The Big Interview: Novartis CTO Elizabeth Theophille

Incorporate to favorites “One of our major focuses for the up coming four-six several years

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“One of our major focuses for the up coming four-six several years will be to refresh our SAP landscape which will demand a complete overhaul…”

Pharmaceuticals’ moment in the sunlight arguably arrived with COVID-19, when an marketplace frequently demonised as “Big Pharma” started attracting broader recognition as a truly innovative one that is central to preventing to the pandemic and one which will be at the heart of responding to any other potential general public well being crises.

Pharma has drawn fresh focus from these doing the job in the tech sector as a result. The idea of marrying an intellectual obstacle with a social superior — reverse engineering a laptop or computer virus, and doing the same to a serious virus to find methods in which to restore a program to well being is among the the clear parallels — appears to have struck a chord throughout the tech earth something born out by latest surveys. (The reality that it is a massively rewarding marketplace able to remunerate talent effectively may also help.)

That change in general public sentiment was tidily captured in a survey of 2,five hundred engineering professionals — in China, Germany, India, the Uk, and the US — by Switzerland’s Novartis, executed in May and June 2020: this discovered that seventy two% of tech professionals are a lot more probably to consider pharma for their up coming job as opposed to six months in the past. (The survey also suggested that health care and pharmaceuticals have been now a lot more than 2 times as attractive as monetary providers, telecoms and production to tech talent.)

Process operators in a clean space. Producing facility for innovative mobile and gene therapies in Stein, Switzerland. Credit score: Novartis

Novartis CTO: “We’re all fishing in the same pond”

They are desired: throughout the sector, huge get the job done is underway to innovate: as Bertrand Bodson, CDO of Novartis, puts it: “COVID-19 has triggered a seismic change in the adoption and scaling of digital technologies in our sector, at a rate by no means viewed ahead of.”

Novartis’ Elizabeth Theophille, Head of Technologies, Architecture and Electronic (a de facto CTO purpose) is among the these who manufactured the change from other sectors. Formerly Group CIO at Vodafone, she admits she knew minimal about pharma when she joined the business: “I was probably some of the initially tranches when Novartis have been hunting for tech experts that by no means experienced a health care background”, she explained to Computer Small business Evaluate in a phone.

“We’re becoming a lot more open up to find talent from other industries, simply because we’re all fishing in the same pond when it arrives to acquiring superior persons: engineers, info experts persons that can create and architect cloud alternatives and help organization transformation.”

Speaking from Paris, she painted a photograph of a various crew at the business, doing the job on numerous overlapping info science, automation and cloud engineering troubles: “I have a crew of about three hundred associates. I have a massive crew of architects I have a crew of info experts I have a crew of automation experts: a myriad of techniques throughout my group – and they arrive from diverse backgrounds as effectively.”

Cloud-driven innovation 

It is a major changeover for an marketplace prolonged-viewed as deeply conservative and risk averse. Part of that change has arrive with an increasing openness to the cloud, which has helped crack down internal siloes and reduce specialized credit card debt, she implies.

As CTO, Theophille notes: “I am also main the architecture, style and design and create of the ‘Novartis Organization Data and Analytics Platform’ which is a multi-cloud platform driven by AWS & Azure.  This platform will maintain our vast quantities of info throughout Novartis that the organization will use for new insights and decisions…”)

“I think a major transformation has been around utilizing cloud System-as-a-Assistance (PaaS) to create new alternatives we could genuinely start to get improved insights and choices from the info that we set on the cloud, regardless of whether that was professional info, marketing and advertising info, scientific trials and so on. We’ve also been making a good deal a lot more consumer experience programs on the cloud. There has been a major improve in mentality [at Novartis] around sharing info at an company amount, as an alternative of trying to keep that on your personal committed server. There is a good deal a lot more believe in in in how we collaborate as an organisation.”

New (as of 2018) Novartis CEO Vasant Narasimhan has been vocal on this, and the need to have to make increased use of info. The company’s 2019 once-a-year report [pdf] captured some of his contemplating, alongside with the reality that the organization has now collected somewhere around two million affected person several years of info as a result of scientific trials by itself.

As Narasimhan noted: “We’re getting measures to make the most of this strategic asset. In 2019, we expanded and launched key info and digital initiatives while forming new collaborations to augment our expanding internal abilities.”

He extra: “We’re integrating substantial quantities of info that earlier existed in silos inside of and outside the business and getting a holistic search at it. The info ranges from photographs of cells that have been addressed with diverse chemicals, to blood samples from patients analyzed in just scientific trials. We’re utilizing machine studying and artificial intelligence to mine the integrated, anonymized info for connections and patterns that are indiscernible to the human brain. Our info experts are making models and programs that will empower Novartis groups to inquire new questions, make improved predictions and help you save time. We can use the platform to prioritize drug targets, recognize improvement prospects for compounds, and a lot more.

Novartis CTO: Supply chain arranging is a expanding section of the purpose

“To make shopping for of regimen supplies a lot more successful, we are standardizing technical specs and consolidating suppliers. The example of laboratory gloves illustrates our development: We went from one hundred diverse types of laboratory gloves around the globe to just fourteen, and from fifty five suppliers to one, preserving USD .6 million. We are also making a databases to give a a lot more complete look at of our purchasing and are beginning to use info analytics to help us improved manage what we purchase, when and from whom.”

That is a major aim for CTO Elizabeth Theophille, who explained to us: “I have a major aim appropriate now on how we do demand arranging for supply chain how we search at our interactions with HCPs (health care professionals) and the experience that they get, particularly when they join Novartis occasions. I also search at how we simplify the way we manage material from a digital asset management standpoint and how we approve all of our components that commercially get prolonged to HCPs. And I’m just hunting at how we can use engineering and organization approach to to improve the way we get the job done.”

“We have robots alive and kicking”

This incorporates overhauling the finance purpose: “We have started to create robots utilizing Microsoft Azure: utilizing this to essentially convey collectively application automation and to simplify a lot of of the complex processes that we have at Novartis.

“We have robots reside alive and kicking at Novartis – most of them are doing a good deal of automation in our monetary providers spot. We’ve also automated the pharmacovigilance processes in which, you know, we have to report adverse events”

What’s the major pending job then?

“Every calendar year we overview our Technologies Outlooks primarily based on the organization tactic and new rising tech. In my purpose I personal Technologies Refresh and examine new rising engineering.  A single of our major focuses for the up coming 4 – 6 several years will be to refresh our SAP landscape which will demand a complete overhaul in organization approach transformation, engineering updates and new methods of working…”

(CTOs and CIOs globally will recognise the headaches that can arrive with this — and the temptation to depart it to previous in massive digital transformation checklist).

“This is an astounding time for the digital transformation of well being care”, she concludes. “It’s actually been a remarkable journey around the previous couple several years. We’ve invested a sizeable amount of money of revenue, and [forged] partnerships with Microsoft, AWS and other organisations to help us renovate utilizing their cloud engineering to analyse our info and convey our info collectively and to create info science and AI models.

T”he pharmaceutical marketplace is completely vital to help patients. So it’s it’s genuinely essential that we get a diversity of awareness and experience from other industries that can help us accelerate this digital transformation.”

See also: The Huge Job interview – Former GCHQ Director Robert Hannigan