Pharmaceuticals companies are not exactly renowned as paragons of an open, sharing and caring workplace culture. Films such as The Constant Gardener and Rise of the Planet of the Apes paint a picture of ruthless, faceless organisations that will stop at nothing - murder, or even wiping out most of the human race - to beat their competitors to the next wonder drug. Secrecy is of critical importance and anyone who might even slightly damage the business is ‘seen to'.
We cannot say how close that picture is to the reality of the pharmaceuticals sector as a whole - we'd like to think it's just the stuff of Hollywood fantasy - but one firm that is certainly keen to shed the old reputation of big pharma is AstraZeneca.
The old-style approach in the pharmaceuticals industry was to have scientists and researchers working in small teams or alone, keeping all their findings and data within that unit so there could be no chance of any leaks of corporate espionage, but AstraZeneca has instead embraced social media as a way to encourage its 58,000 employees to share information and help each other.
Marc Starfield, the firm's vice president of IT for legal, HR, corporate affairs and global compliance, explained that AstraZeneca has turned to Salesforce's Chatter social media tool to connect individuals. The pharma firm has 60,000 active Chatter users in the organisation and among partners, who between them have created 17,000 posts with comments and 2,000 active groups.
But while Chatter has already been widely adopted across AstraZeneca among the sales teams, the next step is to encourage uptake among scientists, who by nature are not particularly used to sharing and social media, Starfield conceded.
"It's finding that mechanism which allows them to feel comfortable about sharing what they've found and how we connect people doing similar work in similar research fields," he said.
The efforts around social are driven by a core business requirement: for AstraZeneca to lead the market in medical research and achieve scientific leadership.
"We want to rebuild the R&D engine. Part of that is moving to open-plan offices. For scientists, we want them to acknowledge they are a scientific leader so that's publishing and sharing. It's changing from being siloed, to being agile and sharing," Starfield said.
"China is also a focus as it's a growing area. We want to connect them to others. And we also want to create a vibrant atmosphere where people do collaborate. There's a bit of a demographic and age view on this, but we'll hire 1,000 scientists in 2016, and that group will engage and they do work differently."
Some scientists just do not want to engage, however, something that Starfield concedes and is aiming to tackle. "That's why we're trying to find these lighthouse users who get the technology and are keen on sharing. We've got someone solving chemistry problems using Chatter. We really support that person and look for specific use cases that help answer questions. So people who share become an influencer on Chatter and we create groups to support that, whether that's around a specific protein or research."
Starfield explained that, while Salesforce offers some free Chatter capabilities, the firm has opted to pay to license the tool. "We want to change Chatter to make it feel and look like us. We want to integrate it. Our search is not the standard search. A free version wouldn't support that," he said.
At present the firm does not measure Chatter on a TCO basis, but instead looks at how much use there is, how much engagement, and making it the first place employees go each morning.
"To achieve breakthrough science, we've got to change the way we do research. We've got to shorten the cycle of drug discovery. That's about connecting people, sharing information," Starfield noted.
Alongside the Chatter rollout, AstraZeneca has launched a social intranet dubbed Nucleus, which went live in August after a beta launch in January. Since the network went live, 41,000 people have used the tool across 63 countries, generating three million page views.
Global medical is responsible for 19 percent of the 3.1 million page views, and innovative medicine accounts for nine percent. The firm also uses the tool to see which type of content is most valuable, for example where a video is more popular than a document.
"But what I'm most proud of is we've had over 9,600 social interactions. This means someone has taken the content and liked it or commented. This shows engagement," Starfield said.
AstraZeneca has taken a dual approach to launching Nucleus and Chatter. Firstly it made the tools available and then left users to sign up to them organically. The firm is also training its senior executives to use Chatter, to follow and influence other staff.
"I'm running a design-thinking session with a group of scientists in Cambridge where I'm going to physically watch what they do. You find a result, you put it in an electronic lab book. You ask, can I link that and post it immediately to Chatter with some meta data behind it so anybody who's interested in that will follow that hashtag? We want a groundswell at senior level and then in the middle. We're trying to find these lighthouse users," Starfield explained.
"For every 100 people, one creates content, nine engage with it and 90 percent are passive. That's OK because they still get value. Our goal is now 10/30/60. So of 100 people I'm looking for 10 to create good content, 30 to engage with it and share it, and 60 to passively use it."
The decision to go with Salesforce for the social tools AstraZeneca was looking for was a natural one. The firm moved its business applications to the cloud a few years ago, centred around Salesforce and Workday along with ServiceNow for ticketing and engaging, so had already experienced the benefits of software-as-a-service.
"The first tool deployed was Veeva, CRM for sales reps," Starfield said. "It's a brilliant product. And then we launched the Nucleus social intranet for content, search and Chatter to connect the organisation globally, connect global content and make it relevant locally."
However, not everything is cloud-based. Finance operations are still run on-premise via SAP software. "But there is a strong bias to the cloud, led by our CIO, David Smoley. This is led by devices: 50 percent of our employees have a mobile or tablet as their primary device. We have to have a mobile-first, multi-language strategy. Other services will be reviewed in time as cloud services become a bit more mature," he said.
The mobile-first push has been driven from the top down by AstraZeneca, rather than consumerisation with employees bringing their own smartphones and tablets into the business. Starfield explained that sales reps are all provided with an iPad or Surface Pro to engage with the organisation.
"We got rid of all the BlackBerrys and replaced them with devices that drive and help people. We want you to have an experience at work the same as you do in your personal life; that's part of why we chose Salesforce, and why we invest a lot in the look and feel," he said.
Smoley and Starfield are both big proponents of this more open, social approach to information sharing, but security is still a fundamental part of AstraZeneca and has been given extra consideration as part of the cloud push. The firm employed a chief security officer to deal with the challenges posed by its mobile-first strategy.
"We've got all the controls you'd expect. We use external tools and had a review by an external auditor, and then worked with partners like Salesforce and Workday to make sure all the privacy impact assessments are approved across all markets we operate in," Starfield said.
The IT team at AstraZeneca currently consists of around 1,900 people, and originally the IT function was heavily outsourced to around a 70/30 split. "But this has now been changed to bring more technology back in-house," Starfield explained.
"The CIO set a target of 30 percent outsourced and 70 percent internal for the IT operations. So we created a technology centre in Chennai, with 1,000 people currently. We wanted to do much more of the technology ourselves. Chennai is not an offshore environment, it's an office of the business. We want people there to manage others. It works very well."
AstraZeneca is still working to achieve the 30/70 outsourced/internal IT goal, but is already seeing benefits around cost, efficiency and response times to problems.
AstraZeneca is currently building a new research centre in Cambridge, (mocked up below), due to open in 2017 or 2018, which will become the firm's head office. Starfield boasted that the facility will be a "world-class environment for science" and is confident of the firm attracting the 1,000 new scientists it is looking to recruit.
"We've got a new head of talent, who advises us to stop posting and praying, and do much more talent scouting. There are many students who view pharma as the devil a little bit, so we're launching a new AZ.com to show we're flexible. Come and partner with us, use some of our kit to try out something," he said.
The firm is also actively looking to broaden the makeup of its workforce, not only from a corporate citizenship standpoint for issues like diversity, but to help improve health and cure disease.
"We can't find more women that want to do this at the moment, but we're desperately tracking and working on this," Starfield said.
"I don't think social is the driver. Research has shown that if you have diversity in thought, products are better, there are shorter cycles and better outcomes. There are a lot of un-met medical needs - we need shorter cycles."
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