Servier Pharmaceuticals’ Mark Yunger on GenAI’s potential, future-proofing IT


Mark Yunger, Head of Information Technology at Servier Pharmaceuticals, joins host Maryfran Johnson for this CIO Leadership Live interview. They discuss digital therapeutics, future-proofing IT, the potential for GenAI, supporting patients with tech and more.

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[This transcript was auto-generated.]
Maryfran Johnson  00:04
Hi, good afternoon. Welcome to CIO Leadership Live. I'm Maryfran Johnson, your host for today's program. I'm the CEO of Maryfran Johnson Media. Twice a month we produce this video show and podcast with the support of my and the CIO Executive Council. We're streaming live to you right now on LinkedIn and on our CIO channel on YouTube. And we encourage any of our viewers to join in today's conversation with questions of your own. We have our alert editors are watching the feeds on both LinkedIn and on YouTube. And they will pass along those questions to me to share with my guest who is here today with us in our Needham studio. He is Mark Yunger, he's the head of it for Servier Pharmaceuticals. Mark CIO role at Servier  encompasses all of the aspects of technology of course, from application portfolios and infrastructure to advanced data and analytics, cybersecurity and digital therapeutics. Servier is a privately held international pharmaceutical company that is headquartered in France and governed by a nonprofit foundation. With more than 21,000 employees around the world and operations in more than 150 countries. Servier has the resources and the network of an established 65 year old global pharmaceutical company. But it also is able to support the entrepreneurial spirit and work of a biotech. Mark joined Servier in 2018, to establish the brand new US division of this company right here in Boston. He folks it is focused, this branch is focused exclusively on treating a wide range of cancer diagnoses. In those five years, Mark has been building this green field tech operation from the ground up working closely with the r&d and manufacturing commercial and corporate functions. Before he joined sir VA, Mark held a number of IT leadership roles within the biotech and high tech industries most recently as head of it for Cirrus therapeutics. Before that he was the VP of infrastructure and operations at Biogen where his team was supporting everything from r&d to commercial operations, cloud services, and high performance computing. Mark. It's great to have you here. Thanks for joining us.
Mark Yunger  02:36
Thank you for having me.
Maryfran Johnson  02:37
All right, let's start out with some context about Servier's US operation and where that fits in with the global footprint that this company has. Great,
Mark Yunger  02:49
thanks. So Servier has been around as you had mentioned for a number of years. But until 2018, we had never had a presence in the US, which is a bit unusual. It is in the pharma industry, because a huge percentage of it is here in the US from a global market perspective, the US tends to be one of the largest pharmaceutical markets, and it was was viewed as an opportunity for the for the group to grow. Yeah. So we were founded in 2018, initially by the acquisition of the Shire oncology portfolio, foundation in Paris, used that transaction as a way to begin operations in the US. And we we started with very modest beginnings. So there was like mentioned you were meeting in conference rooms at hotels and, you know, in the downtown Boston, exactly the founding leadership team. We all started in a hotel conference room in downtown Boston, where we had the initial kickoff of the business. Yep. And then we literally as a team walked from the hotel conference room down the sidewalk to khopoli and started the company in a we work office in Copley Square. started growing from there, there was roughly 70 of us at the beginning, there was 30 or 40 of us all in one large cozy room and if we worked facility, we add our field operations and our Salesforce around the country. And we've been growing ever since
Maryfran Johnson  04:16
that is well that's pretty neat. Had you had you been able to do this kind of green fill the green field build it from the ground up operation anywhere else? Or was this your first experience with it in your career?
Mark Yunger  04:30
That was the first time I've grown something from a blank sheet of paper. So that was one of the attractive aspects of of the opportunity. Being able to start from the beginning and be able to watch much like gardening watch what you grow over time and care and feed for it and see a blossom okay after the
Maryfran Johnson  04:50
Yes, well, it's gonna be fun talking about it because I'm sure that the issues that you face as the head of it have changed in adapted and morphed over time as well. For sure. Okay. Let's talk about the mission for the US division. I know that in worldwide survey is the second leading pharmaceutical group in hypertension products worldwide, and the fourth leading pharmaceutical group in cardiology. So the global aspects of the company treat a number of very high risk and difficult diseases. And the focus for the US division is very specific to oncology.
Mark Yunger  05:29
Absolutely. So our therapeutic focus right now is exclusively on oncology in the US. There may be opportunities in the future where that might change. But for the last five years, and for the foreseeable future, we're still focused exclusively on ecology. Yeah, and within oncology, there's a couple of different categories that we focus on. So we focus on a ll acute lymphoblastic leukemia, as well as AML myeloid leukemia. And we recently just had the last couple of weeks in new approval for MDS, which is another form of cancer. And then hopefully, fingers crossed, we have another one coming in next year for for glioma. Yeah.
Maryfran Johnson  06:07
And this was the so your portfolio products are those, I think you'd also mentioned that you had really good results to report on the pediatric cancer side. Exactly.
