Thinking Out Loud: Eli Lilly CIO W. Roy Dunbar

By CIOinsight

Thinking Out Loud: Eli Lilly CIO W. Roy Dunbar



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CIO INSIGHT: What was the situation when you became CIO at Lilly in 1999?

Dunbar: There were two challenges. I am not educationally trained in that area, nor am I so fast to learn that I can now build servers and take them apart in my sleep. So I had to learn enough IT to be able to lead a very large IT organization. The other challenge was the question that existed in the organization at the time: What value did we get from IT? People understood that our IT professionals are competent, but we seemed not to be able to communicate to our internal business partners how value came about.

How did you change things?

We used a trick and brought in "the prophets from afar," non-Lilly practitioners who spoke to the heads of IT and to the heads of the business areas about the value of IT. We had them speak to what would be more officially considered "the business," although personally I hate that term. We only have one business. You can't separate IT from the business. The business is the essence of what we should do.

The goal was to get the IT professionals to think about the business value of what they did and to educate business leaders about how IT could leverage value. Among others, we had the chief scientific officer of Sun Microsystems and the CIO of Microsoft come in. They all spoke to both IT and our business community, bringing the two communities closer together. They came to Indianapolis and spent a day or more with us, speaking in some settings to a senior management forum, the top 22 or 23 officers of the company, and in other settings to hundreds of people. For example, our CEO [Sidney Taurel] was engaged in an exercise to discuss the value of IT. We hosted a number of these events, mainly in 1999, within the first six to 12 months of my coming into the role.

You say that technology should drive strategy. That's very different from forcing technology to serve existing processes. Has this idea been a tough sell at Lilly?

In 2000, we formed e.Lilly, a division that's charged with finding new models of our business that could work when mediated by technology. Through that more entrepreneurial group, our IT teams collaborate and help create new business models. InnoCentive, for example, recognizes that the brain trust for any given thing doesn't necessarily lie within the walls of just one enterprise.

We're very clever within Lilly in Indianapolis headquarters, but we also recognize there are a lot of other clever folk in other places. There are communities of world-class chemists in the states of the former Soviet Union, in India and in China. InnoCentive is an attempt to explore how to access those communities via a Web site that posts specific problems in chemistry and a financial bounty for the first viable solution [www.Innocentive.com].

The folks who created InnoCentive have to go through significant challenges of intellectual property ownership. You may think it's OK that we're paying a given chemist to innovate, but what if that chemist is a Ph.D. student at Caltech? Who owns the rights to the work? There are some academic institutions that love this idea because professors actually set up problems posted at InnoCentive as class problems. That's fantastic. But there are some professors who believe that some intellectual property is being lost from their institutions because otherwise, their students would be working on other things.

Are you also using the Web to shorten clinical trials?

Yes, that's exactly what the Magellan project was about. Subjects went online to report their experience of a drug [Cialis] for male erectile sexual dysfunction. After an initial sit-down visit in the clinical investigator's office, the rest of the reporting could be done through the Web. For that project, we needed to satisfy ourselves that we were OK in terms of confidentiality and privacy, but over and above that, we needed to satisfy the FDA. That was a very high goal, but we did it.

What's the next step for IT at Lilly?

People now have a common sense of how value is extracted from IT, so the foundations are there. If our systems work and we've gotten alignment across the organization, then the next step is to work as hard and as fast as possible on extracting value. It's like you go out and buy a horse, you train the horse, the horse runs, now you ride the horse as fast as you can. Not all of the building blocks are in place. They're not truly all in place, but the pathways are clear and we know what they are. For example, one of the building blocks is architecture. A good slice of that is in place, but more critically, most of the key people know of its importance. Each day we add one more brick, metaphorically speaking, to that. The thing that binds it together is a culture that says we're going to work together, we're going to collaborate, and we're going to move on this in spite of our individual, departmental, functional or business area differences. People are self-actualizing. You know, the technology is maybe why a CIO got that title, but collaboration is not going to happen unless you embrace people in the right way.

Career Highlights

Career Highlights

Eli Lilly and Co.

  • Vice President, CIO
  • Director, new product planning
  • General manager, Lilly Venezuela, Caracas
  • Business unit manager, retail products, North London
  • Marketing manager, Lilly U.K.
  • Manager, market research and new product planning, Lilly U.K
  • Market research analyst in economic studies


  • MBA, Manchester Business School (U.K.)
  • BS, Pharmacy, Manchester University (U.K.)


  • Member, Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain
  • Member, Indiana University School of Informatics Dean's Council
  • Member, University of Michigan MBA Corporate Advisory Board
  • Member, Lotus Software Board of Advisors

This article was originally published on 10-02-2002