David Smoley has brought AstraZeneca triumphantly through a three-year IT transformation journey. The result has been to deliver ‘twice the value for half the cost’, with $700m saved since 2013. There’s a more stable infrastructure, with service outages having fallen by 20%, stronger business partnership and a much healthier operating model. IT has played a key role in driving and enabling a move away from a risk-averse, siloed and slow-moving company to one that is proud to embrace fast-paced, innovative and entrepreneurial values.

Job title
Global CIO

Company name

How are you influencing the products, customer experience and services your organisation offers to its customers?
AstraZeneca is a global, science-led biopharmaceutical business and our innovative medicines are used by millions of patients worldwide. In AstraZeneca IT, we are helping to push the boundaries of science to deliver life-changing medicines by continuously working with the business to innovate for competitive advantage. Influencing the business at all stages of drug development from early research to the delivery of products to patients is a key driver. The opportunity to push the boundaries of technology is embraced, with technology showcases and business engagement aligning the opportunities new technologies offer alongside business challenges and adoption.

Enabling the science is a key priority for AZIT. This year we partnered with the science units to deliver exciting initiatives such as the React 4 visual analytics programme and digital health analytics, where we are exploring data analytics to address critical-study patient recruitment and protocol optimisation for patient development. We have also created a holistic and integrated solution for clinical analysis and reporting. These projects demonstrate how IT works with the business to help our scientists do their job better.

Our adoption of new technologies such as virtual reality technology in factories and across our operations and the introduction of technology-driven advances in laboratory temperature controls, combined with simplifying and driving efficiencies across our supply chains, are really driving our product delivery. This has enabled the unprecedented release of a new drug to patients breaking all industry norms by reducing the time required from days to hours.

We also use technology to simplify and improve our field-force effectiveness, expanding healthcare practitioners’ reach, enhancing performance insights and increasing patient engagement. Our mobile-first digital strategy is driving improvements in our patient relationships and our development of a mobility centre of excellence is allowing patients to benefit directly through the creation of mobile applications that manage and inform patients with their own bespoke healthcare information.

Customer service remains of paramount importance. We remain committed to improving end-user services, understanding what our customers and colleagues need, and ensuring that IT works easily for all of us. When people have an issue, we are able to resolve it at first contact 67% of the time – an increase of 9% in one year alone. Furthermore, the visible presence of IT experts via AskIT, our onsite IT support, in 14 sites is getting high marks. We have had over 27,000 customer visits this year, with 97% customer satisfaction.

Through my leadership, AZIT provides the IT backbone to a complex and highly regulated industry, enabling our customers to have a great experience while we continue to innovate and drive improvements across the organisation.

Define the key business outcomes that you have delivered over the last 12 months and their impact on your organisation’s performance
The most exciting news over the last 12 months is that our original three-year IT transformation journey is now completed successfully. This year, we have achieved ‘twice the value for half the cost’, and saved $700m since 2013. Today, we are in far better shape than we have ever been with a more stable infrastructure, including a reduction in service outages of 20%, stronger business partnership and a much healthier operating model. Our global workforce is more diverse and technically strong than ever before, enabling us to exploit cloud technology and drive new ways of working across the business.

Our collaboration strategy has revolutionised the way AZ employees work, with an explosion of use of our new VC capability. Virtual meeting use has increased by 500% since 2014, and with more than 270 virtual meetings held globally this year, connecting senior leaders with global teams, it has directly contributed to an overall $130m T&E cost saving. Last year saw our first-ever senior leaders meeting held virtually, which allowed 1,700 senior colleagues to connect from over 60 sites, saving not only dollars but over 2,700 tonnes of CO2 in the process!

Our cloud strategy, such as the adoption of DocuSign, with over 120,000 signatures delivered electronically this year, saving 40,000 employee hours of time and averting 166,000lbs of carbon emissions, is also driving efficiencies and creating new ways of working.

