Looking Forward: How Data Champion AstraZeneca is rising to the ESG challenge

In a recent webinar, Clare Hickie, Workday’s EMEA CTO was joined by Phil Carter, GVP and European chief analyst at IDC, and Russell Smith, Head of Enabling Units IT at AstraZeneca, to discuss the findings of a recent IDC report “The Digital Business Fabric: Unlocking the Right Data Architecture to Power Your Business” and to explore how the role of data champion is helping AstraZeneca to meet its bold ESG ambitions.

Why should organisations be thinking about their data strategy now?

Carter: We are coming to the end of the digital transformation era and the beginning of the digital business era. That means organisations should be moving away from a data function mentality and towards a data fabric mentality to create an evidence-based culture that permeates everything. For that to happen, data will need to slice through the information silos of the past so that data strategy can align with business strategy.

Business leaders are realising this and our research found that organisations are already spending more on data. In fact, 71% of organisations expect to increase their data-related IT budget this year. But only one-in-three organisations are what we’d consider data champions. Our survey shows that data champions — due to their enhanced maturity in defining, driving, and executing their data strategy — were more resilient and performed better across several KPIs than data laggards, who are in the early stages of their data strategy. They were twice as prepared to shift to remote working when the pandemic hit, 63% more likely to be prepared for future supply chain disruptions and are three times more profitable than the laggards. 

Can you tell us about where AstraZeneca is on that journey towards becoming a data champion? 

Smith: I work for the Chief Digital Officer and CIO at AstraZeneca and I’m responsible for data across multiple areas including Finance, HR and Global Sustainability. I’ve been at AstraZeneca for eight years, during which time we’ve undergone a huge transformation from being relatively unknown in the UK to now being a household name.

Business transformation built upon constantly improving data foundations is the constant that has helped to power our amazing story. That sits alongside creating technology and an open and flexible architecture that breaks down those data silos that Phil spoke about earlier.

We are a science-led organisation, underpinned by innovation and validated by facts, and those facts can only be evidenced by sound data. We are still learning, we’re not perfect, but we’re well on the journey and we’re already seeing the benefits of moving towards being a data champion.

As an organisation, we don’t have a chief data officer and that’s driven by a belief that all parts of our business at all levels own and take responsibility for the data including its quality and completeness. Instead, we organise around a global data council comprising senior members of our various business functions. Its members are champions of data, breaking down functional data silos and, importantly, creating enterprise value on top of functional value.

“Our research found that there are five critical pivots. One of the most important is aligning the data budget to the business strategy. The organisation should be looking to have an enterprise-wide strategy and budget when it comes to data and have data as part of its mission and values. You have to create that one-for-all and all-for-one mentality,” Phil Carter, IDC.

What’s required of an organisaton for it to start operating as a data champion?

Carter: Our research found that there are five critical pivots. One of the most important is aligning the data budget to the business strategy. The organisation should be looking to have an enterprise-wide strategy and budget when it comes to data and have data as part of its mission and values. You have to create that one-for-all and all-for-one mentality.

Linked to that, it needs to move away from IT versus the business, to IT and the business. We see it as a digital dream team where the CIO and IT team play an orchestrating role - across technology, the data architecture, the budgets and the stakeholders.

That drives the execution, so the entire organisation can leverage data and analytics to provide insights, automate tasks and enable new business. Crucially, when they need it most people have those golden nuggets of data in their hands, they can trust it and they can act on it.

To support the execution the organisation needs a data architecture vision, which is all about a holistic and federated data architecture, bringing together platforms and applications as part of that single vision.

And that links to the final part, the key technology components. The organisation should have a dynamic, agile and federated architecture aligned to support a variety of use cases.

Can you tell us about how AstraZeneca has adjusted its operating model to embrace the role of data champion?

Smith: We’ve created a centralised data and AI IT function that’s leading on global standards and providing enterprise capabilities and platforms to build on that data foundation that I spoke about previously that’s so essential.

We’ve unified our platforms and applications under a single vision for data and being a data champion. This helps us create central data solutions to ensure each function can make their data fair, findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable. Our IT business technology groups work directly with the different parts of the business and have domain specific data capabilities and platforms in addition to using the core enterprise platforms wherever possible.

