They want a new drug

As vice-president of worldwide informatics for Pfizer Global R&D, Walter Hauck had been diligent about getting just the right people on his team. He had been charged with integrating the disjointed R&D efforts at the biggest pharmaceutical company in the world. He was supposed to create the tools and processes that would allow scientists and clinicians and marketers and lawyers to work together to introduce Pfizer Inc.’s next generation of drugs.

So Hauck hunted for people who knew both IT and science and asked them to join his 1,200-person team. He assigned them to research sites around the globe so that they could learn Pfizer’s business and guide their users through the transformation. He recruited people from the research and development side to join the informatics department.

But Hauck found out that PhDs and dual degrees weren’t enough because most of the people working for him didn’t know diddly about change management. And Hauck didn’t know enough either.

That became clear during the integration of the R&D division of Warner-Lambert, the Morris Plains, N.J.-based drug company Pfizer acquired in 2000. Hauck figured that the simplest, most logical way to handle the changes was to do them all at once. His IT team agreed. At La Jolla Labs in California, for instance, Hauck’s team introduced one new application a week for six months.

Soon, the scientists and lab workers were ready to riot.

“They were saying, We’re trying to deliver new compounds and develop new drugs, and we have to spend all our time learning these new systems,” recalled Hauck, who heard similar reactions throughout the newly merged organization. “It was a lot of change to drop on people while expecting them to continue to deliver.” After all, these new technologies were supposed to improve productivity, not impede it.

That’s when Hauck decided to educate himself and his staff about managing change. “In the end,” he said, “integration comes down to nothing more than change management.”

Divided They Fail

The challenge facing the pharmaceutical industry is fairly straightforward. For years, biologists, chemists and clinicians worked in relative isolation. Integration didn’t occur among humans, let alone on a systems level. “It’s a pretty frustrating situation for a CIO,” explains Charles-Andre Brouwers, a vice-president of the Boston Consulting Group who is based in New York City. “There’s so much focus on a specific project, a specific compound, a specific target. Each person is intensely focused on his own part of the value chain.”

Meanwhile, mega-mergers have created gargantuan global drug conglomerates and even more disjointed R&D cultures, “aggravating the problem at a time when shortening research cycles has become ever more a priority,” said Michael Barrett, senior analyst at Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research.

Legacy behaviours are as bad or worse than legacy systems. Systems are dumb and can be easily replaced. People are sentimental; they have reasons why they do what they do. And they can’t be so easily replaced.

Other industries are confronting the same need for an IT infrastructure that pulls back-end systems together with marketing and customer-facing technologies. And whether the industry makes cars or drugs, the CIO is the executive in charge of the change management that must take place before this vast infrastructure can do its job.

For Pfizer’s Hauck, it has meant retraining his staff. And at Aventis, it has meant that users who dare to be innovative in their use of IT and are willing to participate in pilots are not only protected politically but recognized globally.

“R&D is useless unless it can be integrated into a bigger picture that helps you convert leads to drug candidates,” said Charles Cooney, codirector of the Program on the Pharmaceutical Industry at MIT in Cambridge, Mass. “The difficulty for the CIO is getting the team to work between the various disciplines needed to integrate the information in order to create knowledge.”