2016 has proven a busy and productive year too for simplification across AZ. I am the senior sponsor for this initiative, and last year we focused specifically on three areas: 1) onboarding new employees, 2) contracting with clinical sites, and 3) external expert engagement. Together across the organisation, through driving simplification projects we have unlocked over 750,000 hours over the last 12 months which can now be spent on developing our science.

What has been your involvement with innovation at your organisation – in particular, with products, business model and technology – over the last 12 months?
My organisation, as a key enabler of the AZ business, plays a critical role in bringing innovative technology into the workplace. We work with our business areas across all stages of drug development and production, identifying new opportunities for innovation.

Product innovation

The development of drugs requires a complex and highly regulated process where the opportunities for innovation stretch from the pure science, production and operations to the salesforce, healthcare practitioners, patient healthcare and digital health opportunities.

We have contributed to many areas, for example:

  • simplified and improved field-force effectiveness through the use of Veeva and Salesforce.Com, Concur and Workday
  • expanded healthcare practitioner reach and interaction via the implementation of multichannel relationship marketing (MCRM)
  • provided an innovative means to connect and partner with patients using a newly created patient experience platform that has allowed nurse educators to significantly increase patient interactions and has ultimately led to higher programme enrolment
  • developed digital health through mobile applications and devices, enabling patient adherence and engagement
  • supported cutting-edge science and technology through the development of a scientific compute platform
  • simplified the deployment of a patient side-effect monitoring initiative for the US oncology business, which is saving $10m over three years while accelerating launch readiness
  • contributed to the development of a patient support system which aims to build patient engagement, provide reminders and encouragement while simultaneously collecting insights for our asthma and COPD portfolio.

Business model innovation

This is an area where IT plays a considerable role in driving innovation which results in efficiencies, simplification and making time for the science across our global organisation.

Over the last 12 months some of the key initiatives have been:

  • The roll-out of Workday and Concur in 2015 has provided a basis for simplification and huge time efficiencies for over 66,000 colleagues.
  • A stronger HR has been delivered, driving efficiencies through advanced computing, recruitment, new service centre telephony, Workday document management, a code of conduct trialling the use of Saba cloud and a learning platform strategy delivering tangible results.
  • A new software store has been launched that provides a simplified user ‘retail’ experience that saves 488 hours a month due to simplified publishing and 1,300 hours a month for end users from scheduling gains.
  • Finance transformation has been launched which drives simplification and optimises performance across the finance function.
  • The use of virtual reality is enabling us to streamline and simplify our training processes in operations, to speed up our delivery on the pipeline of drugs, and to ensure we deliver our business strategy.

Technology innovation

Exploiting technology is where I play a key thought leadership and implementation role. This role has been recognised in our newly promoted vision for AZIT which is to ‘push the boundaries of technology to achieve positive business outcomes’.

This year we established:

  • a user experience competency centre, which provides expert advisory, training, and user research services across the company
  • a mobile competency centre, which is building a microservices platform and flexible app framework to enable rapid and cost-effective delivery of mobile applications
  • additionally, Tech Incubation Labs in Cambridge in the UK and Silicon Valley in the US have applied leading-edge technology to key business challenges.

Fundamentally, I try to ensure that everyone in AZIT is empowered to leverage new emerging technologies to advance our systems and platforms, while working closely on today’s business problems. Some examples include:

  • With our research and development business, we have explored deep learning approaches using experimental data on legacy compounds to predict novel therapeutic uses for parked compounds.
  • We also piloted a cloud-based, automated machine learning platform across multiple areas of our business, including accurate prediction of COPD exacerbation from patients’ clinical trial data, early detection of machine failure in operations, prediction of future employee attrition in HR, and prediction of repeat prescription in commercial.
  • Working with oncology, we harnessed the power of AWS to analyse over 20,000 exomes in record time, finding new insight for drug discovery.
  • We have implemented Hadoop-based data lakes so we can analyse and integrate our data at unprecedented scale.
  • Virtual reality is now used in operations to train new staff in sterile working conditions and, in R&D to enable our scientists to view and design chemical compounds in a 3D world.
  • We have reduced costs and time in remote engineering by using augmented reality assistance in manufacturing.
  • Our scientists are starting to replace broken lab parts through 3D printing, saving time and often precious samples.

