Hu Yoshida

Transforming the IT Culture: Going Beyond Collaboration to Innovation

Blog Post created by Hu Yoshida Employee on Apr 2, 2015

Today all CIO’s are adjusting to the world of SMAC, Social, Mobile, Analytics and Cloud. IDC refers to this as the third platform, which is changing the focus of IT as mainframes and client/server models have done in the past. Crawford Del Prete, the Chief Research Officer of IDC, has been quoted as saying that CIOs must embrace the 3rd platform.


He believes that the third platform will drive sustainable growth, but will require stronger IT and business collaboration and CIOs will play a pivotal role in driving digital business transformation. Otherwise CIOs will only exist as procurers of infrastructure and services rather than drivers of innovation. Some define the role of IT in the world of cloud and mobile applications as a broker of services, but that is not enough. If IT is to be relevant to the business they must be innovators.


Last week I was in Brussels and was able to meet with a number of CIOs who are quite aware of the impact of SMAC. Many are already moving to SMAC to meet the needs of the business. While we all can understand the need to embrace this change, how do we change the culture of an IT organization that is currently focused on resources that are specialized in Infrastructure, System Management, Network Management, Storage Management, Security, Application and OS, etc.? One CIO I met was Herman De Prins of UCB, a $4.2B pharmaceutical company who began to address this question as far back as 2009. His approach toward transforming the IT culture was described in an interview with Martha Heller, President of Heller Research in


De Prins designed a program, “The Future of IT,” to give his IT organization and its business partners real clarity about the role of IT going forward. I have summarized the 5 pillars of his program below. (I recommend reading the full interview in


  1. Quality:  IT must always be focused on quality. Any request to make changes is met with the question: ‘Great!  But what impact does that change have on our quality?’
  2. Specialization: De Prins wants everyone to be a specialist, whether it’s in Java, analytics, mobile, or patient solutions. IT people need enough depth about a technology area that they can contribute significantly to a discussion about solutions and capabilities. Development of people with new specializations is critical
  3. Work as a Team:  “When you are a specialist, you cannot know it all,” says De Prins. “So you have to get very good at collaborating with people inside of IT, outside of IT, and third parties.“
  4. Hatch the Egg: This emphasizes the importance of brainstorming a lot of ideas, but evaluating them quickly and getting the best to market fast. This is key to innovation.
  5. Market your value: “Only when you talk about business value, do you get any appreciation for what you do. If I say I manage 3000 servers that don’t go down, that tells the business very little. But if I tell them that we ensure patient safety and access to medicine because our systems are fault tolerant (and by the way those systems run on 3000 servers) then I am marketing our value, not just our activity.”


When I talked to De Prins he said that globalization, automation, and standardization have already been done at UCB and his job as CIO is focused on projects that touch on innovation, social, mobile, and analytics. A solid IT backbone is still key, but he can delegate that to his specialists. As CIO of a leading pharmaceutical company, he is focused on bringing patient value by understanding the patient journey and applying the right technologies. He believes technology has the opportunity to individualize medicine, to interact digitally with the patient to bring therapy that is relevant to that specific patient.


This transformation does not happen overnight. De Prins started by requiring everyone in IT to participate in a two-day workshop that focused on digital technologies and challenged them all to think what this world of new technologies means for IT, for UCB, and their stakeholders. All the IT employees must buy into the transformation and understand the consequences if they do not upgrade their focus and avoid the downward spiral of cost cuts as their business tries to remain competitive. From my own experience, I would agree with De Prins that the first step would be to get buy-in from everyone involved in the transformation. While the CIO must be the leader, the transformation requires the commitment of everyone.


In the past when we talked about IT transformation, it was about automation, reducing cost, and cutting jobs, which had a negative impact on IT employees. It is difficult to get the employee commitment to IT transformation if this is the goal. IT employees often get a bad rap in that they are accused of not wanting to change and learn new things. I believe that committed employees want to learn new skills and be more valuable to the business but are tied down to everyday infrastructure tasks that don’t allow them the time to learn. Here is where simplifying those task through converged solutions, or offloading them to cloud or managed services can help to free up staff to focus on new technologies. It is not enough to gain their commitment, they must be given the time and tools to be successful.


Below is a chart that I was shown in the Netherlands by Jan Bouwsma, of Heineken, which shows IT maturity levels. When I first saw this chart, I was very skeptical that IT could ever be more than collaborative when supporting business objectives. After talking with Mr. De Prins, I believe IT can strive to be proactive.




I am not and have never been a CIO, so I am very interested in what the challenges are for some one in that leadership position. I would be very interested in any thoughts you may have on the transformation of IT culture, so that we may better serve IT as a relevant vendor and partner.