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CIO Interview with Clark Golestani, EVP & CIO of Merck

All companies need security, but pharmaceutical businesses have to protect both their proprietary information and their patients’ privacy. Merck EVP and CIO Clark Golestani gives a glimpse into how the global health care leader balances its needs with technology.

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All companies need security, but pharmaceutical businesses have to protect both their proprietary information and their patients’ privacy. Merck EVP and CIO Clark Golestani gives a glimpse into how the global health care leader balances its needs with technology.

What is your primary goal as CIO?

I believe CIOs really need to have a triangle of focus: operations, strategy and opportunity.

First, the CIO needs to ensure business operations are rock solid, from the applications to even beyond the walls of IT. This certainly includes all of IT, but must extend to all technologies within the company such as those on the manufacturing floor, etc.

Second, the CIO needs to strategically advance business. IT plays a critical role in helping the entire company drive productivity. People often see productivity as cost savings, like with automation – and that is one part – but the other part is growing the revenue. We should be using IT and analytics to the fullest to grow the top line.

Third, the CIO needs to look for opportunities where technology can disrupt the business. You see it in music and other areas, but pharmaceuticals are no different: The rate of disruption is slower, but technology is now playing a bigger role. The goal is to disrupt your business before it gets disrupted. 

With health as the focus, how do you ensure growth while maintaining safety?

Safety and quality are the real tenets, not just for IT, but for the company as a whole. Merck IT has to be regulations compliant in approximately 70 countries and our therapeutics need to be regulations compliant in about 100 countries. The solutions necessary are now going beyond the therapeutics and into health information technology. We need to make sure we comply as information crosses from device to device. We have a specific part of the organization making sure our risk profile is managed effectively.

How are you bringing other leaders into the tech conversation?

I’m not the only tech strategic adviser we’ve got. We have the equivalent of junior CIOs in our research division, the commercial division and beyond. These people have a seat at leadership tables, from operating committees to market research committees, and are essential to ensuring alignment between the various divisions and IT. It starts with understanding our colleagues’ needs, and when you’re actually at the table, you can anticipate their needs maybe even before they express them. 

How have consumer technological expectations evolved Merck’s goals?

They have had a huge impact on what employees expect from IT and on the expected speed of adoption. One cannot sit back on technology like before: When the iPhone came out, Merck immediately adopted it as part of the fold, and we offer a choice within our organization between Windows and Mac, between iOS and Android, etc.

We also have a corporate venture fund to support new technology, which is helping us match and shape the expectations of employees as well as customers. All these decisions are essential to driving our agility. 

What big concern do you have today that technology will solve within five years?

Our directive is to be the premier research-intensive biopharmaceutical company on the planet. It’s really about driving innovative therapeutics to market that advance the opportunity for patient health, whether it be quality of life or cure. When I think about that, I think about the data explosion that’s happening in research. I believe the use of IT and analytics will enable the organization to effectively bring therapeutics to market that help the world be well.

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