Tech Officer Vantage Point: AstraZeneca’s Cindy Hoots

Leading tech officers give the inside track on how to unlock advantage through tech.

Back to Tech Vantage Video Series main page

Three takeaways from our conversation with Cindy Hoots, Chief Information Officer and Chief Digital Officer at AstraZeneca. 

CIO video series connectors quote

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned during my career is that tech transformation is less about technology and much more about the mindset. By and large, a lot of the technology is now proven. The real hurdles come when engaging with people and helping them through the change curve.

Cindy Hoots
Chief Information Officer and Chief Digital Officer, AstraZeneca



The importance of cultural transformation…

Spending time on the cultural aspects of change is the most important thing to focus on when going through tech transformation. Five years ago we were more focused on whether the technology would work. Now it’s much more around culture and how you change mindsets.

Every company has the desire to transform through tech. But you have to evaluate where you are on the change readiness journey. Previously I’ve seen companies that intellectually could see disruption coming and they wanted to change, but internally people weren’t quite ready for what that would mean to the way they worked or the way they ran their departments.

Before transforming through tech, companies need to think about their digital maturity. They need to figure out which parts of the business make the most sense for tech-enabled change. You’re not trying to do it all at once, but looking at where it will be either welcomed or adopted more easily or where you will get the most business value out of technology. It is also important to ensure people have the right skills to embrace the change.  If your staff  feel they have the right skills, they’ll most likely be less resistant to the changes. All these things combined, help you build the necessary momentum and help your people really start to see the benefits of change.


The role of the C-suite in tech transformation…

The C-suite has to lead the charge when it comes to becoming a tech-driven company. Because tech goes right to the heart of how a business is run, changing everything from our business processes to how we engage our customers. I am fortunate that at AstraZenca we have digital transformation, data and tech as a clear enabler to our growth strategy.

However, more generally across various sectors, there can often be a lack of awareness and understanding across the C-suite on the potential of technology to drive business objectives. Overcoming this blind spot can be a huge hurdle for many businesses across industries. It is important to remember that technology hasn’t always played the role it does today. How businesses need to operate today means we all need to view things differently and unlearn some of the techniques that might have contributed to success in the past. It’s human nature to not want to put your faith in something that you don't have as much experience with or may not fully understand.


How to bring the entire organization on the journey…

Some people are early adopters of change.  When they hear leaders talking about innovation, technology or ways of working, they will readily jump on board. Then there are others who will need a little more evidence of how a tech initiative will work in their industry, or company, or department. So, we have to spend a bit more time helping them, either with proof of concepts or other ways to make the change more tangible.

You also have some people who need repeated evidence that this new innovation will work. So, you may need to think about executing projects with them or showing them how it actually will work within their part of the business. It’s about bringing them along on the change journey. Ultimately, if you get the tone right at the top, with leaders role modeling the right curiosity and interest, it will flow through the rest of the organization and help bring everyone along.



Why tech officers are business leaders first, technologists second…

The role of technology officers is changing. It used to be that it was your job to make sure the technology worked and that the business was secure from a cybersecurity perspective. Now, we should think of ourselves as business leaders first and technologists second.

We need to be intimate with what the business is doing. So, at the front of our minds, we’re thinking about: What does the business need? How are we going to grow? And how can technology support that?

If we are to harness technology for competitive advantage, we need to understand every business area. I spend a lot of time out in the field, in our manufacturing facilities and in our R&D labs because that's where great ideas can come from. When you see how people are working and understand their goals, you are much better placed to provide practical and useable technology solutions to help achieve them.

For example, we work with our R&D colleagues on advanced drug discovery. Our goal is to reduce the time to discover new lifesaving medicines. By using AI, we’ve been able to accelerate how much data and information scientists can accumulate and analyze, so they can focus their efforts on the ideas that have the most probability of success.

Equally, forward looking organizations need to spend time learning from and sometimes working in partnership with other companies. That’s been a big shift for many technology officers because previously their role was far more internally focused. Today, we need to not only understand the geopolitical implications of what’s going on, but industry trends, and how to work with other companies to solve some of the world’s biggest issues.


The top competencies tech officers need…

I find myself spending far more time in the futurist world thinking about what new big technologies will ensure our business is both fit for today and the future. We need to stay abreast of what’s happening in the next three, five, and even 10 years and understand how these advancements will change the nature of our business.

It is also about ensuring your company attracts and retains top talent.  You need to be focused on their professional development and ensure their skills remain modern. As organizations look to become more digital, they need a workforce that is quick to adapt to change and equipped with the necessary skills whether that is AI engineering or data science.

Beyond the technical competencies, a strong focus on interpersonal and leadership skills is also critical.  You need to be able to set a clear vision, influence and negotiate, and spend time upskilling your entire organization. You need to also be able to deal with ambiguity as things are changing so rapidly.


The best piece of advice for tech officers...

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned during my career is that tech transformation is less about technology and much more about the mindset. This is because, by and large, a lot of the technology is now proven so the real hurdles can come when engaging with people and helping them through the change curve. When we help our organizations navigate tech transformations it is critical to be clear on where we are going, what we are doing, and just as importantly, what we’re not doing.

Beyond this, it’s about surrounding yourself with digitally native colleagues. They have grown up in a digital world, and the way that they think isn’t encumbered by decades of experience in doing things a certain way.

I've found that I've had to shift my own leadership perspective and found it helpful is to spend time with interns, graduate students or other people who have recently entered the workforce. They open your eyes to new ways of working and how to engage the workforce differently. Often times, given their unique perspectives, they also come up with amazing business ideas that you might not have thought about.


Watch more videos in the Tech Officer Vantage Point Series


Meet the host of the Tech Officer Vantage Point video series


Maneesh Dube

Maneesh Dube helps companies build transformative technology leadership teams. His mission is to elevate the role of technology on boards and C-suites to drive tech-enabled change and competitive differentiation. He is based in New York.





How Great Leaders Unlock the Power of Technology


Start building the leadership to unlock exponential value from technology

Let´s continue the conversation