ESI Team

Being a Customer-Facing CIO

May 11, 2022
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On the seventh episode of Enterprise Software Innovators, Diana McKenzie, the former Chief Information Officer at Workday and Amgen joins the show to share her unique perspective on the roles of CIOs within organizations. Throughout her career, Diana has spent time on both sides of the boardroom; after serving as CIO at Workday and Amgen, Diana currently sits on the board of Vertex Pharmaceuticals, MetLife, Change Healthcare, and Paradox, among others. Evan and Saam chat with Diana about her perspective on the positive impacts of being a customer-facing CIO, the technologies she sees driving real innovation in life sciences, and how CIOs can best interface with a board of directors.

The role of CIOs within companies is predominantly to drive innovation, which includes deploying new technological initiatives and being open to experimentation. During her time at Workday, Diana began to develop a network of CIOs who were all like minded, helping to foster a community which had a particular conviction towards utilizing new technologies within their enterprises. Diana was keen to point out that technology in a vacuum is not the way CIOs can best maximize their potential. It’s best to view the deployment of new technology as a means to achieving a better business outcome. That momentum towards delivering results and keeping a customer-focused outlook on projects has always been an important priority for Diana, especially as she’s been at the helm of new technology deployment. 

While some CIOs might refer to their team or other stakeholders as ‘customers,’ Diana has always made it a priority to make it clear to her team that ‘the customer’ is only the person buying their product or service. In that orientation, she’s found it easier to align her team on technological and business objectives that have the most positive outcomes. This customer centricity also has positive spillover effects the other way because her customers end up feeling more connected to the work being done: “We'd go to our outsource service providers and we would tell them stories about our patients and help them feel connected to the products. We would do the same thing at Workday. We would try to make sure we always were coming back to the organization to help them understand the why.”

Another technique Diana employed during her time as CIO was around framing accomplishments as it related to technological initiatives. Oftentimes the thought process is “I deployed X, in order to do Y.” Diana found her team ended up understanding the ‘why’ so much more when they framed things the opposite way: “In order to do Y, we deployed X, and you train yourself and the person who's listening to you to recognize that you're focused on the outcome first. And then if they're interested in the fact that you did X or Y with technology, they'll listen to the second half of your sentence. If they're not, they won't, and you can just move on.” With a focus on the outcome and a re-ordering of how one gets there, Diana saw much better results and a team that was more engaged in the work they were doing because they understood the ‘why.’

During her time at Amgen, Diana was at the intersection of science and technology, seeing firsthand how a marriage of the two could have an outsized impact on the organization and the public. Diana describes standardizing data across a variety of research applications at Amgen, which had the effect of allowing different groups within Amgen to have access to the same base data, meaning experiments weren’t duplicated and the software capabilities between research groups could be more easily harnessed for scientific breakthroughs: “We got to a point where we're working with a number of startup vendors, focused on the discovery research space. And because we were so good at sharing data across our research labs, we were actually able to work with them to actually couple their software together…We were able to help our scientists track where a certain molecule on a protein was to such degree of specificity, that that experiment, one, would not be recreated. And two, we could use it to extend the patent protection.” That level of coordination only came about from the fusing together of technology and science, and one Diana helped bring about during her time at Amgen. 

After her time as CIO of Workday and Amgen, Diana now serves on the board of various companies working at the intersection of medicine and technology. She’s particularly excited about Vertex Pharmaceuticals, which is involved in using next generation CRISPR technology to help with patients suffering from sickle cell anemia: “We are working in partnership with the CRISPR company to develop a product called CTX001. And right now it's showing enormous promise in clinical trials for patients suffering from sickle cell anemia; it is all about editing their DNA so that it will produce this fetal hemoglobin that ultimately becomes a mature adult hemoglobin in the amounts that are needed. So that these patients no longer have sickle cell anemia. So we're talking about a cure. You simply don't get to that without the application of technology.” While these days she’s sitting on the other side of the boardroom, she’s still getting a first hand look at how innovative technologies are having measurable impacts in the world.

As Diana has moved from CIO to board member, she has a unique perspective on how the board and C-Suite can interact in meaningful and positive ways. Diana offers salient advice for CIOs to get the most out of interfacing with the board and the rest of the executive team. Her advice is multifaceted and begins with recommending a CIO not assume the board doesn’t want to hear from the head of technology or doesn’t have a technological background. More than ever, board members are engaged and care about getting into the nitty gritty details so they can help make a bigger impact. Diana also recommends making an effort to know which other companies a board member sits on because the network effects are strong and there’s always a chance to make a lasting impression. Lastly, ensuring the CIO has a strong relationship with the rest of the C-Suite means that when a CFO or CRO is speaking about technology, every member of the board will be confident the technology initiatives inside the company are truly helping drive transformation. 

Listen to Diana's episode here and read the transcript here.