by Maryfran Johnson

How Pfizer’s CIO Led a Transformation of the Business

Oct 31, 20112 mins
Cloud Computing

Editor in Chief Maryfran Johnson discusses CIO magazine's Nov. 1 cover story about how pharmaceutical giant Pfizer is using IT to drive new business.

“What motivates people is to feel like they are part of the answer, no matter what the challenge is.”

That’s CIO Jeff Keisling of Pfizer, talking about how IT staffers are ­diving into the tough transformation work under way at one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies. In an industry where business models are eroding, IT can be a huge differentiator in finding new markets and connecting with consumers.

Stories about business transformation sometimes suffer from the rosy glow of overblown optimism. That’s not what you’ll find in Senior Editor Kim S. Nash’s cover story (“Pfizer’s Future Depends on IT Transformation”), which explores how dramatic business-model shifts are stretching Pfizer’s IT beyond its old supporting role and into that of valued business contributor.

Like Pfizer, the pharmaceutical industry can no longer count on a future of blockbuster drug sales to fuel expensive R&D operations. As patents expire on bestselling drugs, waves of cost-cutting, layoffs and R&D cutbacks follow. “The industry is facing desperation,” as one industry expert bluntly put it.

Arriving at Pfizer in 2009 with the acquisition of Wyeth, Keisling reorganized the IT staff to emphasize business skills and used the merger integration work as a catalyst for transforming corporate IT. A big part of Keisling’s work, Nash writes, has been unifying technology standards and inserting his people into business units to “infuse IT into conversations about new business ideas from the start.”

He created hybrid IT-business managers in the upper ranks of Pfizer’s nine business units. He championed the cause of open innovation with the use of a virtual R&D system that connects more than 500 outside organizations. He launched successful consumer-focused projects such as a loyalty discount card and a cloud-based patient-management system for doctors.

What’s fascinating to watch as Pfizer’s story unfolds is how new business ideas are generated from the cross-pollination of IT and non-IT roles. An economist quoted in our story points out how much IT and business people can learn from each other by “reimagining how consumers and companies are able to connect and relate.”

Rather than limit IT to providing cost-efficient operations and meeting that tired old cliché of business alignment, Pfizer seems to be finding a new formula for IT success.

Maryfran Johnson is the editor in chief of CIO Magazine & Events. Email her at