Mark Yunger  06:18
So on on the pediatric side of our focus, we're very fortunate to be part of a treatment regime for pediatric cancer and Al, we have a greater than 80%, close to 90% cure rate for patients that's in the cancer business. That's, that's a very wonderful place to be
Maryfran Johnson  06:39
yes, that's a very big win right. Now, the it's unusual, it's very unusual in the pharmaceutical industry, to have a nonprofit foundation as your governing board, how does that make a difference for both the company and also for your approach as their head of it and CIO? Absolutely, that's
Mark Yunger  06:58
a strategic advantage for us in a few different ways. First, it allows us to have a very long term vision and think far into the future. And we're able to make investments and decisions in the long term interest of patients without having to wrestle with near term dynamics of financial markets. So we can invest in programs that might take a little bit longer than some other public companies might be willing to invest in. Because we have though, we certainly need to be good stewards of the organization. We don't have external investors in public markets pressing for earnings per share on a regular basis. Okay,
Maryfran Johnson  07:39
interesting. The, I know, we're gonna talk a lot about your tech team and how you have it organized and all that. But I wanted to zero in on one aspect of your responsibilities that I often don't see in CIO lists of things you're in charge of. And that's digital therapeutics, start out by telling us what what does that mean in the context of serve VA? And how is this new category of medicine being impacted in good and bad ways by technology? Absolutely.
Mark Yunger  08:10
So digital therapeutics, digital health can evolve from a definition perspective, depending on who you're talking to. Yeah, the definition that we apply at CDA is being able to leverage technology in a very broad sense of the term for benefit to our patients. And there can be very loose definitions of that for things pertaining to our patient portal. So during the pandemic, there was an immediate gap of information being provided to patients. So we rapidly built patient portal for patients to be able to get some information that they might have been getting in person at clinics to more more clinically based decision support capabilities for healthcare providers, such as therapeutic drug monitoring.
Maryfran Johnson  09:05
Okay. The Are there particular moments of great pride and accomplishment for your IT staff that you've been able to accomplish in the digital therapeutics area?
Mark Yunger  09:15
Absolutely. So last year, in November, we launched our first digital solution for for HCPs for healthcare providers. And it was in partnership with the University of Michigan, the pharmacology school there, and one of our platform partners on go assist that we the three of us came together to define and build a solution to help HCPs help physicians and caregivers better manage dosing levels for for products in the patients.
Maryfran Johnson  09:44
Now, is this all talked a little bit more also about digital therapeutics software? Are these are these programs that you build from like open source components or do you partner with third parties to bring them products onto your platform. What is what is the approach you take?
Mark Yunger  10:04
So for that particular solution, we went with an existing partner in the marketplace, okay, portable medical technologies. And the the benefit there is that they had an existing installed base of physicians in the US and globally, were were able to leverage their previous expertise bringing medical technologies to HCPs. And we were able to bring our understanding of the disease states in conjunction with our partners at the University of Michigan to build new capabilities on that existing platform.
Maryfran Johnson  10:35
Okay. Let's talk about I often asked CIOs about the digital business models and how those have matured, since the US division is essentially a kindergartener, I guess five years old, right? Certainly in relative, did you start out with everything in the cloud, and we'll just buy off the shelf. Tell us about how you approach that. And with I guess, I'm going into this thinking that your entire business model is probably digitally enabled, because you did start from that, that lovely Verdun field, no legacy to worry about?
Mark Yunger  11:12
Absolutely. So in the early days, it was 95 plus percent cloud, the small percentage that was not in the cloud, was really just networking infrastructure in order to get to the cloud. But all of our all of our services were cloud based, over the course of time, and that was when we first started, we only had that really the D side of r&d through commercial. Although we had some individual researchers, it was really more office based research. As part of the acquisition of adios pharmaceuticals, we stood up a new wet lab capability. And the reason that's important from an architectural perspective is that some of the research instruments that we're putting in place for the researchers are protocol and latency sensitive. So that necessitated putting some new capabilities physically on prem in close proximity to the scientists and the devices to manage some of those sensitivities.
Maryfran Johnson  12:08
Interesting, interesting. As I'm listening to you, I'm thinking you sound almost more like a Chief Research Officer than a chief information officer. Do you find has this role been just much more scientifically focused in terms of do you end up feeling like a Chief Science Officer rather than a CIO?
Mark Yunger  12:26
One of the things I love about the role and biotech in general is the the ability to wear different hats, yeah, in different situations. So in working with my r&d colleagues, I put on my research at when working with my patient office colleagues, I put on my patient hat. And depending on who you're working with, you have an opportunity to, to learn more about the problems that they're trying to solve, and bring your experiences both within their particular functional areas, as well as other functional areas, to learn more about the business and help solve their problems.
Maryfran Johnson  13:00
Okay, well, and you're not a stranger to life sciences, you have been in pharma and life sciences in high tech, for pretty much your whole career. But this particular role is, is different, isn't
Mark Yunger  13:13
it? It is it's been a good experience from both being able to start from scratch. Yeah, as well as have the ability to go into a wide variety of different areas, including some of the digital therapeutic areas that are somewhat novel for the industry
Maryfran Johnson  13:28
at this. Yeah. Now, our digital therapeutics also spreading through the global operation of serve. Yeah,
Mark Yunger  13:35
absolutely. So my colleagues, based out of Paris have certainly been exploring those areas as well. There's areas where we closely partner, and it's always good to be able to learn from each other, and leverage the discoveries and the developments in our various affiliates around the world.
Maryfran Johnson  13:52
Okay. All right. Fair enough. I had asked you about areas that you're particularly proud of that the IT operation has accomplished. And you mentioned direct patient engagement. How does how has that developed over time? And where what are your next goals for it? Absolutely.
Mark Yunger  14:11
So our patient office has what they refer to as our patient, expert counsel. And that is sort of using an IT term. It's your user group, it's your focus group, developing programs for patients. So we have actual patients of ours that get together on a regular basis. And we have conversations around whether unmet needs are and try to explore where we can help. So one area that came up that I mentioned previously was during the pandemic, there was a gap in information so we built websites and an a patient portal for them. One that we're working on currently that came out of these patient expert councils, is patient support apps. So Oh, patients feel very well supported when they're In the medical system, once you leave the hospital and you're back at home, some of that support starts to taper off. And it's harder to feel as supported as you do when you're when you're in the hospital. Yeah, so one of the areas that we want to explore this year, is building new capabilities to maintain that continuity of support and care when they're back at home.
