The FD who reins in and reigns over IT

Rod Sweet talks to the man who is paid to dispel illusions at the new Glaxo

Rod Sweet talks to the man who is paid to dispel illusions at the new Glaxo

Mark Reilly has a big job. He's head of finance (UK) for the new GlaxoSmithKline, born in December after the merger of Glaxo Wellcome and SmithKline Beecham. It's the world's largest pharmaceutical company based on market share.

Reilly is from the SmithKline camp and he'll be working with a new IT team drawn from both camps. His aim is to identify duplicated business processes, many based on IT, and decide what to save and what to throw away.

Reilly likes tension in his dealings with IT departments. Constructive tension, that is. The tension comes from priorities that clash. IT wants to spend a lot, early, in the name of big pay-offs later. Reilly is paid to doubt those pay-offs.

That tension becomes constructive through a lot of talking, so that the parties understand each other's point of view before IT's expectations skyrocket. Reilly says it means finance and IT talking in the corridor about plans long before a formal capital investment proposal lands on his desk.

Reilly's an evangelist of constructive tension. He helped SB develop it as a model three years ago (they called it strategic partnering).

It was designed to help the finance department engage better with the rest of the business, including the IT department.

He has met with the IT director of the new GlaxoSmithKline quite a few times and says all the signs are that he won't be the only evangelist of constructive tension. And anyway, he said, IT is driving itself into the core of the business.

"The role of IT is changing because it's becoming more commercially aligned," he said. "IT departments don't raise as many IT projects per se. They're more business projects with IT as the solution." Take ETMS, for example (electronic terrestrial sales management systems).

About 10% of his week is taken up with IT-related affairs. Whatever the percentage, he likes it to be consistent. "It's better than 30% or 40% because ETMS is a big project I didn't know about and so am resisting," Reilly said.

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