How have you delivered cultural and behavioural change as a CIO within the IT department and/or more broadly across the organisation?
My overriding principle is to help AstraZeneca’s business leaders to understand the opportunities that using technology gives us as business, and collaboratively work to leverage this technology, get drugs to market faster and improve patient outcomes.

The last three years has seen a huge transformation across AstraZeneca, with the move away from a risk-averse, siloed and slow-moving company to one that is now proud to embrace fast-paced, innovative and entrepreneurial values. IT has played a key role in driving and enabling this change.

We have delivered a portfolio of collaboration-enabling technologies that encourage innovative ways of working, quick decision-making and the development of external partnerships. For example, self-service videoconferencing usage has increased by 500% in the last two years, and we now make more than 8,000,000 minutes of calls per month using Skype for Business.

We have also facilitated a culture of innovation and entrepreneurial behaviour by providing tools and systems that enable fast and secure working across our geographic boundaries. Personal and team data storage has grown 150% since 2014 and we now have 65,000 users on tools such as OneDrive for Business and Box. We have also migrated 10,000 teamsites to the cloud, decommissioned 100+ servers, improved the user experience internally, and enabled 7,000 external users for large project/departmental collaborations. Additionally, our mobility competency centre provides best in class applications and infrastructure that allow people to work securely any time and anywhere.

As a result of our work, people engagement scores in AstraZeneca are the highest in our industry. A regular survey of AstraZeneca employees takes place across the company. In 2014, 44% of employees said we had made significant improvement to IT tools and systems; in 2016 this rose to 72% of employees. These scores show the real impact IT is having in terms of both delivering cultural change and improving the perception of IT across the business.

How have you worked with your CEO and/or board to communicate whatever ‘digital’ and IT means to your organisation/sector and improve digital literacy at the highest levels of the organisation?
A cross-functional global digital strategy team representing IT, global commercial excellence, commercial, procurement and science units is in place to co-ordinate digital better across AstraZeneca and to drive messaging across the organisation. The vision is that the future global digital enterprise capability will enable efficient and effective delivery of our business strategies and goals through digital presence, services and data.

As a sponsor of this group and working at all levels, we now have a comprehensive communications campaign which is in operation globally across the AZ organisation. This is multichannel and utilises a combination of thought leadership, education and the development of a ‘flight deck’, which is a global cross-functional team who process digital innovation requests.

There is a recognition globally that huge opportunities exist in this area, and current work includes identifying enterprise-wide capabilities and agreeing coherent digital strategies across our therapy areas and business units.

Delivery of the digital strategy will enable and champion digital innovation that improves lives and transforms the healthcare experience.

How have you worked with the technology and IT vendor market to achieve your business goals? How have you been able to influence IT suppliers and successfully manage your partnerships/relationships with large IT companies, SMEs and startups?
The explosive pace of technological change means we all need to be empowered to embrace new approaches, especially those in use in other industries. AZIT is already working with several enterprise startups and has deployed innovative technologies from leading entrepreneurs. But with the focus moving away from the enterprise into new trends and improvements in science, manufacturing and digital health, we are now working with the technology and IT vendor market in areas such as machine learning and predictive maintenance, artificial intelligence, robots and cognitive compute, voice-directed interfaces and chatbots and virtual reality collaborative experiences.

We are pushing our larger suppliers to bring their latest innovations forward to our teams. We’re working with Amazon to push how we analyse our scientific and genomic data at unprecedented scale, with Microsoft on piloting its latest cloud and collaboration offerings across our business, and with SAP to ensure that we have the greatest user experience through new mobile interfaces. It’s key that we build sustainable partnerships and they understand our business challenges as well as we do.