Maryfran Johnson  15:21
Okay, the and the last piece in that area I wanted to ask about last No, you launched a year ago digital health, and that was the monitoring levels for the digital therapeutics. Okay. The what has been the greatest accomplishment there? You mentioned the HCPs, the health care professionals, I tend to feel like they're also overwhelmed with all the gadgets and the technology they have to deal with now, how do you make sure you're producing something that is going to be simple and intuitive enough, something they'll thank you for instead of taking your name in vain? Absolutely.
Mark Yunger  15:59
Yeah. That was one of the considerations of of building something on our own versus going to the partner. Okay, because the to your point, they already have enough going on their lives, the last thing they need is yet another app to download. And even from your personal life perspective. If you look at anyone's individuals phone, they probably have 100 apps on their phone, and they use maybe 10. Regular base, maybe, yeah, so physicians and nurses are no different. And not to mention the fact they've got EMRs, electronic medical record systems to deal with them. They've got defined workflows. So we chose to go with an existing platform that already had adoption and acceptance from
Maryfran Johnson  16:38
the head familiarity, correct, which is so nice as a rookie, and
Mark Yunger  16:42
that gave both us and healthcare providers an opportunity to get more of those capabilities in one place. Okay,
Maryfran Johnson  16:49
good. The is that the work that you did where you partnered, you'd mentioned the University of Michigan pharmacology group. Okay. Let's talk about some of the common problems that your CIO peers in biotech and pharma and healthcare are tackling today. The kinds of things when you look more broadly across the industry? Are there areas where you feel like Sir VA is ahead of the pack? Maybe it's in digital therapeutics. I'm just wondering when you talk with other healthcare, CIOs, what are some of the common problems they're trying to solve?
Mark Yunger  17:27
Yeah, absolutely. So the, when you look across pharmaceutical companies, a lot of the problems are indeed very similar. They just show up and different flavors in different ways. The area that I think we have a bit of a special sauce in is around caring for patients. Our patient office is a wonderful group of people that are very mission driven. And you can feel the passion in their day to day actions. And then the the partnership that it and our patient office have in bringing solutions to our patients is really what sets us apart. And an example of that is impatient view, which is a patient support organization. That surveys other patients sport organizations, voted us third in the US for patient Centricity and patient focus. So when you think of all the pharma and biotech companies in the country, we were both humbled and honored to be voted third in the country. Yeah,
Maryfran Johnson  18:25
because you're the company is essentially midsized, granting the top 10 pharma companies or names we would all know. But Serbia is a little newer to every one, of course, let's talk about that the size and scope of the company today in the US division and your tech team, how you put that together? I know you don't, you didn't, you didn't get to hire in 100 people to help you do this. So talk
Mark Yunger  18:48
about that. So we're a small and mighty team, right. So we have a combination of small and mighty combination of employees, contractors and service providers, trusted partners that had been with us for a while, okay, and we organized the department based on enterprise capabilities, and business capabilities. So for the enterprise capabilities, things that are non functional, specific, yeah, those are things like your your infrastructure, your network, your your servers, your service desk, as well as data and analytics that might cause cross multiple functions. The business aligned functions get coalesced around business processes and plot common platforms. So we have groups for we have a group dedicated to r&d, one to corporate and industry, and then another for all of our externally facing functions. So our patient Office Communications and commercial. And the reason for that is that you're able to solve a greater number of problems with a smallest number of platforms that allows you to have a smaller number of people, individuals on your team, yeah, to be able to specialize in a small set of platforms and solve a greater number of problems. Okay.
Maryfran Johnson  19:55
What have you found are the upsides and the downsides? That approach compared to some of the bigger companies you've worked with, like when you were at Biogen Yeah,
Mark Yunger  20:04
absolutely. So at Biogen, we we had the flexibility to have an individual specialist or multiple individual specialists for a very narrow scope. The benefit of that approach is that you can get very deep knowledge on a particular area and potential not have to go outside to hire outside help, because you already have it in house. The downside is that from a collaboration perspective, you have more inherent silos of conversation across even within the IT infrastructure team that I lead across the different teams. So if you flip it on its side and go from a horizontal platform perspective, you condense a lot of those conversations into a given team. Yeah. So if you look at the way that some software product companies organize around product teams, it's a very similar concept.
Maryfran Johnson  20:57
I was wondering that when you were talking about the way some of the essential ways you've got it organized, I wondered how many similarities there were between high tech companies you've worked with in the medical field? Yeah,
Mark Yunger  21:09
the way that we run it, it's every Pharmaceuticals is more indeed, like a software company's organization that aid. I'll call it an old school. traditional IT organization.
Maryfran Johnson  21:19
Yeah. Because I've listened to you talk about this. I also think that your your title it it sounds also, like I said, Chief Science Officer, also Chief Product Officer, that's, that's amazing approach has has really been very dominant as an IT leadership strategy over the last few years. What are your thoughts on that you have been in much more technically deep into the bowels of an organization roles, and now more in a product leadership role, I guess, in how technology will support and enable it? What does that feel like? How is that different for you as the CIO?
Mark Yunger  21:56
It's it's a mindset of understanding who your end consumers are, and your stakeholders are. And although you have you have internal as well as external stakeholders, applying that same product mindset, helps you figure out from a roadmap perspective, what are those capabilities that your stakeholders are going to need today? And what are the ones that they're going to need in the future, and then working together with both patient offices and patient forums, as well as your internal stakeholders in the research department to really define what that roadmap is going to look like, and then build it together?
