Answers That Matter

Eli Lilly sees IT as a business tool to make its research, customer service, and sales stronger

InformationWeek Staff, Contributor

January 31, 2004

2 Min Read

When Eli Lilly & CO. launched Strattera, the first nonstimulant treatment for kids with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, the company knew the side effects could include nausea and sleepiness.

By gathering and analyzing feedback from its call centers, with the help of a customer-relationship-management system, Lilly discovered that those effects often were mitigated if children took the medication with a meal and at night. It's a distinction that didn't show up in the extensive clinical trials the drug went through before being approved. Just weeks after the drug became widely used, Lilly was able to start funneling that recommendation to doctors.

Lilly CEO Taurel says IT is an enabler of effectiveness and a key part of success.Photo by Michael Llewellyn

The success with Strattera illustrates Lilly's changing attitude about technology. It used to look at technology as something that could make the company more efficient and cut costs. Now it looks to technology to make it better, as in increasing sales, delivering better research, and improving customer service. "We've seen that IT makes you more effective," says Sidney Taurel, Lilly's CEO, chairman, and president. "It's a big shift. We've changed to seeing IT as an enabler of effectiveness."

Technology plays a key role in turning Lilly's slogan, Answers That Matter, into action. The reaction to a call-center experiment shows how that can work. Lilly, after outsourcing call centers, decided it needed to pull that work back into the company so it could react more quickly to the information coming in and provide the most meaningful answers to customers and doctors.

Beyond the call centers, Taurel points to initiatives such as Lilly's InnoCentive effort. That project, now spun off as a separate company, uses the Web to post small research problems online, offering a reward and recognition for scientists who can come up with a solution. The initiative recently led to a scholar working on a doctorate in organic medicinal chemistry in Shanghai, China, solving a problem linked to obesity.

To create such opportunities, Taurel expects a lot from his business-technology leadership. He believes it takes a high degree of top-down management and discipline to run a global IT environment effectively. But he doesn't have a cookie-cutter vision of what an effective leader looks like. In 1999, he pulled a marketing manager with no technology experience, Roy Dunbar, into the CIO role to force the IT group to better align with business initiatives. When he promoted Dunbar to an operating-unit president, he tapped chief technology officer Mike Heim as CIO.

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