With our current vendors, we are ensuring that their medium-term roadmaps align to where our business needs to go, and working with them to pilot new approaches, from upgrading our supply chain to enable real-time shipment temperature tracking for our high-value assets, to early tests of new chatbot technologies in our IT helpdesk. By providing early feedback with real users in the field, we hope to work together to make sure that we are aligned as their products evolve.

Finally, we are really starting to tap into the startup community. We are working with many companies that didn’t exist five years ago, who typically have developed their products with only cloud, mobile and usability in mind. With the advances in cloud compute, this has enabled our business to tap into new approaches, such as deep learning for drug repositioning, machine learning for patient stratification, image recognition for digital pathology, advanced data compression for genomics, lightning-quick databases for mobile apps, smart wrangling tools for clinical data, new social channels for teams, influencer identification across social media and new IoT sensors alerting us to anomalies in our lab equipment before they break. There are many other areas and learning from approaches that our R&D colleagues have explored in the past few years, we are starting to explore opportunities to engage both inside and outside AstraZeneca using open innovation challenges.

Like any global corporate organisation we have a structured and account management system in operation with all third parties and partners. Relationship building, formalised engagement and open and trusted dialogue result in great working relationships with all sizes of partner organisations.

I and my leadership team regularly attend networking events, sharing best practice among other IT organisations, providing thought leadership to IT media and contributing to major forums and discussion groups. Two recent articles highlighting this influencing role are in Forbes January 2017 and Forbes October 2016.

How have you tried to develop the diversity of your team?
Diversity and culture have been and continue to be key areas of focus for me. Over the last three years we have worked hard at bringing IT teams together from across 30+ different geographies and multiple time zones to create a single unified IT function.  One of my primary objectives for this year is to continue our development of a collaborative and inclusive culture to exploit our rich diversity of thought – this is incredibly important to both myself and my leadership team.

We have seen great progress in AZIT. I have actively increased our diversity. Our female mix across our 3,400 population is 25% in total, with 25% of women in leadership roles. We have an AZ network of diversity established, hold on-site training events and have been award-winning in our nurturing of female talent.

Recognising that diversity feeds from talent brought in early and then throughout careers, I have taken a particular interest in developing our early talent pipeline. We now target universities with great diversity in action, invest and support our early talent with the opportunities to gain additional experience, and have introduced new recruitment selection processes that aim to eliminate gender bias. Futuristic thinking and action is critical within an IT environment.

Within our centres of excellence in Chennai and Guadalajara, representing over 60% of our total employee population and planned to grow to 70% by end of 2017, I have recently introduced expanded family friendly policies. They include more generous and flexible maternity leave policies, and an employee assistance programme for working women. Our women’s forums continue to develop. This is driving real results and allowing us not only to attract, support and retain valuable talent, especially female talent, but also cut down on absenteeism and foster a strong inclusive culture.

Describe how you organise and operate IT and how this aligns effectively with business strategy and operations
With over 3,500 employees in 47 countries, the IT organisation has a truly global reach, with centres of service excellence in Chennai and Guadalajara supplemented by hub sites in the UK, the US and Sweden.

As CIO, I engage at the most senior level within the company, influencing and driving technological transformation while also acknowledging that in order for us to deliver a world-class service we need to continuously improve and develop our own organisation and provide a stable, reliable and future-ready infrastructure.

AstraZeneca’s senior executive team (SET) business units define their priorities to align with our company’s strategic priorities, and I have developed customer-facing IT (CFIT) teams, which are our primary interface to these business units. The CFIT teams work in partnership with the business to discuss and agree how IT can support the business priorities and enable the realisation of business objectives. Our CFIT teams then work with our shared services teams to define and deliver the required enterprise-wide IT solution platforms, infrastructure and services.