Maryfran Johnson  22:30
Okay. And the, in terms of building things together, let's talk about the the workplace culture, which is ends up being so important in just the success and overall happiness and how you keep your talent and any company. Your when, when we talked earlier? I'd mentioned that. Oh, you started there in 2018. And then there was the pandemic, but you were probably all online anyway. But it wasn't that easy. Was it? I mean, the in terms of people being in the office versus working remotely, but talk about the arc of what that has looked like in these last five years. Yeah,
Mark Yunger  23:08
absolutely. So the in the in the early days, we were most of us were all in literally in a single room schoolhouse. That's
Maryfran Johnson  23:15
right. The conference room in downtown Boston. Yeah, exactly, exactly. So
Mark Yunger  23:19
the that was really a benefit for our early beginnings, because it allowed for people to spend a lot of personal time together. And in the pre COVID world, being able to build those those personal in person relationships really positioned us for success to be able to pivot into 100% remote world. It's much easier, in my view that to be able to collaborate virtually, when you have a pre existing relationship. It's much harder to build new relationships, virtually you can certainly do it. And we've gotten better at it over the years as a global society. But having that strong in person connection was really very helpful as we're making that transition to 100%. Remote.
Maryfran Johnson  24:03
Yeah, well, and you say 100% remote, but you still have the there's flexibility where few days of the week people are in the office and your officer at you're in the Boston seaport area. Correct.
Mark Yunger  24:14
So, post COVID, or at least posts lockdown,
Maryfran Johnson  24:17
whatever this is now, our new normal. Yeah, we're in a hybrid
Mark Yunger  24:21
mode now. So we are two to three days on two to three days off as a general policy. With that said, there's also role specific criteria. So for our researchers, for example, you can't really do gene sequencing in your kitchen. So those roles need to be done in the labs so they're in there in five days. Also, some IT roles are also in the office five days a week. Conversely, our sales reps are remote 100 Nobody knows where they can see them once a year at the national sales meeting exactly
Maryfran Johnson  24:53
where they come to. bonuses. Exactly. So then
Mark Yunger  24:58
for our our mainstream Boston based organization is two to three days on two to three days off. For for it, what we've tried to do is set at least one day a week. So Thursday's are our one day a week where everyone is in the office. So we can still capitalize on some of that proximity. Yeah, and and literally having lunch together and being together for side conversations. And then the rest of the week is more flexible. So based on personal preference and schedules, well
Maryfran Johnson  25:24
as and as you and I are experiencing right now, it's so different when you can actually just sit at a table and look at somebody look him in the eye, it's a whole different energy. Let's, let's talk about going into 24. I'm thinking about, you know, what an amazing mission the company has, I mean, you're literally out there working to cure cancer in all sorts of different ways. Does that make Talent Recruitment? Pretty much a snap, crackle pop for you? Or how do you find the talent you need? So I know you have? I know you have a huge strategy around talent management, and especially developing digital talent. So let's dive into that a little bit.
Mark Yunger  26:04
Yeah, absolutely. So the the leading with the mission is something that we do intentionally. Because it's as making sure that you get the right people on the bus is really the first step. And And if people are attracted to that mission, that's a really great start to the, to the recruitment process. Yeah. With that said, we're not the we're not the only
Maryfran Johnson  26:28
company in town, the only biotech company in town by any means. Yeah. So it's,
Mark Yunger  26:33
it's by no means that snap, crackle, pop. But it certainly does help. So the from there, it's a lot about, again, building relationships and those networks within the community. Although survey is new to the Boston area into the US, all of us come from other previous companies. So I've been in the Boston biotech neighborhood for
Maryfran Johnson  26:54
in high tech life sciences, biotech. So
Mark Yunger  26:57
within my first day of landing in the job, I picked up the phone and then called a couple of previous colleagues and started growing from there. Yes, so really, a lot of the initial attraction to survey is really not unlike other companies where we tap personal networks. Right. And and then, once you're starting those conversations, leading with the mission is is the next step.
Maryfran Johnson  27:20
Well, and you're active in fairly well known even in the Boston community as well, I think you've been involved in Boston sim and the Inspire CIO network here, that sort of stuff. I wanted to ask you more about one of the approaches that you've been interviewed about, about taking a talent lifecycle management approach that sounds very sciency. And very, that sounds very technical. What are you really talking about when you talk about talent lifecycle management? Absolutely.
Mark Yunger  27:49
So if you think of, like a software development lifecycle, there's there's phases of a relationship, not
Maryfran Johnson  27:55
all of us start thinking about, but fair enough, that there's
Mark Yunger  27:58
much like software development, there's phases to sure to that development, where it's like, there's phases to a relationship between an individual and an organization. Okay, and the the first step that we start with is really understanding what the current and future needs are of the team in the organization. And then taking one of two paths, either grow that capability internally with your existing team, or hire it from the outside. And we try to do a combination of both, I have a preference for growing from within, but when when needs needs arise, you'd sometimes have to go into the outside to hire individuals. But using that as a filter with a current and future needs, are the organizations that filter to figure out what are the development plans need to look like for the existing team? And what is the revenue that resume have to look like for for hiring from the outside. So once you once you cover that base, and you have your existing team, figuring out what they want to do with their careers, and their individual aspirations is really the next step. And the magic happens when you're able to get close alignment between what the organization needs in the future and where the individual wants to go. Because when you can merge those two together, you get not only solving the business needs, but also personal passion and interest in going on that journey together.
