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An interview with Raj Madan, VP of Digital, Data/Analytics and Innovation for Consumer Healthcare Technology at GlaxoSmithKline

It may seem obvious that a company’s digital transformation cannot succeed without strong partnership and enablement from the information technology function. But Raj Madan, VP of Digital, Data/Analytics and Innovation for Consumer Healthcare Technology at GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) believes that IT (referred to as “Tech” at GSK) needs to drive – even lead – many aspects of a digital transformation. In this interview, Madan shares more on how he perceives the role of Tech at GSK.

Steve Rovniak: Why is it important for Tech to take a leadership role in digital transformation?

Raj Madan: First, there is a burning platform. We operate in a world where digital, data and analytics are re-defining consumer expectations, fueled by connected experiences and the explosion of new and expanding datasets. The diminishing cost of compute and storage resources also enables digital innovation. To capture and create value in this new world, we need to change how we operate as a business, how we think about technology, and how we perceive the role it plays in our future business model.

Raj MadanSecondly, there is a paradigm shift where digital transformation can no longer be enabled by a central, command and control-type structure. Instead, transformation requires a more liquid and distributed approach. Technology companies like Google have mastered this: attacking the same problem via multiple ideas and then ultimately killing off products or technology solutions that don’t work or land with their consumers.  

At GSK we are trying a similar approach, where the same business problem is given to multiple teams, with an eventual decision to consciously kill the work that doesn’t yield the necessary results. The opportunity for Tech is to lead one of these teams and prove its value through Darwinian survival of the team that it leads.

How is your team seizing this responsibility?  

We have set about it in three ways:

  1. focusing on people development and driving cultural change
  2. enabling digital and agile ways of working
  3. future proofing technology

Let’s unpack each of those. What are you doing with people development and driving cultural change?

For us, people development has been about an emphasis on personal development and upskilling, being accountable for end-to-end value creation, and the external injection of digital and technical skills. Last year, we reorganized our Digital, Data / Analytics and Innovation function by recruiting technology talent to strengthen our focus on architecture, product management, and platform engineering. We then rolled out our upskilling program to over 250 Tech employees, with the goal of ensuring everyone has a working understanding of digital and data fundamentals, user experience, product management and agile ways of working. In addition, we facilitated on-the-job learning, digital emersion via 12-month rotational assignments and Tech events, and bringing in external experts to debate the impact of emerging technology on healthcare (e.g. AI, blockchain and robotics).

Without key resource, capability and skillset enablement, we wouldn’t have been able to lead the Darwinian team approach I mentioned before.

Many large organizations are trying to become Agile. What are you doing that is different?

The Tech function is leading on modernizing our ways of working to reflect the increasingly digital environment in consumer healthcare. We realized that we needed to help the organization move away from long-established processes and hierarchies, and towards a hypothesis-driven, test and learn mentality.  To accomplish this, we are taking an approach that prioritizes work based on the value that each request delivers (and we have a clear framework / scorecard on how to do this), we are focusing on delivering value early and often, optimizing end to end workflow and getting fast feedback on the quality of the work that is delivered.

We are doing this by taking a coaching approach as opposed to a training approach for the organization. We have hired a set of coaches who are helping various teams move from a project-based to product-based orientation to embed the principles I just referenced into their ways of working. We are doing this in strong partnership with our business teams, and as a result, these principles are being institutionalized at GSK.

Lastly, how are you futureproofing your technology?

It is critical to take a future view when making our technology decisions. We have applied this in numerous ways including analysis of our entire portfolio of websites and establishing a clear multi-cloud strategy. However, the two initiatives that best exemplify our outlook (and that I am most excited about!) are:

  • We established a Tech Innovation fund that focusses on empowering our markets to drive local tech-enabled experimentation in areas of AI, ML, AR/VR, etc. To get funding the idea must clearly articulate how it can enable a business use case and drive value. It’s through this experimentation that we enable the distributed approach to execute our Digital Transformation. Experiments are clearly measured for success and scaled as appropriate.

  • We co-created technology roadmaps with our business teams, and also invited several external technology partners to paint the art of the possible and “show us the future” based on work they were doing with other clients. One roadmap was created with as many as eight external vendors. They were all aware that they could not give us the hard sell on their platforms, services and solutions. Instead, they were there to focus on co-creating what type or genre of technology we need to futureproof ourselves. This resulted in the definition and subsequent execution of roadmaps that helped us install core technology in the areas of digital tooling (Content, eCommerce, Media), and data and analytics (Self-Service Visualization, Data Platforms, etc.)

All of this makes it a very exciting time to be part of the GSK Tech function, and I foresee our partnership with the business only growing more important in an increasingly digital and connected age.

About Raj Madan

Raj Madan is VP of Digital, Data/Analytics and Innovation for Consumer Healthcare Technology at GlaxoSmithKline. Previously, he held technology leadership positions with Novartis and L’Oreal. He earned an MS in Information Systems from New York University, and an MBA from New York University Stern School of Business.

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