CIO Spotlight: Rama Kondru, Ph.D., Medidata Solutions

Are you leading a digital transformation? "Absolutely - digital transformation is upon us and it's up to CIOs to embrace it."

Name: Rama Kondru, Ph.D.

Company: Medidata Solutions

Job title: EVP, Chief Information Officer and Chief Technology Officer

Date started current role: April 2019

Location: New York, United States

Rama Kondru is currently the Chief Information Officer and Chief Technology Officer at Medidata Solutions. An innovative and strategy-focused executive with over 20 years of experience, he has focused primarily on designing and developing technology products and platforms that deliver enhanced patient experiences and outcomes. Prior to joining Medidata, Kondru spent six years at Janssen Americas, a Johnson and Johnson company focused on the commercialisation of innovative treatments, starting as Global Head of Data Sciences and Advanced Analytics in Pharma Technology and, most recently, as CIO, supporting a business of over $20B in annual revenue.

What was your first job? Following my education, I started my first job as a Research Scientist at UCB, a global biopharma company specialising in neurology and immunology. I stayed at UCB for four years, leading the computer-aided drug design team.

Did you always want to work in IT? I have always been fascinated with technology and especially the magnitude of impact it can have in the life sciences sector. During my career, I have become increasingly passionate about leveraging technology to design and develop products that can deliver improved patient experiences and outcomes. I started as a scientist and my affinity for cutting-edge technology and its potential impact on human health has led me to the path of a CIO and a CTO.

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? I completed my undergraduate degree at the Indian Institute of Technology in Mumbai, followed by a Ph.D. at the University of Pittsburgh. My Ph.D. was in biophysics, quantum chemistry and advanced analytics. I also served as an adjunct professor at Duke University for six years and am a named author on over 30 patents and 30 peer-reviewed scientific publications.

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. I started my career as a scientist at UCB pharma in Cambridge, MA. Following this, I joined Hoffmann-La Roche, where I held multiple roles - I started as a Research Scientist, was promoted to Principal Research Scientist and, finally, was the Department Head for Computer Aided Drug Design (CADD) and Data Mining.

After Hoffmann-La Roche, I moved to Janssen Pharmaceuticals, a Johnson and Johnson company, as Global Head of Data Sciences and Advanced Analytics in Pharma Technology. In this role, I started a data sciences team, shaping the long-term vision and strategy of data sciences for Janssen and managing the delivery of scientific analyses and systems in support of Janssen business groups and innovation centers. As a team, we created and implemented novel solutions to influence how we as an organisation made decisions leveraging disruptive technologies and turning data into insights.

I then became Vice President of IT and CIO of Johnson and Johnson's Medical Devices R&D segment, where I partnered with business leaders to explore and enable the Medical Devices vision of creating better patient experiences with digital and digitised products. I was also a key partner driving innovation for Digital Surgery products and hospital device connectivity. 

I then moved back into Pharma to become Vice President and CIO of Janssen Americas. I was responsible for delivering on technology strategy and solutions that gave the business a sustainable competitive advantage in bringing lifesaving medicines to patients. I established a culture of having empowered technologists as part of the product teams with the common goal of having our medicines reach as many patients in need as possible.

This year, I was appointed CIO and CTO of Medidata. I am currently responsible for accelerating the development of agile, disruptive and innovative capabilities across the Medidata platform, as well as overseeing architecture, engineering, software quality, data science and information security across the entire company.

What business or technology initiatives will be most significant in driving IT investments in your organisation in the coming year? We have a few key initiatives in our IT investment portfolio - they are all based on our fundamental belief of accelerating the speed to value of our key brands and products, as well as putting newer solutions in the hands of our customers to drive better outcomes for patients. Data and algorithms are driving outcomes and transforming healthcare. We are investing in our platform to drive consistent and effective user experience, as well as provide the data fabric to accelerate insights for all of our customers. In a world driven by data and algorithms, we are creating platforms and solutions to drive novel insights for customers using machine learning and artificial intelligence. We are betting big on data and analytics solutions for accelerating hope for patients.

We are also investing heavily in driving operational excellence by improving DevOps, DataOps, infrastructure and optimising cloud infrastructure spend and moving toward more agile resourcing models.

What are the CEO's top priorities for you in the coming year? How do you plan to support the business with IT? My priorities include enabling customers' digital transformation and unlocking the value of data within the enterprise. As CIO, I lead Medidata's enterprise data strategy, architecture and future platform development for Medidata's product portfolio. Through Acorn AI, a Medidata company, my team and I focus on accelerating the creation of leading-edge technologies, such as AI and IoT capabilities, and data products for broad use across the healthcare value chain.

Does the conventional CIO role include responsibilities it should not hold? Should the role have additional responsibilities it does not currently include? The conventional CIO role is evolving. In most cases, business strategy is fundamentally linked to the data and technology strategy. Healthcare companies are transforming themselves to be health-technology companies. In this digital transformation, the newer CIO role will play a key part in the executive boardroom, laying the foundations for seamless business operations and pivotal innovation in delivering on technology products necessary to succeed in the marketplace. Ultimately, a business strategy in this age is really a data product strategy and a technology strategy. I believe that CIOs have a tremendous opportunity to drive this transformation. 

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? Absolutely - digital transformation is upon us and it's up to CIOs to embrace it. 