Maryfran Johnson  29:18
Okay. Well, you had mentioned that and talked about the long term vision, how do you how do you explain that to either, you know, software engineers, data engineers already working with you or perhaps new recruits that are coming in? How do you explain the long term vision and then fine tune how they're going to fit in?
Mark Yunger  29:37
Absolutely. So we we do this on a regular basis, actually. So my team but if you survey them, I tend to be a broken record right around this time of year. So we around October to September annual fiscal cycle. So this time of year, we're finalizing our goals for this next fiscal year. And I always come back to the same slide deck year after year. That starts With a cascading set of vision, mission and goals, okay? Where we start with the mission of the organization and then deconstruct that into IT department goals and missions, and deconstruct that further into individual goals for the year, so that everyone has a direct laddering up of the your goals for the quarter in the year back to what the vision of the company is.
Maryfran Johnson  30:24
Okay. And the long is the long term vision for the US division of survey to continue growing. I mean, the company is about 500 people here now, your IT staff is around 30 With both outside contractors and internal, how are you when you think about it, three to five years from now? How big are you going to get? Well, the,
Mark Yunger  30:48
the our mission and vision isn't really driven by necessarily a growth number, right? It's really driven by meeting patient's needs to the best we can. And if we're successful in doing that, the more patients that we care for the the bigger will will become because we're more successful taking care of our patients. With that said, Okay, there's there's two, there's two elements to that, that future growth trajectory. There'll be both organic, so growing from within, and discovering new products and moving them along the pipeline, and also in organic growth whenever there's interesting business development opportunity.
Maryfran Johnson  31:28
Okay, fair enough. And I had mentioned this a little earlier, and I want to circle back to it about how your role has changed, morphed, expanded as you went from that Greenfield startup biotech launch, to now to sounding more like a Chief Science Officer than a CIO. What did you What did you bring into the role? What are the parts that have really grown for you? Yeah, absolutely.
Mark Yunger  31:54
So the in the early days, it was really set it up very basic capabilities. I can remember on our first day, going into WeWorks, and sitting next to our head of finance, and saying, Hey, I need to buy 100 laptops, how do you want me to do it,
Maryfran Johnson  32:11
and like putting that on my charge card,
Mark Yunger  32:13
or if he turns to me in a corporate card, he says, give me the receipt when you're done. So obviously, I can put $100,000 on on a corporate card, but it didn't back in batches. But there was an example of of really writing just foundational processes around purchasing around inventory management, like literally screwing in light bulbs to get to get the shows.
Maryfran Johnson  32:37
You didn't You didn't have to adopt what the global company was doing based in France. There
Mark Yunger  32:41
was a It depends on the service. Right. So there were things there was an existing Office 365 environment, for example, that we that we adopted, I'm very grateful for that being in existence before he showed up. Yes, that was just one thing that I didn't have to
Maryfran Johnson  32:54
You didn't have to You didn't have to decide, and everybody didn't have to learn a new system. Yeah. But
Mark Yunger  32:59
the foundation was was very intentional about maintaining an autonomy for the US to be able to grow in a way that was conducive to the US market. So we've been provided a fair amount of flexibility in terms of defining what those processes look like. Okay, now that we've been established, there's I think there's a really good growing close partnership between really all affiliates, including ourselves. And I think that's really a source of strength for us. Okay.
Maryfran Johnson  33:29
You had mentioned that, that as one of the things I'd asked you about what had changed over time, and you'd mentioned that the foundational knowledge about digital therapeutics, which you've it's been growing right along with you, of course, but that you take a shark tank business case development approach, when you're considering new ideas. Describe that I know, everybody knows what Shark Tank is, but I think it differs by how you do it in each industry. And is this something that you do with your IT staff alone? Or do you have your business and research colleagues involved as well? Yeah, absolutely.
Mark Yunger  34:03
And funny, we're talking about that, because there's one happening today. Okay, about a half an hour. So to start with your last question first. So we do partner closely with whatever functional area the particular solution is intended to solve for. Okay, so the one today, as a matter of fact, is for the the patient app that I mentioned a few minutes ago. So colleagues from our patient office, and it will be presenting later today to a committee. That is the the product portfolio committee for the product that we're hoping to launch next year. So there's a panel of roughly nine individuals. So it's slightly larger than the show panel. And you have to show up with what's the problem that you're trying to solve. Why is the solution that you're proposing going to solve it? Why are we the ones to solve it versus someone else in the market, and then going into capabilities and costs to then get to the end to finally make a decision on whether or not we should proceed. Yeah.
Maryfran Johnson  35:04
Did you have to bring in any kind of special training to get your IT staff up to doing that sort of thing? How do you develop that kind of capability? Because you're not large enough in the IT area to have like a digital university or a business University where you teach everyone that? Yeah, absolutely.
Mark Yunger  35:22
So we take some of the learn on the job and learn through doing approach. Okay, so the, it's a safe space to be able to fail and learn to that process, to and iterate on what works the first time and then evolve for the next time. So the the business cases that we came up with back into those in 19. We're not nearly as robust as the ones that were coming up with now. And the the polishing of the decks, the messaging, how we approach our stakeholders, and our internal investors, so to speak, has matured over the years, and it's yeah, it's been through practice in there.
Maryfran Johnson  35:56
Okay. What are the talent areas that you have your greatest needs in? And then I want to drill down and talk about what you do in advanced data analytics. I believe it's a federal requirement now that we talked about Gen AI. So we'll have to, we'll have to bring that up and address that. But you mentioned you have enterprise capabilities, then you have a business focus. So I'm interested in how you divvied up your talent in that area. I keep asking you multiple questions. It's not fair. So first question is about the talent itself, where where are you constantly, always seeking more, more and better talent? And absolutely.
