Chris MurphyEditor, InformationWeek
Is IT's Core Competency Making Others Look Good?
Richard Thomas, the CIO of Quintiles, thinks his IT team's most critical skills need to be making other people in the company look good.
Now, that approach could be a disaster if used as an excuse for IT to stay in a back-office, just-support-the-business role. But Thomas and his team are doing it right, as Thomas explained to the InformationWeek 500 Conference last month. (See the video below.)
Quintiles provides services to pharmaceutical and biotech companies to help them run clinical trials. Thomas has spent the past seven years as CIO of Quintiles pushing the IT team to be a revenue generator as part of that effort. In doing so, however, Thomas isn't trying to build a fiefdom of software products that he and his IT team runs. And that's where making others look good comes in: When IT sees a way to make money selling IT products or IT services, it looks for the right business units to partner with, and lets them champion it and carry it forward.
"We passionately believe in giving our ideas away," Thomas said.
In the video below, he explains how Quintiles has worked for three years on a project called Semio, with partner and customer Eli Lilly. It's a collaborative environment that pharma companies can use to examine healthcare data in order to design the best approach to a clinical trial--balancing the cost, time, and chance for success. You can see glimpses of that environment in this video. To develop that project, Thomas teamed IT pros with Quintiles business unit experts and Eli Lilly experts--those business unit leaders led three of the four technical development teams. "That worked really well. There was no us and them. There was no divide," Thomas said.
He calls these tech-driven new products "game changers." They're driving about $40 million in annual revenue, Thomas said, but more important, they helped Quintiles land $400 million in new business where the technology was a key part. That's why the business unit partnerships are so important. "All our game changers have been where we try to shift the idea into a business line and let them take it forward," Thomas said.
In the video, Thomas has a lot more to say on the people and culture needed to focus an IT organization on creating products and working directly with key customers, instead of just keeping the IT lights on. "New IT is definitely not for everyone," he warned. "It's a bit out there, and it's not certain what it will look like when it's finished, especially with some of these game-changing types of initiatives."
Another reason occurred to me to have business units take IT's great ideas and operate them long-term: If IT hands off projects once they're built, that keeps a certain pressure to come up with the next game-changing idea.