Cardinal Health CIO Michelle Greene on simplifying transformation

Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking with Michelle Greene, who was promoted from SVP of EIT of Cardinal Health’s pharmaceutical segment to CIO last August. As technology chief, Greene is now charged with leading IT teams to help the Dublin, Ohio-based distributor and manufacturer of medical and laboratory products innovate new ways to evolve healthcare delivery.

Central to that effort is structuring her IT organization to better partner with the business. Just three months into her tenure, Greene is already having an impact reorganizing IT — from application support to data analytics — for business impact.

What follows is an edited version of our conversation.

Martha Heller: How do you define business transformation at Cardinal Health?

Michelle Greene: Business transformation at Cardinal Health is all about moving faster and being more agile to improve the experience of our customers. For example, we are advancing our digital capabilities to enable our customers across healthcare to seamlessly place, receive, and track orders more quickly.

We all throw out this word “transformation” which seems like such a huge deal, but really, it is just about creating change. My goal is to simplify “transformation” into a clear strategy for achieving an end game.

Right now, developing digital and commercial solutions for businesses across the company and our customers are key to our strategy. We are leveraging the power of data and analytics, artificial intelligence, automation, and more to enhance our products and services, internally and externally. But to be successful, we need to be in partnership with our business leaders and guide them along their technology journey. Too often in my IT leadership career, I felt like we were doing things to the business, instead of partnering with them.

How do you ensure IT has a strong partnership with the business?

In our new model, we will have technology leaders responsible for partnering with our pharma division, our medical division, and our corporate functions. Previously, the technology organizations in each division primarily operated separately, which led to siloed work with our heads down in our own space. My plan is for us to reimagine how our teams work together by simplifying our structure so we can operate as one organization and create seamless, cohesive experiences.

What are the attributes you look for when filling those business-partner roles?

I look for people who are forward-thinking and have a strong ability to collaborate, both with their business partners and across the entire technology organization. I need people who can understand a problem and then point our technology teams in the right direction. Their job is not to solve problems themselves, but to define the strategy, get the right team on board, and help us focus on simplification.  

But, in order for the IT business partner roles to be successful, we need to centralize our foundational enterprise capabilities. For example, our SAP teams were previously spread out across the organization and typically worked separately unless there was a common issue. In our new model, we created an SAP center of excellence (CoE) that serves all parts of the business while also creating opportunities for best practice sharing, learning, career pathing, and better resource planning and deployment.

This approach will drive simplification, eliminate waste, and enable us to be successful as an organization.

What will be your greatest challenge in moving to a CoE structure?

The greatest challenge is the business is familiar with having dedicated SAP resources to address their requirements. But most people in application management functions appreciate the CoE model because they are exposed to the entire enterprise, not just their silo. The key is to make our business partners understand they are not losing resources; they are gaining them.

What is the operating model you propose for data and analytics?

Just as with SAP and other functional technology areas, the optimal model for data and analytics is to bring all of those resources together. I have worked in different companies with different models, but I always find that data and analytics experts appreciate being grouped together. They like the focus and energy of being one team and able to solve problems together.

When you have data in one group, you don’t have to figure out who is working on what. The team appreciates being empowered to make those decisions and our business partners appreciate having clarity regarding who or which team they should partner with to resolve an issue.

What is the target culture for your IT organization?

My target culture is very simple: ‘We are all in this together and we need to have each other’s back.’ It sounds elementary, but technology is a high-pressure job, and like everyone, we are still adjusting to some people working remotely, while others are not. We need a mindset of helping each other and being reminded our work is for the greater good.  

I try to model this behavior in my own interactions, by making sure I am visible and spending time with people who report to my senior leadership team. I will pull people from different teams into various conversations. There are long-tenured people at Cardinal Health, so sometimes I can assume everyone knows each other. But that’s not true, and if they don’t know each other, it is harder to build a ‘we’re all in this together’ culture.

Many of my leaders take their teams to do community service activities. I would like to mix that up and have people from different teams do a community service activity together. My hope is to find new ways to create more engagement and collaboration across the entire organization.

Cardinal Health is $181 billion company with 46,500 employees, and you have been CIO there for only three months. What advice do you have for new CIOs on handling their first 100 days in such a large organization that is driving so much change?

The first is to remember to breathe. During my first five weeks in the role, we had some type of change announced almost every week: a new CEO, new board members, and new members of the executive committee and some people on my team retiring. It can be a lot.  I find that having a few quiet moments first thing in the morning and the end of the day to write down everything that is my head helps me to be clear about where I need to place my bets that day. For a while, it is one day at a time.

You also want to be careful not to make any big commitments in the first few months. Once I am clear on our priorities, and my team is in the right structure, we can deliver quickly on several key focus areas. But if you don’t take the time to listen, understand, and communicate your priorities, you’ll spend your first three months fighting fires.

Finally, understand that the simpler you can keep your model, strategy, and priorities, the better. Not everything is a transformation. Sometimes you are just driving change through a more integrated structure between technology and the business.

Digital Transformation, IT Leadership