Mark Yunger  36:37
So if I make a shameless plug, we're currently hiring right now, that's
Maryfran Johnson  36:42
a very good reason to be on a show like this, where you can talk about why. But it just did my even insurance company. CIOs come on here and say we are a magnet for tech talent. And fair enough. So go ahead with your plug, why should we come? I'm a brilliant software engineer, why am I interested in coming to work at serviette?
Mark Yunger  37:02
Absolutely. So the so we're looking for things pertaining to Salesforce platform in vivo platform expertise, engineer inside, and one of the selling points for that role is that's one of the roles that's actually working on a lot of these patients solutions. So there's an opportunity to be in those patient expert Council conversations. And it's for me, personally, I really feel that for the whole team, you don't always get that opportunity in the in an IT role or the biotech world to be able to be literally face to face in the same room with your your and and patients, states stakeholders. So having that close proximity is I think, really, really a special opportunity. Okay. We're also hiring in data analytics, and also in business relationship management with our corporate and in manufacturing functions. Okay.
Maryfran Johnson  37:53
Now, I often expect CIOs to say cybersecurity as their first thing, because they'll bring it up, but then they don't want to talk about it anymore. Do you have Have you got your cyber, your cyber risk area well sewn up? Do you go outside the company for that sort of help?
Mark Yunger  38:12
yes to both. So the it's always important to be humble in the world of cyber security. Yeah. There's always opportunity for improvement and and getting better at what you do. Because the world around you is evolving. And the moment you stop caring, and and evolving is the moment that you have problems. I know
Maryfran Johnson  38:30
if you lose the fear factor reaction, you're going to be sorry. Just
Mark Yunger  38:34
because you're paranoid doesn't mean that after you because actually they are right, exactly. So we actually just this summer, we did a third party, NIST based audit of our of our cybersecurity programs, soup to nuts. So through that, it was able to highlight things that we're doing really well at and places where we have some opportunity for improvement. Okay.
Maryfran Johnson  38:55
Can you talk a little bit about places that you're doing really well
Mark Yunger  38:58
at? Yeah, so the two places that we're doing well, one is around a governance of the cybersecurity program. Excellent. The it's, I remember watching your show with Shannon Gafta. Yes, that governance might not be all that exciting, but it's important. And I have to agree with her that well,
Maryfran Johnson  39:17
you know what, once you dive in and start talking about governance, it really is very critical. I remember years ago, I was editor in chief of CIO magazine, and we would be pitching various stories, the editors and reporters would be talking about cover story ideas, and every time anybody said governance, everybody kind of laid their head on the table and said, Oh, governance, story, whatever. But governance is a very powerful function. It's where the money's coming from, how it's being tracked how it's being spent. Its strategic decisions across the whole continent. So now that we've brought that up, how are you approaching it and business governance are they done together as a single process? It's like, Do you have a governance structured committee that does that?
Mark Yunger  40:03
Yeah, absolutely. And this is a good example where we have a very close collaboration between Boston and Paris, on things pertaining to cybersecurity. So my colleagues over in Paris, and I spend a fair amount of time together working through making sure that there's no gaps to the extent possible in our mutual defenses. So there's, there's a lot of close collaboration, and there's a lot of mutual interest, because we were certainly all on the same boat together.
Maryfran Johnson  40:30
Now, is everyone speaking French when you're doing that? So my
Mark Yunger  40:33
French is very bad. So my, my wife is French, and my kids are all fluid. But my French is pretty dicey. I can cook in French. Yeah, I can clean the house in French. But doing business in French is a little tough.
Maryfran Johnson  40:45
Well, and since you're talking about cybersecurity, you can't really bring one of the kids in to help with that, you know, that sort of thing. Let's talk about oh, the way you have it structured, you mentioned it, it's there's business capabilities, enterprise capabilities. Is this a build run launch kind of organization? Have you changed anything substantially in the way you have things structured versus some of your other leadership roles? Yeah,
Mark Yunger  41:16
absolutely. So it's intentionally not a plan, build run model. And the reason for that is that in previous lives, is especially as the organization starts to scale, maintaining clean handoffs, between those organizations, as you get bigger is really hard. And the operations team will point back to the development team and say, you deployed bad stuff
Maryfran Johnson  41:40
recipe by fire pointing, isn't it? Yeah.
Mark Yunger  41:42
So the, and that goes back to the product mindset that I mentioned before we intentionally organize in product teams on a small number of platforms, so that whatever the team deploys, they have to support. So as incidents come back, and ideally those are small, they have to address those things, no more throwing it over the wall, and we're done. Exactly. If you build it, you own it. And there's there again, there's pros and cons of that approach. There's, there's no, there's no one one perfect solution for all companies. Right. But that one works well for us. Yeah.
Maryfran Johnson  42:14
Well, I think that's why it's such a perennial question of mine when I'm talking with CIOs and like, how exactly are you doing this? And everybody's doing it a little bit differently? Even if they are just product focus organizations, the way they organize the teams, you're probably organized differently than you were four years ago. Yeah, exactly. Yeah. What is the newest part of the organization's what have you created? or what have you spun up in the last year, that is a taking, you know, something that you didn't have a structural approach that you didn't take four years ago. There's
Mark Yunger  42:48
nothing new in the last year. But the most recent team that we stood up was the data and analytics function. And that was roughly three years ago. So about it took us the first couple of years to get all the basics in place. And then by year three, is when we started doing some more the the advanced warehousing types of activities.
