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How to Succeed as an Early Adopter: Interview with Genentech CIO Todd Pierce

How to Succeed as an Early Adopter: Interview with Genentech CIO Todd Pierce

This is Part Two of my interview with Todd Pierce, CIO of Genentech. In Part One, we spoke about effective communication.

Abbie Lundberg: You were an early adopter on a pretty large scale for iPhones. What was the business case for that?

Genentech CIO Todd Pierce Todd Pierce: The business case for me has always been mobility. It's one of the most important mega-trends of the last six, seven years. [The iPhone was] smaller, higher functioning, with greater reach – a laptop in your pocket – and oh, by the way, it does an application that everybody has to have called telephone. And then when I saw the touch-screen interface, I said, “This is it." Because I had been on the Newton, I'd been in on the first Palm, we had lots of Treos, I've used every HP device that they had made for the last nine years in that area. And dumping the stylus and going with the finger, I said, this is it. Unbelievable.

So you had that personal revelation. How about the rest of the organization? Who did you have to convince?

The end-user management concern was, is this a toy? Is this frivolous… is this just spending dad's money? Which was the same thing, by the way, when the Blackberry first came out – there was the question then, like, wow, that's a lot of money. Who needs to do e-mail real time anyway? It's better to just do it in the evening, or when you're at your desk. So, there's frequently the concern, are we signing up for something just because its cool… are we just wasting our money?

The way you answer that is, well, let's not prejudge something. Let's do an experiment. So we did an experiment with initially 120 people. We got a mix of users. One group were heavy Blackberry users – because one question was, why change? Is it going to do anything that a Blackberry doesn't do? By that time we had 5,000 Blackberry's. And at that time, it looked like the iPhone was more expensive. So, we got a mix of people who loved the Blackberry and understood the value of mobility and people who were not Blackberry users. They had tried it, but didn't like it. Those were our two segments. And I was blown away by the feedback.

Overwhelmingly – and now it's going to be memory recall – something like 90 percent of hardcore Blackberry users preferred the iPhone, which surprised me. Originally when we thought about mobility in these devices, we thought e-mail. What we didn't fully appreciate was it's about the web. E-mail is 1980s, the web is now. To have a full-feature web experience on this device was revolutionary. The touch screen, the gesturing, allowed you to navigate – we didn't have to do WAP or all of this other stuff that really narrows down the amount of content that you can get. The entire web is truly available. That also got our non-Blackberry people, people who didn't like e-mail.

Originally I thought the lack of push e-mail would be a problem. iPhones have that now, but they didn't at the time. One of the reasons people liked their Blackberry's was [laughs] it's kind of a stimulus to get interrupted every five seconds as the e-mails come in. You never get bored. So what won us over on e-mail was being able to read attachments: the ability to zoom in, roam around. So many of the Blackberry attachments were just unreadable – it was completely worthless. Now you had a device that lets you actually read the attachments.

The business case is mobility. The breakthrough for iPhone turned out to be the web and really being able to navigate through rich, dense attachments.

I don't know why there aren't IT executives all across America marching in the streets, burning their software licenses and saying, “let my people go." I mean, this is the promised land.

A lot of people were concerned about security early on. What risks had to be mitigated at that point, and how did you deal with that?

There are all kinds of ways to have accidental disclosure of information. The majority is through employees: sending information to the wrong people, auto complete on e-mail addresses. [It's important] not to kill something new for the marginal case when we're already taking quite a bit of risk. Functioning in the world requires risk, getting in your car and driving to work is very risky. It's just reminding people that this wasn't any more risky than other things we were doing. And then it's the benefit. One of the things that we found was that we got, on average, an hour more work out of everyone that had an iPhone per day. That is enormous, and you get that because people appreciate the ease of use and mobility.

There's a psychological aspect to all this. We're moving away from the paternalistic approach to IT – you know: “we're the IT Department, we're 10 years behind where you are, but we know best." We hire smart people and we give them the best tools. We let them have admin rights to their computers. It's getting out of that mainframe mentality of closed networks and all that stuff and really shaking that off.

One of the things that I said to my staff was, I do all of my banking online. All my money, which I care a lot more about than my e-mail at work, I do it all online. I can't tell you the last time I went into a bank, met a banker…. So, if I pay all my bills, do all of my transactions on the internet, why can't I approve an SAP shopping cart on the internet? Our job as IT professionals is to figure out how to mitigate the impact of that. So we did. We put in Junipers, we put in scanning and filtering and other things to help with that. We educated employees, and then we worked with Apple on, hey, here are features that we want that will continue to improve this. And not being late to go up the innovation curve because something's not perfect. When it comes to innovation, don't let perfect be the enemy of good.

I have probably 30 apps that I have written for the iPhone. If I had waited until release 3.0, which was the one that had all the enterprise features – push e-mail and VPN native support, and all the things that corporations said they couldn't live without – that was two years into the product. Well, I'm two years down the road. It's a better mousetrap. My workforce got the advantages sooner, and we've moved up the learning curve. We have our own app store now – a Genentech app store – with our own apps. We've integrated it with various things.

And we give employees a choice. Here we had over 5,000 Blackberry's. People loved it; it was one of our top-rated devices. We did this little trial and said, great, we're going to add it to our portfolio of products. We didn't promote it, we didn't say, this is better than that; we just put it out there. Today we have over 5,000 iPhones and about 1,500 Blackberry's.

