by Martha Heller

Interview with Richard Williams, CIO of Celgene

May 14, 20135 mins
CareersCIOIT Jobs

Sometimes innovation is putting a new lens on something you already have

How are you developing IT executives with the right blend of both IT and business acumen? 

Fundamentally, it all starts with how you, as CIO, position the IT organization as part of the fabric of the business with a clear “line of sight” between business objectives and IT actions.  At Celgene, we have a robust business strategy that incorporates our IT strategy and roadmap as a core component.  This creates visibility and priority of IT programs and investments, and ensures that our strategies, programs and projects align fully to our overall business strategy.  This level of transparency and alignment ensures that our business colleagues understand the drivers and value behind everything we in IT do – from infrastructure investments to strategic initiatives in cloud, mobility or informatics.   

Within my leadership team, we look at everything through the lens of our business and we measure our success on whether we delivered on a business objective, not on simply delivering the technology.  I think it’s critically important that each individual in IT can see directly how the programs and projects they are delivering and the investments made contribute directly to those business objectives.  If there isn’t a link, then a fundamental question has to be asked – are we working on the right things?

This approach works great with the IT team members who work directly with the business, but you have to be careful not to forget about the “back-office” team.  You need to involve them as much as possible.  We just held a meeting with a key business function to develop a three-year IT/business capability roadmap, and several leaders from infrastructure attend these meetings.  This is important for two reasons:  First, as we develop a data and capability strategy, our infrastructure leaders need to be a part of the conversation so we look at a total solution, and second, I want to be sure that everyone in IT is engaged, understands and is connected to our company’s business goals and objectives.

What is your take on IT innovation?

Advances in technology seem to come at a fever pace at times and offer many opportunities for the business, but the key point for me is determining their “relevance.”  Which technologies can help drive our business?  Do they align with our business strategy and what we’re trying to do over the next two to three years?  How can a new technology support or enable those goals?

When you put the “relevance” lens on innovation, you find that sometimes innovation isn’t always about a new technology; it’s often about leveraging existing technology in a new way.  For example, we were looking for new ways to better communicate information about our clinical programs to physicians and patients.  We looked at multiple options and investments, including the use of QR codes.  Now, QR codes have been around for a long time – especially in consumer products, but had never been applied in this way.  So we thought, “Could we use QR codes as a means of getting information about clinical studies to physicians and patients?”  The combination of QR codes and smartphones – which are widely used by patients and physicians – would now provide an easy and direct method of access to data on clinical studies, requirements and enrollment.  In addition, by leveraging the location services already incorporated on smartphones, we could even point out the centers that were running a study in a particular geographic area.  Truly innovative and very well received because it was seamless, provided real value that was relevant to patients and physicians and addressed the business need.

Can you share some career advice that you have received and would pass on to others?

You need to recognize that IT is a team sport, and you need to surround yourself with people who will help the team progress.  So, the career advice:  When it comes to your leadership team, don’t compromise.  Choose the best people and invest in their development.  The result will be both strong leaders and strong teams.  You need both.

About Richard Williams

Richard Williams is the Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer at Celgene Corporation where he leads the company’s global IT strategy, IT and business shared services, data and informatics strategy, scientific and business applications, and analytics.  In 2012, CIO Magazine selected Celgene as one of 100 innovative organizations that use IT effectively to create business value.  Prior to joining Celgene, Richard was Vice President and Group Chief Information Officer of AstraZeneca, responsible for the global information services strategy and operations where he established its digital and consumer capabilities and global, scalable and common systems.  Prior to his role as CIO at AstraZeneca, Richard held progressively senior positions in Information Services, Product Strategy and Commercialization.  In 2008, he was awarded with the IBM Global Public Sector Leadership Award for contributions to healthcare and in 2011 was recognized by Computerworld Magazine with a Premier 100 award.  Richard started his career as a Management Consultant at Coopers & Lybrand and received his Bachelor’s in Computer Science from Temple University and his MBA from St. Joseph’s University.

About Celgene

Celgene Corporation, headquartered in Summit, New Jersey, is an integrated global biopharmaceutical company engaged primarily in the discovery, development and commercialization of novel therapies for the treatment of cancer and inflammatory diseases through gene and protein regulation. For more information, please visit the company’s Web site at

Until next time,