Maryfran Johnson  43:08
Okay, and now you've mentioned the magic term data and analytics. We are required, as I said, by law these days to talk about Gen AI. I'm really just teasing. We're not totally required. But it has been is, as you mentioned, my recent interview with Shannon Gath, who was in here from Teradyne. We talked a lot about it, there's CIOs really can't avoid the topic, even if you wanted to. Right. So I'm asking you about Gen AI. How is that fitting in? What are you playing with in your labs? What can you tell us about in your approach to it, or perhaps a plan for a future approach to it? Absolutely.
Mark Yunger  43:43
So the your read that everyone is talking about it these days, you really can't can't watch a podcast or to have a sales call with
Maryfran Johnson  43:53
a microphone without hitting the topic these days. Totally true. And it's
Mark Yunger  43:56
clear that there's going to be significant productivity enhancements as a result of generative AI. Yeah. With that said, I think we're somewhere around the peak of inflated expectations. And at some point, will will slump down back into the trough of disillusionment and reflect back on what really matters. And the generative AI can be a great tool for all kinds of situations. If you're a high school or a college Creative Writing student, it has been an absolute game changer, right? It's great for that type of stuff. But just because it's a great hammer for that particular problem doesn't mean all problems you face in your your technology career are nails. And the being able to sift through those is a function of use cases, under being really clear about why generative AI is going to solve certain types of problems, but not others. And our approach at survey has been to use a number of different variables to helps sift through those use cases. So for example, what is the quality requirements of the outputs? So what's the level of accuracy? If you stay with the creative writing side of things from like a perhaps a marketing perspective, that that is a little more amenable to it. If you're doing work for regulatory submissions dossiers into the FDA that's less amenable if you're using public datasets. Yes. And that's we can Shana
Maryfran Johnson  45:28
was making that point too, that you just don't want any of your proprietary data to get into a public chat GPT Exactly. We
Mark Yunger  45:36
can really dig into public versus private libraries and the benefits there. But the that's variable number one that we use is things pertaining to quality and accuracy. Second is around data privacy and intellectual property. To avoid situations that Samsung had earlier this year, where their software developers were using chat GBT for codecs, which it's great at. But they they inadvertently or unknowingly posted a lot of proprietary Samsung code out into the world, which prompted the company to shut everything down. We also use speed of realizing value on that use case, we can discuss approaches to to how to go fast versus how to go slow. We look at existing ecosystem or existing technology ecosystem as a variable. And then finally cost. Yeah, because the you can you can maximize his previous variables depend on how much you want to want to pay for.
Maryfran Johnson  46:35
Yes, well, and speaking of how much you want to pay for it, what are the conversations like that you're having or hearing from your tech vendor? Community supplier? People? I think right now, as is over, you mentioned the peak of disillusionment, I think there's the peak of incredible hopefulness, in ramp and in the tech vendor community in general. You know, there's very few of them that have a marketable product yet, but the ones that do so that's where a lot of the noise comes from, of course, what are your vendor management approaches to an area like this to Jenai? No,
Mark Yunger  47:13
I can. I can honestly say I can't think of a single vendor that does not have some form of AI plugged into their their flow, of course,
Maryfran Johnson  47:19
yeah. But they also have aI already built in from yours. We're singling out Gen AI as some kind of special case, because it is it's just virally interesting to business and the regular public these
Mark Yunger  47:34
days, my heart goes out to software vendors, because they're just required to show up with assure they are Yeah, marking materials. And for different different partners. It's true for different brand degrees, right? Yeah. So a couple of our strategic partners have relatively mature existing capabilities, where the existing platform already has some some semblance of, of, of AI already embedded. It might not be generative for some of those, but the being able to use algorithms trained on data to trigger actions and make decisions for some of our platform vendors. Yeah,
Maryfran Johnson  48:12
I've been there for a while. Well, it's funny because now we're talking about these days who tend to differentiate between regular run of the mill AI, and then generative AI. And it really hasn't been that long that even run of the mill AI has been part of products. Although I can remember this being a big emerging whenever I'd ask an emerging tech question, we'd start hearing about augmented reality and that sort of thing. But there's a you had mentioned, when we talked previously, there's a very big buzz about machine learning in AI in the drug discovery process. How does that? How does that apply at survey and the work you're doing? And what are some of the big picture? The progress areas and the concerns
Mark Yunger  48:57
is that the basic concept for the problem that we're trying to solve is, you have a large library of compounds, and you have a number of targets that you want to see whether or not those compounds work or have an effect. And at some point, you need to literally do the physical science to ensure that that works. But you can accelerate that process and in reduce the number of variables you have to test for in the lab, based on programmatically figuring out what the highest probability of of matches are. Okay. So the that's been a promise of drug discovery for many years. And everybody's
Maryfran Johnson  49:36
familiar with that. 10 years 1,000,010,000 People at you know, 10,000 ideas, just to get one incredibly great drug.
Mark Yunger  49:46
Exactly. And that's, there's a painfully high failure rate from the 10,000 Grit ideas to one batch we're getting to patients and over the last 10 years. So anywhere that we can accelerate that process. There's an opportunity And within machine learning, I won't necessarily call it certainly not Gen AI or dirt AI. But machine learning has been a solution that's been brought to drug discovery for a number of years. But to not oversimplify it, it's still really hard. And the amount of success in that approach has been limited. There's been some relatively high profile partnerships that get spun up and then stopped. Due to a lack of progress. We science are getting better at it in recent years, but it's, it's gonna still take a while before all problems are solved with with machine learning. Okay.