Creating and managing a digital revolution has several key parts. Today we are seeing a number of systems that are built to work in an ecosystem rather than silos. So, when considering innovation and digital transformation, the systems that are built to partner (e.g. cloud, hybrid cloud and the IoT) are all technologies that have operational - as well as innovation - components.

The second pillar of the digital revolution is all about data and how it is the new currency for businesses. Organisations need to ask themselves how they use cutting-edge technologies like AI and machine learning to uncover insights and actions for running a business or developing a product.

The third pillar is what I call the integrated experience for customers with unified platforms. For example, if you are a patient, why should the experience look vastly different for your doctor? So for me, I could choose to only work on operational efficiencies or focus on the holistic product experience. If you do digital transformation correctly, you will have superior products and much more integrated programmes and platforms with customer experience at the forefront.

Describe the maturity of your digital business. For example, do you have KPIs to quantify the value of IT? Our business is technology and our products are driven by technology. The healthcare industry is a bit behind on digital transformation, compared to retail or banking, for example. As healthcare is a much more protected and regulated space, the digital revolution is often not as apparent and has different regulatory challenges.

Medidata is driving this revolution in the industry and, as we are a technology company at the heart of it, we are very mature in terms of digital, IT and regulatory. In terms of IT KPIs, we focus on transforming the healthcare industry by helping as many clinical trials sponsors execute and run their trials as successfully, effectively and efficiently as possible.

What does good culture fit look like in your organisation? How do you cultivate it? Ultimately, helping patients is the core mission at Medidata and curing deadly diseases is really what drives our culture.

Headquartered in New York, and with offices around the world, Medidata is based in a hub of technological advancement and innovation. We feel that workplace culture is very important for teams to thrive. From a leadership perspective, it's easy to see that ‘the bigger the dream, the more important the team.'

Although innovation is not an obligation that should be put on an organisation, there is no doubt that thinking innovatively is crucial in the healthcare industry. Additionally, it is important for us to be a customer-focused organisation, which is also a core part of our culture.

What roles or skills are you finding (or anticipate to be) the most difficult to fill? At Medidata we are in a very unique situation. We are a technology organisation with over 60% of clinical trials around the globe running on our systems. The technology that is running cannot fail during any clinical trial.

Because of this, we require both technology and healthcare knowledge. We also require a knowledge of connecting, communicating and shaping the environment, which is highly complex and complicated. Not to mention our dedication to diversity and inclusion within the technology community. Finding and retaining these skills is very important to us - our existing talent is a very driven group of people going after a great purpose.

What's the best career advice you ever received? When I leave an organisation or someone I managed leaves, I always ask for a piece of advice that I can take with me. There are a couple pieces of advice that have really stuck with me.

Almost 20 years ago, I was told that the doors of opportunities open and close. When they are open, you need to run through them, but you also need to remember that they can close quickly and you might end up running into a wall. So, you need to be cognizant about where you are, what the situation is and how fast you run. 

The second piece of advice I have kept with me is when a peer asked me if I remembered the last time I had met a CEO, which I did. However, did I think that they remembered me? As I am in a C-suite position, the advice now is to take time with everyone I meet, and to try to remember as many people as possible and what stands out.

Finally, I've been taught that it is easy to blame the past and it is difficult to grab the present and future. With this in mind, I always take full ownership and try not to dwell on the past. The focus is more on how to move forward with a solution instead of rehashing the past.

Do you have a succession plan? If so, discuss the importance of and challenges with training up high-performing staff. Alongside already hiring two very capable SVPs, I really focus on bringing in leadership with similar aspirations and who will help the business reach new heights.

Training is obviously hugely important. It ensures employees are supported from a technical skills perspective, as well as keeps employees challenged and engaged. It is important to make training accessible and easily available to everyone within an organisation, as well as being open to adding additional training programmes that employees ask for or recommend. I always ensure my training framework encompasses the culture of ‘why'. After the ‘why' is determined, we can then move on to the ‘how' and ‘what'. 

However, training should not be one-sided. I can also learn a lot from what the team brings to the table. It is all about open, honest communication and collaboration, and building a culture that thrives on the sharing of knowledge.

What advice would you give to aspiring IT leaders? I would tell them that they need to keep pushing the boundaries and to keep learning. If you are unsure, always ask for help even if you think it will make you look inexperienced. It is the only way you can learn.

IT leaders should use every opportunity to take risks and learn, and should keep pushing for clarity, energy and creativity.

What has been your greatest career achievement? No particular achievement sticks out - it is a continuous journey. Life and careers are full of ups and downs, but what is most important is how you went through the ups and downs that culminates in an overall successful career.

In my opinion, the greatest achievement is how you make others around you feel. You need to make sure that they look forward to coming to work with a shared goal and are passionate about what they do. For us, it is all about being passionate about helping patients and the future of Medidata.

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? There is nothing I would have done differently - I don't really think about would-haves or should-haves but I do think about what I can learn from the past and apply for the future.

What are you reading now? I'm currently reading (and thoroughly enjoying) ‘Thinking, Fast and Slow', the 2011 book by Nobel Prize in Economics laureate Daniel Kahneman. I read a lot about behavioral science.

Most people don't know that I… I used to fly planes.

In my spare time, I like to…I like to grow hot peppers and cycle.

Ask me to do anything but… Jump in the ocean.