This structure is continually evolving and responding to business priorities. This year a newly created centre of excellence focused on innovation and operational excellence has been developed with the express focus on delivering innovative and timely projects that positively benefit the business. In addition, cybersecurity and end-user services have also been elevated to my IT leadership team, recognising the importance of these two areas going forward.

Business engagement and development are encouraged at all levels throughout the IT organisation, and my senior leadership team play a critical role in ensuring that we are fully integrated across the company. We work proactively with the business and are viewed as a trusted strategic business partner.

What strategic technology deals have you made in the last year and who are your main suppliers and IT partners?
We have a range of new technology deals, the most recent that have been completed include:

  • Tanium for next-generation end-point protection
  • Talend for data management
  • Microsoft Office 365 E5 for mail and collaboration tools
  • ServiceNow for IT service management
  • DocuSign for electronic signature
  • Reltio for an MDM platform.

These provide best in class solutions for AstraZeneca.

What are your key strategic aims for next year?
Successfully wrapping up our IT transformation programme is just the beginning for us in AZ. With the progress we have made and the trust we are earning, there are great opportunities ahead of us to help the business. We have got to do three things well going forward:

  1. Continue to run a world-class IT service by excelling at IT operational excellence.
  2. Enable AZ to digitise everything we do in all areas of our business.
  3. Explore future opportunities for the application of technology.

I would sum it up by saying we are going to ‘push the boundaries of technology to achieve positive business outcomes’.

How are you preparing for any impacts Brexit might have on your organisation?
We are engaging with key government departments in the UK directly and through our trade associations. Our CEO, Pascal Soriot, co-chairs a cross-industry/government group (the UK-EU Life Sciences Steering Group – LSSG) that has examined the implications of Brexit on the sector, and begun to consider where there may be opportunities for government to support the sector post-Brexit. These discussions are ongoing.


When did you start your current role?
April 2013

What is your reporting line?
COO, but I attend senior executive meetings.

Are you a member of the executive leadership?

Are you a member of the board of directors?

What other emerging roles does your organisation have and what is their relationship to you?
VP of simplification – direct report of CIO. Enterprise data strategy lead – direct report of CIO.

How often do you meet with your organisation’s CEO or equivalent?
Monthly, or more frequently as required.

How many people at your organisation does your function supply services to?


What is your annual IT budget, or your spend as a proportion of the organisation’s revenue?

What percentage of your budget is operational spend (ie keeping the lights on) and how much new development (ie innovation, R&D, exploratory IT)?
90% operational 10% development.


Rank the following sources of advice/information in order of importance:

  1. CIO peers
  2. Industry bodies
  3. Media
  4. Analyst houses
  5. Consultants


Has your organisation detected a cyber intrusion in the last 12 months?

Are you expecting an increase in budget specific to security in order to tackle the cyber threat?

Does your organisation have a designated security professional – CISO or otherwise – and what is their relationship to you?
Yes – direct report to CIO


Are you finding it difficult to recruit the talent you need to drive transformation?

Has recruitment and retention risen up your agenda as a CIO?

Does your IT organisation operate an apprenticeship scheme?

How many employees are there in your IT team?

Are you increasing your headcount or planning to bring skills and the ability to react to needs in-house?


Which technologies or areas are you expecting to be investing in over the next year?

  • cloud
  • data analytics/business intelligence
  • ERP
  • IoT
  • security
  • AR/VR
  • machine learning/artificial intelligence
  • 3D printing
  • networking/communications.

Which technologies or areas are you expecting to be investing in over the next one to three years?

  • cloud
  • data analytics/business intelligence
  • ERP
  • IoT
  • security
  • AR/VR
  • enterprise applications
  • machine learning/artificial intelligence
  • 3D printing
  • networking/communications.

What emerging technologies are you investigating or expect to have a big impact on your sector or organisation?
AR/VR, AI, robotics.


Does your organisation do a significant amount of trade with the EU?

Does your department include technology staff from the EU?

Are you or have you been looking to the EU to recruit key skills?