CIO Interview with Michael S. Carlin, Vice President Business Technology Solutions/Global CIO at AbbVie

Data is driving the modern enterprise, and healthcare is no different—especially as medicine becomes more personalized. AbbVie CIO Michael Carlin explains how this is changing his company and the world of healthcare.


What are some of the major technological initiatives under way at AbbVie?

Since our separation from Abbott, we’ve spent time setting the technical foundation for AbbVie.  The burning platform for us was clear – get an infrastructure and application environment set up that would allow us to operate as an independent company.  Now looking back, that monumental initiative seems small compared to the activities we now have going on as we partner with all of our business areas.  The underlying foundation of recent technological initiatives is data and information.  In IT we are establishing core capabilities and platforms in data, analytics, robots and machine learning to help support critical business initiatives. 

 What advanced technologies are helping with your biopharmaceutical research?

We’re using artificial intelligence and machine learning across many of our functions.  In drug discovery we are using it to identify targets and compounds to accelerate our research. We’re also using machine learning and advanced data analytics to identify efficiencies in our clinical trial processes that will help get critical products to patients faster. As we continue to drive to more personalized medicine, we are developing data platforms that leverage the use of real world data for better decision making in our business. We have had some very good successes as we apply this information to analyze our patient journeys and drive better outcomes for our patients.

And what advanced technologies are driving business operations?

The real focus is on data management, data analytics, machine learning, and robotics. We have a ruthless focus on understanding the business across all of our IT functions. We bring that knowledge back to inform enterprise-wide investments in advanced technologies such as robotics and robotic process automation. We have numerous applications in this area that have helped us streamlined our operations. These are platform investments that most of our businesses can and are leveraging that drive greater speed, agility, and cost savings.  This has been a very good accelerator of all of the great work we have going on with our IT business partnerships.

Do you feel technology plays a more significant role in business operations or biopharmaceutical development?

Definitely the latter. Not so long ago the majority of the discussion in IT was always, “How do we leverage SAP, when should we upgrade our standard packages such as CRM, and how do we drive cost efficiency into our infrastructure?”  While these are all still important, the majority of the discussion now is around newer technologies and enabling business to be faster and more agile.  We’re driving agility and efficiency and that plays into where our business is going. Advancements in science and technology are changing our industry.  It’s driving towards personalized medicine that leads to better outcomes for our patients. We are positioning ourselves to be right in that intersection of business change and technology change.  The better we understand both the better we can support and enable our business.

What are some of the unique challenges facing the biopharmaceutical industry? Is it mostly along the lines of regulatory compliance or achieving competitive advantage?

There are a number of key trends in the biopharmaceutical industry.  First, the availability of data is exploding such as real world data mentioned earlier.  The regulatory space is also shifting.  The regulatory groups are creating digital capabilities and are working closely with the industry as we mature our digital capabilities.  We also have non-traditional players emerging in the industry that are driving solutions to improve patient outcomes. Our focus continues to be on bringing solutions that improve patient outcomes. That’s the core of our business.  Everything we do drives that. We need to continue to raise the bar, but with change happening so fast, I often ask, “Are we even holding on to the right bar?”  

What’s next for the biopharmaceutical industry and AbbVie specifically on both the technology and business front?

As technology and science continue to develop, within AbbVie’s IT Team, we are embracing those changes, understanding those changes, and embedding those changes and opportunities into our business models. That relates to new technologies, changes in science in terms of genomics and data, and changes in the business models. The pace of change is so quick, the winners are going to be the ones that can understand that and adapt the most quickly.  It’s not always comfortable but now more than ever IT needs to be comfortable being uncomfortable.

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