Let's talk about Google apps, which you adopted last year. Did the whole company go to Gmail?

We license the whole suite for 18,000 accounts. On that, there's Google docs, and spreadsheets, and presentation, and chat, and IM, and video – all that's available for everyone. The only thing that we forced everyone onto and had to do a weekend cut over for was calendar. At the time, there wasn't cal-dev support, and interoperability between calendaring systems, and you don't want to maintain two calendars because you'll miss every meeting – plus drive all your admins crazy. So, that was the forced cutover that was the big event. That was October 2008.

Everybody went home on Friday, we turned the calendaring system to read-only and then migrated 2.7 million records into Google. People came to work on Monday morning and I was like, boy, this is going to be a rough Monday. And we only had 460 calendar calls. That was fantastic! I mean, how could you touch 18,000 people and only get 460 calls? So, that was, I thought, a true measure of this is a good thing.

We have about 2,000 people on e-mail. The reason that we don't have the rest on e-mail is Google has delayed how to handle larger attachments. There's a 25 Megabyte limit. We're now moving forward with a voluntary opt-in program so people can move – because for e-mail you don't have to move everybody at once. You can do server side, or client side migrations, and you can move one person, or 10,000 people.

The rate of innovation at Google is – well I mean, the Oracle, SAP and Microsoft product cycle is five years; Google's product cycle is five days. It's incremental. In five days you're not going to be able to cancel your Microsoft Office license, but in five years, you won't have Microsoft Office.

I spent $10 million making my purchasing system usable on SAP. I spent $10,000 making it usable on my iPhone. You do the math.

What benefits have you seen so far?

It fits into the mobility paradigm very well. Browser-based apps are getting better and better. You can deliver more of that experience and get mobility and simplicity. Because they're not coming behind your firewall, you don't have to VPN in. You have a secure session to Google, and you can access your information anywhere, anytime from any device. You don't have to be on a corporate device, you don't have to have a VPN fob. And it works on your iPhone, your Blackberry, your laptop, anywhere, anytime. So, fabulous. That would be the thing that people talk about the most.

The second is the integration of all the different tools. If you're a multi-modal communicator, it is the best experience and the best set of tools and it all works, seamlessly, easy, together. So, that would be the second thing.

Then, the third thing is, $50 a year. That's it! You don't have to go to lunch with your sales rep. You don't even have to know your sales rep. Your contract will fit in your billfold. You don't need a three-ring binder for it, or a battery of attorneys to tell you what the hell it means. I mean, I haven't read the Microsoft Licensing Agreement lately, but when they came out with the how's and the this's and the that's, I mean, enterprise assurance, you'd have to be in like a two and a-half hour meeting to get briefed on what you're buying. Two and a-half hours. And I have a PhD. It's like, could you make this more complicated? Probably not. Google, $50. And it's the same $50 from 61 features ago. Sixty-one new products, YouTube for the enterprise, video conferencing. Now, what software company, Microsoft, SAP, or Oracle, would give you 61 new things with no deployment, and no price increase? Introduce me to that software company. They don't exist. Goggle has an absolutely radical, wonderful – it's an IT dream come true. I don't know why there aren't IT executives all across America marching in the streets, burning their software licenses and saying, “let my people go." I mean, this is the promised land. I don't know how it could get any better.

Is that just Google, or are you learning things from this experience with Google that you would apply to other types of applications?

Oh, well, I'm totally revolutionizing the sales part of the business with And I would love to revolutionize my HR system with Workday, but I couldn't get my HR person on board with it. But look at Workday, look at, and look at Google. Revolutionary. It's going to gut the whole industry.

Is there more coming for other areas of the business?

Oh, definitely. Just look at iPhone apps. That's another important paradigm that's happening: what I call snackable apps. We spent 30 years figuring out how to get 200 drop-down menus with 3,000 features. And a whole industry of training and manuals. And now we're delivering single-function apps that require no training. And they're absolutely fantastic. I hooked SAP up to my iPhone for shopping cart approvals; 30 percent of all of our approvals are now done on iPhones into SAP because I stripped away all of that complexity that's in the SAP mySRM. I spent $10 million making my purchasing system usable on SAP. I spent $10,000 making it usable on my iPhone. You do the math. And, which would you rather do? Would you rather approve the shopping cart on your iPhone? Or would you rather log in, literally, you can answer three e-mails by the time it loads all the tabs and screens and all the pieces, and then try to remember behind which of these mystery tabs is my answer. It's like playing a game of Jeopardy every time. Is this it? Is this it? Is this where I go? Oh, look, thank God I found it. It's like a treasure map. And that's just so you can buy something. I mean, come on.

There are many things happening here that are good for users, good for the IT profession, good for business. It's just good, good, good. You know, what's slowing this adoption are all the priests of the past – all the preservationists. All the interests that are built up around the edifice that is enterprise software…. Cloud computing is a dream come true.

Todd Pierce is senior vice president and CIO of Genentech, the $13,418 million San Francisco biotech company that this year became a wholly owned subsidiary of Roche. He joined Genentech in May 2002. Pierce's IT leadership experience spans a broad range of industries, including commercial software products, health insurance, clinical care and government. Prior to joining Genentech, he served as CIO and Director of Information Systems for the Santa Clara County Social Services Agency. Pierce holds a B.A. in Economics and Finance from Austin College and a M.A. in Health Policy and Administration from the University of California, Berkeley.

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