By Randie Schlamowitz, Executive Director, Global Operations Management/Global Support Center and Platform Strategist, Merck & Co.
“Change is the only constant in life.” --Greek Philosopher Heraclitus
Three years ago, we launched a new IT strategy that brought many changes to our organization.
Our footprint is more global than in the past, with IT hubs in New Jersey, Singapore, and Prague that ensure we have a seamless 24/7 follow-the-sun operations model and a global software delivery capability. Our software engineering and operations teams are embracing DevOps tools and processes as a way to develop and deliver new capabilities more quickly. We have launched a Platform Strategy that enables our company to leverage enterprise solutions. And we have shifted from a more process-centric orientation to one that is more data-centric, in order to meet the evolving needs of our clients.
This kind of change can be overwhelming for people. But I have found that change represents opportunity. In fact, developing an ability to embrace change has helped me to grow and advance professionally and personally.
For example, through periods of change, I’ve had the opportunity to leverage the latest and greatest technology trends and build new capabilities that have helped differentiate Merck’s products or market position. I’ve had the opportunity to modernize and refresh existing technologies and build efficiencies that resulted in higher productivity and lower costs. As I often tell my team and my colleagues, embracing change effectively is necessary to advance the goals of the organization. It also has, as I’ve learned, the personal benefit of contributing to your career success.
Change at the Foundational Level
The organization I lead today oversees our global IT operations management function across infrastructure, network, and applications. We are also responsible for our global support center (help desk). We employ industry-standard best practices for systems development lifecycle (SDLC), and various IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) disciplines including service management, change and release management, and problem management to support our programs with IT excellence and rock-solid operations.
This is a critical foundation for our company, but my team is working to improve our operational activities by leveraging industry best practices and innovation. For example, we are working to develop and release IT process automation and self-service capabilities to improve employee productivity and business effectiveness. This helps ensure a higher level of IT operations performance for current and future capabilities.
In other words, we are constantly changing and evolving. As a leader, I am working with my team to identify and pursue areas that will help us to improve our effectiveness and efficiency – so that we can focus on bringing new capabilities to market that differentiate our company.
Change at the Strategic Level
Aside from leading Global Operations Management, I also co-lead a key strategic initiative for the IT organization and our company. For the past two years, we have been planning and delivering our IT platform strategy. This strategy is one component of our larger overall IT strategy, reshaping how we will deliver value to Merck. The intent is to enable the company to leverage enterprise solutions (rather than point solutions) while shifting from a process-centric to a data-centric model. During the first year of this journey, our focus was on defining the strategy. Now that we are in our second year, our focus is on the realization of that strategy. This realization requires changes in the way we think about investment, about processes, and about the way we work together.
Being an IT leader is always an exciting role – but particularly during times of significant change. In my case, it means I have the pleasure of being on the front lines of implementing a major strategic initiative while at the same time running and transforming IT operations.
Over my career at Merck, AT&T, and Bell Labs, I have found that it is critical to surround myself with experts whenever possible. Technology is increasingly complex and is changing too quickly for any one person to master. Building and empowering a team of experts who are committed to positive change is the foundation for value delivery. And delivering value is the foundation for professional and personal success.
I’ve become comfortable saying things like: “I don’t know the answer – what do you think? What do we need to know? Who should we talk with? Tell me about how you might approach this problem…or opportunity.” Then, I listen, discuss, engage, collaborate, and create. When the team is integrally engaged as stakeholders in our mission, success matters to them. Work is no longer a series of tasks or project milestones. Instead, each team member knows the satisfaction of contributing value that moves us closer to our destination.
I find that listening is a foundation for learning and new thinking. My job is to bring clarity of vision and direction, while providing only the minimum amount of guidance necessary. I strive to build great teams that are knowledgeable, inclusive, collaborative, and welcoming of new ideas. When things go well, there is a sense of ownership and engagement, and my role becomes focused on building relationships, clearing obstacles, and supporting my team.
As I’ve learned, to be an effective IT leader, you must embrace change while bringing clarity and consensus to your vision and objectives. You must build new capabilities while improving and economizing existing operations. You must build and empower teams who will drive initiatives forward. The foundation of my leadership style is to encourage everyone on the team to share their thoughts and ideas, to listen carefully, to develop the path forward, and to remove barriers to deliver the capabilities that our company requires – and to do that amid constant change. It’s a role that I wouldn’t, well, change for all the world.
The Future is… Platforms
For us, platforms can be viewed as the effective response to shrinking returns on assets and the relentless pursuit of productivity. They offer other benefits, of course. But a main goal of Merck’s platform strategy is to exploit every last ounce of value from every investment we make. Platforms are intended to drive out point solutions, help reduce costs of running IT applications, drive down the cost of delivering new solutions, and enable innovation by leveraging the use of APIs for internal and external contributions. In developing our own platform strategy, we have learned from how platform-based companies are able to create new business models based on a platform economy. At Merck, we will continue to evolve our platform strategy and operations function in order to contribute to and benefit from such an economy.
The job of a leader is to clarify your team’s vision and direction, while providing the minimum guidance necessary.
Embracing change means building new capabilities while improving and economizing existing operations.
As a leader in IT, you can’t enact change on your own. Rather, build and empower teams who will drive initiatives forward.