Dynamics between the CDO and the CIO: The Case of a Major Pharmaceutical Company

Reltio is one of the sponsors at the excellent MITCDOIQ Symposium July 12-14, 2016, hosted by Richard Wang, Director, Chief Data Officer & Info Quality Program at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

One of the fascinating sessions I attended involved a moderated discussion between the audience and Daniel LeBeau, CIO, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and Mark Ramsey, Chief Data Officer, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK). Charing the discussion was Lynda M. Applegate, Sarofim-Rock Professor of Business Administration, Faculty Chair Executive Education Programs for Entrepreneurs and Business Owners, Harvard Business School 


“The role of the CIO is focused on how to transform the business with new innovative business processes, to reduce cost with productive business processes and best industry practices, to increase customer satisfaction with new services and channels, to address business compliance and to develop platforms for growth and globalization.  The role of the CDO is to lead the data vision, mission, and culture across the organization by delivering data capabilities that accelerate their organization’s strategy. Recognizing that leading a data function has become a specialized discipline, with skills unique from those traditionally found within IT, the CDO advances business interests through partnering with technology.  This discussion covers the views of the CIO and CDO of a major pharmaceutical company on the dynamics of the two roles, spanning collaboration, competition and conflict.”

Highlights and notable sound bites: 


Daniel LeBeau provided details that an initial focus at GSK involved marshaling big data on behalf of the R&D division (other divisions typically within a pharma org include manufacturing and commercial).

Data and Process: Two sides of the Moon

He discussed today’s data-driven focus as still being 2 sides of a moon where “data” has always been on one side, with “process” the other. Both need similar care and attention. He stated that in this era of data, mixing of domains, and multi-domain is critical in today’s environment. It’s no longer acceptable to just have information siloed in applications.

It’s about balancing speed and quality

Throughout the discussion he also reiterated that in all activities there must be a balance between speed and quality. He cited that in managing large sets of data, there must be a discipline and focus on dealing with the data that has the highest value as there simply aren’t enough bodies or resources to clean all the data.

One such contrast made was information extracted from medical articles or journals that are of higher value and quality vs. social media data such as tweets. Along those lines he also emphasized that there needed to be equal effort in bringing data into a data lake, and the quality of that data. This statement very much rings true in many big data initiatives where companies who had plunged headlong into Hadoop projects, were now finding compliance, governance and data reliability a challenge.

Does the R&D platform provide data that can be reused by other groups?

Daniel rightly pointed out that the type, size and scope of the data for R&D is fundamentally different to that say a commercial model, where multichannel interactions and single view of HCP/HCO is the focus. He felt that the parallels to R&D might be more on the consumer marketing side of commercial in terms of targeting and data volumes and types. Regardless, leveraging existing technology and infrastructure was a goal. With prioritization and again balance and focus was key.

On how his CIO role interacts with Mark Ramsey’s CDO role 

When asked about the technology and ultimately Hadoop platform used for the R&D initiative, Daniel pointed out the tremendous value that Mark brought to the table given his experience. He stated that “There wasn’t much debate as to what technology to use, given Mark’s experience. We trust his judgment.”


Mark Ramsey, opened with the notion that “available data can help make better decisions even before any R&D is ever performed.” He had an entertaining anecdote around how he sent out a survey to scientists to get their input about access to data and other challenges. In the end he got an unheard of 15% response rate, with the server hosting the survey crashing due to interest and responses. The most common refrain from respondents? “I have access to my own data, but how can I get access to data that’s external to my ownership or per view?” Many expressed frustration and fatigue trying to get to data that could help them do their jobs better.

Regarding security vs. data quality

 Mark was asked how GSK balances the need for innovation vs. the perceived risk taking that typically doesn’t sit well within highly regulated industries and organizations such as life sciences. He pointed out that “my best friend is the chief information security officer (CISO)” and also noted that there is a growing sense of reality that “poor data quality is as much a risk, if not a greater risk than traditional security measures.”

On standards and data governance

He described the different industry standards that GSK adheres to when creating data, such as Clinical Data Interchange Standards Consortium (CDISC) for trial data, and EHR data which has more than one standard. The refrain of “the thing about standards is that there are more than one," rings true.

He set the record straight that at GSK, as CDO he does not own governance. “Business owns the data and we support them by ensuring quality, accuracy and relevance, so that they can use it as a strategic asset.” He did highlight that getting business teams to correct and curate their data at source benefits everyone. This is a similar to how commercial operations and sales teams are collaborating to improve data quality.

Will GSK use data disruptively for new models, like Uber?

Mark responded to this question by pointing out that there are several areas within life sciences that could be improved. Principally “it takes 6 to 20 years to bring a drug to market.” A transformational change through data, would be to make this process more efficient. He pointed to GSK’s participation in the National Cancer Institute Moonshot project announced just a couple of weeks ago, as an example. Monetization of data, isn’t always in the form of an AirBnB or Uber application.

On staying focused and aligned

Both Mark and Daniel agreed that having a core team aligned with focus was key to making their initiatives successful. The learning is to keep the ball moving by extending beyond the core team, to ensure that new groups participating have the same alignment. They both pointed out that despite the size of GSK, they have been able to respond in an agile fashion, very much getting things done in a startup manner, getting agreement that having to be right faster necessitates a different approach.


Lynda M. Applegate, who did a masterful job of moderating the discussion, closed out with a set of burning questions from the audience, one of which was from Richard Wang himself, who asked for an example of tension between Daniel and Mark (in the CIO vs. CDO) role. It’s a testament to both that the primary example that they agreed on was the age-old tension of procurement of capacity, in this case 6PB of storage. That type of requirement and fulfillment never goes away, regardless of role, and Daniel rightly pointed out that as a CIO he is focused on ensuring that excessive procurement of capacity is curbed regardless of the requester.

Finally a question around the growing trend of bringing apps to data (e.g. through data-driven applications) was adeptly handled as part of the current trend on the “data side of the moon”, with Daniel describing how reliable data brought together can form the basis for apps to be created that meet the direct contextual need of the business users.


This was a great session, and worth the price of admission to the conference alone. Credit Richard Wang for bringing Daniel (who is from France) and Mark together as their time is obviously precious. Some key takeaways from my perspective were the need to balance speed of execution with reliable data quality. And the agility that a large company such as GSK has been able to achieve by getting alignment, and addressing security and governance issues as they surface.

For us at Reltio, it’s a great affirmation of our dual technology value to CIOs as well as data and business value to CDOs. Our successes to date in life sciences has been rooted in our belief that master data management (MDM) must be a foundation for data quality, and we continue to bring together comprehensive solutions with our latest alliance with IMS Health.  MDM is a critical pre-requisite to analytics and machine learning, but ultimately it’s about getting the data into the hands of business users, allowing them to collaborate with the next generation of data-driven applications, helping them to be right faster.

If you’re not at the event this year, the MITCDOIQ.org, I hope you found this post interested. Please consider joining us next year. Also do consider joining the International Society of CDOs, expertly put together by Richard together with Mark, Robert Lutton of Sandhill consultants, and a whole group who tirelessly contribute their time for the betterment of the role and industry.