Late last year we at IT World Canada decided to host a couple of roundtable sessions about CIO-CMO collaboration. The talks involved people from both lines of business, and from some very major organizations across Canada.
We decided that to build on that conversation we’d hold a Google Hangouts on Air session with one of the participants that had a lot to contribute.
Sherif Sheta is the regional CIO for the Canadian division of Baxter International, which makes medical equipment and healthcare products. In some ways, Baxter is in front of the trend: it has three CMOs, one for each business product unit. And the firm has already created an analytical solution to reduce medication error rates. But Baxter sells to healthcare providers, not to actual patients. So Sheta’s priority is figuring out “how do we engage the (individual) patients we cannot sell to?” Below is an edited excerpt of our conversation. Hit play on the video above to hear the whole thing.
Brian Jackson: Sharif you have spoken in the past about the need to listen to your customers driving collaboration between the CIO and CMO. I’d like you to share with the audience what you’ve been able to achieve in this area through your collaboration efforts, in particular with this analytical solutions that reduces medication dosage errors.
Sherif Sheta: The idea for this product was conceived by one of our marketing groups to create a differentiator in the market space. In an environment where there’s a lot of cost pressures on the hospitals, you can appreciate hospitals wanting to be as clinically effective as possible. So here is what we did: our IV infusion pumps have software that helps the nurse decide what dose they want to administer to the patient of what drug. So if they keystroke outside the normal range, it will give them a warning. In some cases it could be what they want to do and they can override and go ahead. In other cases it could be a fat finger and not what you want to do. Depending on the drug, that could save the life. The software takes the nurse key strokes and puts them through a complex algorithm that tries to interpret what the nurse was meaning to do when they pressed that button and then turn around and create reports and bench marks and provide them back to the hospital, to see how many times that allowed them to avoid having a fatal mistake.
BJ: When your CMO came to you with this idea, why did you take them seriously?
SS: I always say, never let a crisis go to waste. At the time we had a product issue in the market place and our customers were starting to ask us about how these concerns affect the Canadian marketplace. In some cases they held off purchasing the device because of these concerns. So what we were able to do with this tool was go through the data with them and show them they had to do certain training with nurses because of the human behaviour at issue. For instance, one of the issues was the battery not staying charged long enough. So we realized in some hospitals nurses were giving infusions without the device plugged into the wall, which was not the best practice. It had the intended result, the hospitals that had the concerns went ahead and purchased the pumps.
BJ: Often companies serious about the marketing and IT departments working together will reorganize to a structure that organically encourages collaboration. I understand Baxter has set up a new agile unit within IT to work with marketing and sales. Can you tell me about that?
SS: We saw the opportunity and the need to do something different. We did have some challenges also working with some marketing units, so like everything else in life, there’s an element of structure and process, and it’s also about people. People are the main ingredient in any company and if you have the wrong personalities and you don’t have the collaboration culture in the company, it may not work well. If you step back and think about why we wouldn’t work together, CIOs and CMOs, the marketing program works very fast and has to make a lot of campaigns to adjust to the market place. Departments like IT are very structured and regimented, where it takes time to change course and there are things like risk assessment you have to go through. Traditionally these things have hindered the IT department. In some cases it is the right thing to do and you have to be risk averse, but in some cases the risk is not so great and you don’t have to apply the same burden.
What we decided to do was create a commercial IT group outside of traditional enterprise IT, but still reporting into IT. But they’re more agile, they don’t have to use the same methods for a huge ERP system development where the risks are high for example. The idea was to leverage the strengths of the IT workforce and synergies across the IT department but create a separate one out there partnering with the sales organization. They could decide if a project was high risk and we need to respond carefully, or low risk and we can respond quickly.
BJ: In the digital age where technology can be so important to marketing’s function, there’s risks created when IT isn’t involved. I wonder if you can tell us about any pain points observed when collaboration wasn’t running at its peak?
SS: I recall a time when IT and marketing did not speak to one another because IT was viewed as supporting supply chain, and finance, and HR, and the shared functions, if you will, and not the commercial functions. In one instance a marketing executive went to a Mom and Pop shop to develop a web site with some fairly private information that would be housed on that website. We weren’t aware of that development until it was time to go live, so he came to us and asked us to make it part of the company websites.
What I did with this person in my office is I called the IT security folks and gave them the URL and asked them to hack into the site. Within 17 seconds they were able to. That’s all I needed to show him. I said it will take us longer to respond to your needs, but this is exactly why. You’re going to house some proprietary information on this website and we were able to get into it that quickly. From that point forward, we were able to work together better. We showed him what could go wrong and said in the same conversation, sorry you’re going to have to scrap all the spend you’ve done and we will help you by building a secure site where you’re going to have to reload all your content onto our new platform.