“Without that enterprise data mindset, how could we be in a position to state that we’ve seen a 59% reduction in scope one and two greenhouse gas emissions? Or an 8% reduction in waste and a 17% reduction in water since 2015. These are very precise and important measures that you cannot achieve without an enterprise approach to data,” Russell Smith, AstraZeneca.

Can you also tell us how this approach to data is helping AstraZeneca with its bold ESG ambitions?

Smith: Without agility and that anti-silo mentality, addressing our ESG ambitions would be impossible. We recently announced at the World Economic Forum our ambition to be carbon neutral by 2025 and carbon negative by 2030 across our entire value chain, so not just us internally but everything in our supply chain. To measure and prove that, my global sustainability business area needs to access data from across the enterprise, whether that’s the R&D labs’ energy consumption, operations logistics data, IT datacentre consumption values and so on. All of this is collected and externally shared and scrutinised in our annual sustainability reports. When you provide this level of transparency the data has got to be accurate.

It’s much easier to create this now than it was five years ago, because of our enterprise data platforms and the journey we’ve been on. Without that enterprise data mindset, how could we be in a position to state that we’ve seen a 59% reduction in scope one and two greenhouse gas emissions? Or an 8% reduction in waste and a 17% reduction in water since 2015. These are very precise and important measures that you cannot achieve without an enterprise approach to data.

Our senior leaders at the top of the organisation track 35 key performance metrics, measured quarterly in our internal company scorecard. You can’t do that without a great data foundation.

“IT people tend to work with terminology like ‘speed to insight’ or ‘speed to impact’, but you need to make it real. In our case, it’s ‘speed to cure’. It’s really that important. The ability to get from data to a medicine that saves somebody’s life is a compelling ‘why’,” Russell Smith, AstraZeneca.

What are the key items that CIOs can act on now?

Carter: The first one is all about outcomes and outcomes make a difference. Russ spoke about some of the outcomes they’d seen around greenhouse gas emissions, the reduction in waste, the reduction in water usage. The data drives that. It drives the transparency and visibility around that kind of outcome associated with that ESG use case. It’s about understanding all the data variabilities and velocities to pull together the report that everyone can then trust.

The second is all about the silo breakers. Russ spoke about the anti-silo mentality and that’s the digital business fabric mentality in effect. There’s two parts to that. There’s the data architecture that helps to cut through those siloes, but then you need the people to pick up the ball and run with it. They’re the ones who really make the difference in terms of making it happen across the different business areas.  

The whitepaper goes into detail about the core data principles and Russ spoke about four that they use at AstraZeneca - fair, findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable. You need to define your own. You need to define the principles that ensure you have the trust and transparency and usability of the data to deliver on those outcomes.

Finally the data architecture needs to fit your organisation - how holistic it is, the flexibility required. The components needed to fit with your organisational structure. This is the tentpole that holds up that digital business fabric.

What top tips would you give to organisations looking to accelerate the move to being a data champion?

Smith: I would start with explaining “The Why?”. What is that compelling reason to get unambiguous senior support for what you’re trying to achieve?

IT people tend to work with terminology like ‘speed to insight’ or ‘speed to impact’, but you need to make it real. In our case, it’s ‘speed to cure’. It’s really that important. The ability to get from data to a medicine that saves somebody’s life is a compelling ‘why’. And that gives you the senior stakeholder support that you need.

That causes a ripple effect that allows you to build a culture that is comfortable being uncomfortable with its data. Because at times it is uncomfortable; your data won’t be clean when you start this journey. It won’t be complete. But until you create that transparency and a safe space to fix the data, query the data, figure out how to improve how you manage the data, you’re never going to build that culture.

Finally, you have to build around a small number of effective platforms that can be your foundation. There are thousands of data products and technologies out there, you need to pick the few good ones on which you can build an open and flexible enterprise architecture.Business leaders in finance, human resources, technology, and more, recently joined us in Madrid for our Workday Elevate event. In this post, we capture highlights of a conversation between Alberto Torres, partner at McKinsey Digital, and Fermin Peleteiro, senior vice president, global field operations, at Workday, where they discussed how businesses are embracing agility and handling the new hybrid world of work.

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