday and Office365 to transform his business.

As AstraZeneca's CIO Dave Smoley takes the stage at DocuSign's Momentum event in London this week, he is quick to highlight the fascinating work his industry is involved in at the moment with regards to the latest developments in immunology. Many of the national headlines this week focused their attention on how tests on new drugs were showing very promising results for those suffering from cancer.

However, when you think of the latest innovations in the field of life sciences, you don't immediately think about how a company like AstraZeneca's IT department is helping to drive those innovations. Smoley, however, believes that the latest developments in digital technologies, with particular reference to the cloud, are key to transforming AztraZeneca's business so that it can continue to be at the cutting edge of pharmaceutical and science research. He said:

We are transforming our business and not only that, but we are using IT as a key driver for this transformation. The focus for the business is back to science. And science as you know is data intensive, transactionally intensive and as a global company the challenges for IT are how to link these 55,000 employees dealing in all these different countries and to make them effective. To be effective in driving innovations. It's a big challenge.

If you think about science, it is increasingly outwardly focused. It's not just how your internal team is working together, but how you are working with the major industries in Cambridge and Oxford and Boston. This collaboration depends on speed and it depends on effectiveness in communication.

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Smoley began by explaining that his IT department has five areas that it is focused on in particular, with regards to business transformation. He said that these five areas provide the “foundation for the transformation” and are areas that he feels that the business wasn't performing very well in and needed to improve. The areas are:
  • The customer – For AstraZeneca this could mean the end customer, a patient, that could be struggling with a disease, such as diabetes or cancer. It could also be a payer or a provider, such as a doctor or a hospital. Or the customer from an IT perspective could be in the department next door, so someone in procurement, or someone in a lab developing a new drug. Smoley said that “making sure that everyone in the business understands who that customer is, how what they do adds value to that customer, is a key focus”.
  • Data – Smoley added that if AstraZeneca wants to operationally be world class in IT, then it has to understand the metrics, the measurements of success. He said that IT has to “constantly be in discussions with ourselves and with the business about how we get better, that continuous improvement mentality”.
  • Technical leadership – Smoley said that he finds that because of the ease of use of digital technologies, companies often feel like they don't have to pay attention to the technology itself. Because you aren't a technology company, you don't need to worry about technology anymore. He thinks that this is wrong. Smoley said that because of the pace of change that is occurring in the market, you can no longer rely on a third party to operate your tech and you can't delegate it out of the organisation. AstraZeneca is aiming to be at the forefront of technical leadership and has begun by placing a CTO in Silicon Valley (despite being headquartered in London), in an attempt be close to the innovation in the region. Smoley said AstraZeneca “wants to be working with the product folks in Silicon Valley where they are determining the future”.
  • Partnering with the leaders – Smoley said that when it buys products, like DocuSign or Salesforce or Workday, he doesn't simply see them as innovative tools, but innovative partnerships. He is particularly keen on pushing more and more towards the cloud. Smoley said that “it's not just a buy-sell procurement activity”, it's about creating a “relationship that's ongoing”, because the “product is continuously evolving and you want to be part of that roadmap and part of that discussion”.
  • Simplification and collaboration – He believes that these apply to IT, but they apply more importantly to the business. How is AstraZeneca going to enable simplification? Smoley used DocuSign as an example of how it is simplifying transactions across the business. He said “it's a great example of how we are helping people to collaborate, not just internally, but externally as well”.

With these areas forming the foundation for business transformation internally at AstraZeneca, Smoley went on to explain how that the business is building a portfolio of leading edge cloud tools, including Veeva (which bolts onto Salesforce), Workday, Box and Office365. As highlighted already, the company has also begun using DocuSign, which is obviously what Smoley was at the event to talk about.

Smoley explained how AstraZeneca began using the tool after a vice president decided it was a good idea and

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has since begun to spread across the business. He said:

DocuSign is obviously one of those things that it comes from a very personal experience. It came from a very personal experience in our case, where one of our EVPs had a DocuSign experience, not related to the business, and said that it is something that we should be using. She brought that in-house for her team and it kind of started as a seed and grew. But about the middle of last year we said that there was something to this and saw it as a big opportunity, so in the Fall we signed a deal with DocuSign and since then we have been pushing aggressively.

And we have had huge success. We have got 2,000 users up and running. It's a small number but it's growing every week. And we have got 15,000 envelopes that have been processed just in the last four or five months. It's one of those things that you have to look for traction, to look for areas where you can grab it and embrace it. And often in our case it's procurement, it's legal, it's HR. In life sciences, it's around clinical processes as well.

As you can imagine we have this rigorously regulated processes, where we are putting drugs through development, sharing information with government agencies, getting information back – that's a key opportunity for us. We are already seeing huge success in this area and we expect to grow.

Smoley added that one of the key reasons that DocuSign has proven itself to be valuable is the speed at which it can deliver results. He added:

Speed is one of the key drivers for this. You might not even realise how slow some of your processes are until you sit down with folks and actually start to do some mapping and check this out. The cool thing is that you don't have to re-engineer entire processes, this isn't 'let go and get a third-party to come in and do a major event', you can pick a particular transaction. You can pick a particular process. Pick a particular department and say let's get started, take one at a time and let it catch fire.

Smoley is no stranger to IT transformation. Prior to joining AstraZeneca, he was SVP at Flextronics, one of Workday's earliest customers and at a time when SaaS in the enterprise was almost unknown.

Disclosure: Workday and Salesforce are premier partners at time of writing.