Maryfran Johnson  50:41
Do you have a specific setup to explore innovative ideas to play around with Gen AI and machine learning at the advanced edges right now inside of the company? Or is that something that kind of everybody is tasked with keeping an eye on that horizon? Yes.
Mark Yunger  50:59
So open AI, really triggered mass interest in general. So as of since November of last year, everybody in the company has been exploring new opportunities, the way that we channel a lot of that interests is, is through our IT business partners. And as we're having regular conversations with our stakeholders in various functions, generative AI always comes up. Yeah. And what we've done is a number of small scale experiments just to see to test out the hypothesis, see if it works, and then learn from those in terms of where we want to make future investments. So to sort of examples of that, what isn't that on the patient side? We have a patient portal and a patient services organization that patients and caregivers can call into. And it's open Monday through Friday during normal business hours. And the idea on the table was, is there some way to provide better interaction and support for patients outside of that when when our support team is slipping? chatbots have been around forever, right? That's not not novel. But was there an opportunity to be able to improve that experience and provide better answers to patients via via chat. And we went relatively deep on this case, where we explored building a custom solution for internal libraries. And the reason for that was when when you're dealing with anything pertaining to healthcare and your patients, there's there's no option to be wrong, or only slightly, right. It has to be 100%. Correct. Right. So we didn't want just an open source, GBT giving our patients guidance that was was not curated by us. Yikes. Yeah. as we as we started unpacking what it would take in order to build that capability. What we realized was, the price point in today's world just didn't make sense, the capabilities there. It's doable. But we just simply didn't have the scale of transactions for what it would cost to put that solution in place today. If you're if you're significantly larger organizations with with 1000s or 10s of 1000s of transactions on a regular basis, the lines crossed from from a value proposition perspective. So the for us, you just hire a couple of more more reps for your your patient office. So what we learned from that was,
Maryfran Johnson  53:31
and that's a lot cheaper than spending a full crew bag, which seems
Mark Yunger  53:36
counterintuitive to hire more people to use technology. But for for custom built general AI solutions, at least in today's landscape. That's a true statement. But our two takeaways from that was really twofold. One is the custom route in today's world wasn't cost effective. But as we started shopping around with our platform partners, there are other opportunities where you might not get all the exact whistles and bells that you might be able to build on your own. The availability and the price point for those on existing platforms was much more attractive. Okay.
Maryfran Johnson  54:13
Okay. Well, I'd imagine with all the pitches you're getting for Gen AI involved products now from your, your very valuable vendor community. It must make your well your I was thinking your BS meter must go off more often, you know, the, the alarm bells are sounding. You're
Mark Yunger  54:30
we're certainly getting better at asking the harder questions early to understand. Is it marketing? Is it real? Yeah. And what can you actually do?
Maryfran Johnson  54:39
What's an what's an example of a harder question to ask? So
Mark Yunger  54:43
we, we start off with how much of this is built? Right. So okay, because for some of the pitches that we've been getting, they've been offers of of CO development of solutions, which which we are interested in, we can certainly, we certainly do entertain those conversations. But the having something to start with is for what we're looking for much, much better for where we're at as a company, because the the typically they'll start falling off into haven't started. We have something but we want to extend it with you to something that's relatively mature and you can buy off the shelf. But the mature and buy off the shelf and the generative AI side of the continuum is relatively limited.
Maryfran Johnson  55:27
Yeah, the proof of concept playing around with it in labs has gotten that's gotten a little loosey goosey very loosely. I was thinking yeah, it reminds me that old punch line joke about it'll be so great when it gets here. And I you know, right now, you could probably put a whole lot of the Gen AI stuff in it. But as you say, it's not something you can ignore if you're in an IT leadership position these days. Final question I have, as we wrap up, tell me what you have learned about your leadership style in these last five years in this Greenfield field build up company in a very high tech biotech area. What have you learned about your leadership style? What has changed? Absolutely.
Mark Yunger  56:12
So there's two leadership styles philosophies that I've tended to employ over the years. One is situational leadership, the good old fashioned Ken Blanchard approach, and, and Greenfield with servant based leadership. And I think the two of those together work really well. And it's also very conducive to our organizational culture. The the spirit of servitude and being being there to take care of others is amenable to our mission, and I think it really puts actions behind behind what we what we're saying words. So how has that evolved over the years, it's been a good leader as a journey, you're not a destination. So with with every passing day and week, I I sincerely strive to be better. Hopefully, my team will say I'm better today than it was five years ago. But it's, it's there's no there's been no epiphanies over the last five years, but it's definitely been a daily daily mission to improve. Well, it just
Maryfran Johnson  57:20
I think I always love it when I hear that term servant leadership, because that idea that you're there to help everybody around you do a better job is not a bad place to start from. Yep. Especially in nit, thank you so much. It was wonderful having you here today for this conversation. If you joined us a little bit late today, please don't worry. You can watch the full episode of my conversation here today later on LinkedIn and you can also find us on and on CIOs YouTube channel, cio leadership live is also available as an audio podcast. Wherever you find your podcasts. I hope you enjoyed today's conversation with Mark younger of survey pharmaceuticals. We'll be back again in three weeks on Wednesday, November 29, at a slightly different time a little earlier in the day at 10am. Eastern, when I'm going to be on here with Juan Perez, who is the CIO of Thanks so much for joining us today and do take a moment to subscribe to CIOs YouTube channel where you can find the entire library of more than 100 similarly interesting and in depth interviews with IT leaders. Wishing you and your loved ones a very wonderful and relaxing Thanksgiving holiday and we'll see you here next time.