Martha Heller

A platform model drives digital innovation at Zoetis

Jan 26, 2022
AnalyticsArtificial IntelligenceDigital Transformation

As CIDO of the global $6.7B animal health business, Wafaa Mamilli’s job is to find new areas of revenue generation.

Wafaa Mamilli, CIDO, Zoetis
Credit: Zoetis

Zoetis is a $6.7 billion global animal health business that was founded 70 years ago. The company sells its medicines, vaccines, diagnostic tests, and genetics in more than 100 countries to help animals live healthier, more productive lives. More recently, the company began deploying AI and other digital technologies to address the real-world challenges faced by those who raise and care for animals ranging from companion animals (dogs, cats and horses) to livestock.

Digital and data have become increasingly important during the pandemic, when people are spending more time than ever with their pets and growing more attuned to the health of their furry friends. What’s more, a new generation of pet owners is placing a premium on their pets’ healthcare and influencing new innovations in this space—including technology that improves their experience at the veterinary clinic. “Your pet can’t talk to the vet,” says Wafaa Mamilli, who became chief information and digital officer (CIDO) of Zoetis two years ago, after 24 years in IT leadership at Eli Lilly. “So, last year, we deployed a solution called Vetscan Imagyst, which uses artificial intelligence and image recognition to deliver accurate and rapid results to the pet owner.”

AI-driven pet care and farm management

Traditionally, the vet would take a tissue sample, send it to the lab, and weeks later call the pet owner with the results. “Now, at the point of care, the vet sends the image of the tissue sample to the cloud where AI algorithms analyze the data in real-time. The pet owner learns the diagnosis during that same appointment,” she says. “Not only does the platform improve the effectiveness of the diagnostic, it improves speed, agility, and customer satisfaction.”

Likewise, Zoetis has developed new software for its livestock business, which is being driven by increasing demand for animal protein amid a growing world population and heightened influence by consumers who care about where their food comes from. With that in mind, the use of technology and data are increasingly important to farmers for raising healthier livestock, detecting disease, identifying production efficiencies, and providing individualized care to sick animals. “There is a lot that happens on a farm,” says Mamilli. “In the end, farmers are business people running large, complex operations.” Zoetis’s livestock performance software monitors everything from animal feed to financials. “We do that by combining cloud-based technology with data collection on the farm. We have developed powerful analytics that make it easier to analyze feed efficiency, evaluate cost and performance, and give guidance to farmers on how to manage their operation.”

Platform-driven tech innovation

For Mamilli, the keys to driving data and digital innovation at a large, global business are a platform-based model and a culture of empowerment and value. A platform-based model is more than architecture, says Mamilli, “It is a mindset that pushes us to think both vertically and horizontally. We ‘zoom in’ to think vertically about how we deliver to the farmer, vet, and pet owner, but then we ‘zoom out’ to think horizontally about how we are going to make the solutions agile, modular, reusable, scalable, and secure.” 

Mamilli and her team drive the development of platforms through use cases. “Every time we enable a use case, we ‘light up’ a new module, and over time every module is green, and then we have a platform,” she says. Over time, the team can tell, by the number of green lights on a certain platform how quickly they can deploy new solutions to that business. “How green is our digital engagement platform? The answer tells us how effective and efficient we are in providing new customer engagement solutions,” she says.

Currently, Zoetis runs five platforms: data, integration services, digital engagement, security, and talent. “If we didn’t move to a platform-thinking approach, we would still be funding these huge programs,” says Mamilli. “But platforms are modular, intelligent, and run algorithms that allow us to change very quickly. Pet care is different in France than in China. The platform lets us create different experiences that can scale because we don’t have to integrate all of this spaghetti.”

Vision, principles, empowerment, and purpose

Having worked on a platform approach for more than two years now, Mamilli can offer some advice:

You don’t have to figure everything out by yourself. Leverage your partnerships, including both suppliers and peer organizations. “I’ve had hundreds of sessions sharing lessons learned with peers who have done this before,” she says.

Think big, write down your vision, and share it with everyone, but move forward with small, specific value-driven use cases. The vision for Zoetis’s next-generation sales engine, for example, is an intelligent, automated platform that provides all the company’s customer-facing roles with insights and next best customer actions. But the first use case was just for the U.S. East Coast inside sales team, and only in one therapeutic area. “The use case is more about culture, people, and skills than the technology,” says Mamilli. “We start small so that we can struggle and fail safely and then learn to do better with the next iteration or the next use case.”

Start with the big principles. Mamilli is a big fan of putting the principles of the platform architecture—open, agile, and modular—down on paper and then letting the platform owners drill down into the details. “By starting with the principles that will define your platforms, you get buy-in before you go deep,” she says. “If you don’t start with simple principles and then go deep and conceptualize every layer, you will wind up with 100 platforms.”

Create a culture of empowerment. For Mamilli, the key to moving quickly to a platform model is to create an empowered team, in keeping with Zoetis’ core belief of “run it like you own it.” To foster that culture of empowerment, Mamilli encourages her teams to solve problems on their own. “When people come to me for a decision, I want to make sure it is mine to make and they really couldn’t do it themselves, so I ask them, ‘Why are you asking me? Are you looking for a rubber stamp or do you really need someone else to decide?’” she says. “My leaders have now started asking the same question of their teams. The more we empower people, the faster we can move and the more fulfilled our teams are.”  

Focus on purpose and value. “People will not work productively if they don’t understand the value,” says Mamilli. “Being purpose- and value-driven means being curious. Why are we doing this? Once we know the intent, we know we are solving the right problem then we focus on solving it in the right way.

My job as CIDO is to lead a capable team that uses platforms to power our existing businesses and create new lines of business, like pet insurance or new tools for farmers. In that way, the CIDO role is less about technology and more finding the next area for revenue and value generation.”

Martha Heller

Martha Heller is CEO of Heller Search Associates, an IT executive recruiting firm specializing in CIO, CTO, CISO and senior technology roles in all industries. She is the author The CIO Paradox: Battling the Contradictions of IT Leadership and Be the Business: CIOs in the New Era of IT. To join the IT career conversation, subscribe to The Heller Report.

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