CIO Spotlight: Tom O'Leary, ICON Plc

What's the best career advice you ever received? "Make sure you are enjoying what you are doing - you don't get the time back!"

Name: Tom O'Leary

Company: ICON Plc

Job title: Chief Information Officer

Date started current role: May 2013

Location: Dublin Ireland

Tom O'Leary is ICON's Chief Information Officer and has over 20 years of experience in the pharmaceutical industry. O'Leary joined the company in 2001 as Manager of Data Management and has held various leadership positions since. Prior to ICON, O'Leary worked for SmithKline Beecham and later GlaxoSmithKline and held positions in Data Management, Project Management and Resource Management.

What was your first job? My first job was working as a Clinical Data Associate for SmithKline Beecham in the UK. I worked on processing the data ReQuip - which is a marketed drug for the treatment of Parkinson's disease, and Paroxetine, a marketed drug for the treatment of depression.

Did you always want to work in IT? I have always been interested in what insights the data collected through technology can provide. Working in IT has enabled me to develop a much greater understanding of this area, and I've been able to use these skills to make a positive impact to businesses.

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? I have a BSc in Medicinal Chemistry, an MSc in Information Tech and I'm a member of the Royal Society of Chemistry.

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. I began my career in 1994 at SmithKline Beecham in the UK and by 2001 I progressed to Manager of Data Management & Project Resource Management. I then returned to Ireland and took up the position of Director & Vice President Data Management at ICON plc from 2001 to 2009. From there I was promoted to Vice President of ICON Central Laboratories, and held this position for three years before becoming Chief Information Officer in 2013.

What business or technology initiatives will be most significant in driving IT investments in your organisation in the coming year? ICON is working on several initiatives to advance the digital transformation of drug development. One of the initiatives we're currently focusing on is enabling the digital patient of the future through wearable and sensor technology. This means we can more effectively gather patient data in real world settings, helping us to better evaluate new drugs and devices.

Alongside this, we are also concentrating on advancing Virtual Clinical Trials, which can reduce the burden of assessment visits on patients and physicians, enabling patients to be monitored and assessed in their homes using the latest technology. ICON envisions virtual technologies playing an ever-increasing role in the way Clinical Trials are conducted. Dimension Data are supporting this with the enablement of a new Digital Collaboration Platform at ICON.   

ICON is also leveraging Robotic Process Automation by reducing the admin burden on staff, to allow our skilled employees to focus more time on transforming the progress of drug and device development.

What are the CEO's top priorities for you in the coming year? How do you plan to support the business with IT? ICON's primary focus from the leadership team is to increase the efficiency of the clinical trial/drug development process. The IT team is supporting this drive through the use of analytics and informatics. The enablement of a digital ecosystem to advance our patient site and data strategy is a key cornerstone to provide insights and options for alternative approaches to successfully get new drugs and devices onto the market through the simplification of study designs.

Overall, ICON is seeking to  deliver a technology ecosystem for the management and delivery of clinical trials. Our large Capital Investment Programme breaks into a series of projects which will enable this vision to be realised.

Does the conventional CIO role include responsibilities it should not hold? Should the role have additional responsibilities it does not currently include? This really depends on the type of organisation a CIO works in. Much of the technical and infrastructure areas of IT are being transformed through the use of the cloud and other technologies which have virtualised the traditional environment - so a CIOs skill set has to constantly evolve.

Remaining current with all these changes is critical. Ensuring you have the correct skill mix in your team is key to managing the variety of responsibilities that encompass the CIO role. The CIO role will always include new responsibilities and those who like operating in a constantly evolving environment will find significant satisfaction in the role.

Are you leading a digital transformation? If so, does it emphasise customer experience and revenue growth or operational efficiency? If both, how do you balance the two? I am leading the digital transformation within our organisation across Digital Patient, Virtual Trial, Advanced Analytics and Automation. Part of this journey has been through working with Dimension Data to launch a new digital platform, which helps enhance efficiency and productivity of the drug and medical device pipelines.

Digital transformation is very much a journey that we continue to travel. Our industry is about enhancing life, through developing better drugs and devices in the long term, but also about giving the best care to patients along the way. Enhanced digital processes mean our operational efficiency has improved, allowing us to improve our patient experience. Engaged patients and improved drug and device output drives the portfolio of product pipelines, but our focus is as much on the processes to get there, rather than the end result.

Describe the maturity of your digital business. For example, do you have KPIs to quantify the value of IT? The maturity of the digital capabilities in life sciences and drug development has grown considerably in the past three years and will evolve even further over the next five years. The abundance, affordability and acceptance of technology in our daily lives is driving its increased application.

We have a range of KPIs to measure the value of our IT investments, on a continuous basis. In particular, we measure usage and adoption of our key platforms both internally by our staff and externally by our patients and customers. We seek to deliver enterprise-integrated ecosystems to minimise the burden of disparate capabilities on multiple platforms.

What does good culture fit look like in your organisation? How do you cultivate it? Our culture of "OWN IT" at ICON is very important to us; it embodies our values and underpins our mission. By collectively and consistently living our values, we create a work environment that enables our people to deliver better outcomes for our customers, patients and ICON. OWN IT at ICON encompasses;

  • Accountability and Delivery - taking pride in what we do.
  • Collaboration - working as one, united team
  • Partnership - Collaborating with our customers to get the best results
  • Integrity - always working ethically towards enhancing life

We seek to cultivate this culture in all that we do and stage a series of events throughout the year on a global basis to engage our staff with ICON's Culture. Last year, for example, we held a global "Wake up to Culture" event across our offices, where we shared examples of ICON's culture in action on a day-to-day basis and invited employees to think about, talk about and connect with the ICON values.

What roles or skills are you finding (or anticipate to be) the most difficult to fill? With a wealth of opportunities for IT professionals, every role and skill set can be difficult to identify and attract. Ensuring the organisation has a strong career map and career development plans are critical in order to attract the talent needed to be successful. Alongside this, retaining existing talent through continuous development is also crucial.  

What's the best career advice you ever received? Make sure you are enjoying what you are doing - you don't get the time back!

Do you have a succession plan? If so, discuss the importance of and challenges with training up high-performing staff. ICON has a great succession plan, which is reviewed throughout the year with the aim to develop our top talent through our High Potential Program. Ensuring that new opportunities through lateral or promotion options are critical to having a robust succession plan, which is something we work hard to achieve.

What advice would you give to aspiring IT leaders? Make sure you are continually acquiring new experiences and skills you can apply in your roles. Seek to ensure that you are the best qualified through experience and knowledge to do your job, no matter what position you hold.

What has been your greatest career achievement? Attaining CIO of the Year in Ireland 2018.

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? I rarely look back - you can't change what is already done - all you can do is look forward.

What are you reading now? Homo Deus: A brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari

Most people don't know that I… once owned Two Horses....

In my spare time, I like to…Ski - both water ski and snow ski.

Ask me to do anything but… Painting!