Out of the Shadows: Moving IT to Front and Center | Straight Talk

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A low-profile company with 20,000 employees and billions in revenue is changing, as IT becomes a more integral part of the enterprise. 

The company I work for is not a household name. It’s more of a “behind the scenes” provider, one that employs 20,000 people globally—all working to treat life-threatening medical disorders such as hemophilia and primary immune deficiencies.

In that regard, CSL Behring is a lot like IT in general – a behind-the-scenes utility that’s sometimes taken for granted.

But times are changing, for both my employer and IT.

Blurring boundaries

Like most people who’ve been in IT for a long time, I’ve seen the nature of our work change. Early in my career, I was more focused on learning the technology and implementing it. I really didn't have a good understanding of how manufacturing worked or how the business leveraged the technologies that we were implementing.

Today, the lines between IT and business are blurring. Technologists and business folks are often one and the same. IT is no longer a support function but is integral to the business. In fact, increasingly, having a pure IT department or even an IT person isn’t that relevant. Going forward, you’ll still have your cloud providers and your pure technology companies. But for most industries and businesses, you're not going to have a pure IT function anymore.

That means for somebody entering the field – and for those of us who’ve been in IT for decades – it’s crucial to know the business that you're in. You have to know your business customers and understand how the technology will impact the entire business. Knowing technology is no longer enough.

A common thread

That said, you do need to know the technology – which is always changing and becoming more complex. When I started my career, the types of technology we employed were relatively few. We were mainframe- and fax-based. Over time, the variety of technologies we oversaw burgeoned, with the introduction of networking and email and the early adoptions of things such as containers and virtualization.

Today, we’re focused on how to enable the business through such things as automation, which can help us get our products to patients faster. With all the innovation happening around cloud computing, big data, and connected healthcare, we're getting to a point where our patients can see a difference in the technologies we bring to market.

But the thing that connects it all is the people behind the process. Without the right people in place to manage and deploy these new technologies, none of this would work. So the common thread that I've seen throughout my career is all about having the right people to deliver the right technologies.

The talent hunt

That means always looking for new ways to attract and retain talent. For example, we work with universities to bring young talent into our company.

We've started an MBA rotational program in which graduates do six-month rotations through different areas of our business. At the end of four such rotations, we decide where in the company each one of the graduates fits best and will have the greatest impact. And by then, they have a good understanding of several different areas of the business, which they can either collaborate with or take a leadership role in, depending on where they end up.

We're also continuing to look at how we can better attract and retain millennials, who will account for 40 percent of our workforce in the next several years. For example, we’re trying to reduce the amount of paperwork they have to process, by converting it from the two-dimensional written word into digital technologies such as three-dimensional virtual reality – a mode they have grown up with.

Unlocking value

Because IT is now an integral part of the business, we look for new ways to collaborate with our business partners. For example, we have what we call innovation days during which business people explain ways they would like to see the business evolve and we suggest technologies that could enable that. Based upon these interactions, we are able to develop one-year and three-year innovation roadmaps.

Also, IT's role in mergers and acquisitions is increasingly important. When a company makes an acquisition, it is usually looking to acquire intellectual property, gain market share, or diversify its product portfolio. But how quickly can it unlock the value of the acquisition? That's all based upon how quickly the IT systems can be integrated. So IT is really the key to capitalize on the value that was the reason for the acquisition.

Looking ahead

As cloud, robotic processing, blockchain, and big data begin to deliver on their promise, we’ll start seeing industries and companies gain real value from those technologies. For example, we will be able to speed up our time to market, as we tap into a pre-existing and pre-engineered cloud infrastructure instead of having to develop, procure, and manage data centers, servers, and networks.

One technology that we hope to benefit from is using sensors to monitor our manufacturing processes. Although we currently collect millions of data points, we only care about anomalies in the process. New technology will allow us to discard a lot of data, so we don't have to manage it, and only look for anomalies that trigger a potential production issue.

The Takeaways 

IT is changing from a utility to an innovation center. That means that IT professionals need to know their business inside and out. 

MBA rotational programs are a powerful way to attract and retain talent and effectively staff your workforce.

“Innovation days” and mergers and acquisitions are two key areas in which IT and the business can collaborate.