Alexion Pharmaceuticals: Technology enables more talent, better outcomes, and longer lives

Alexion

Welcome to Work Unleashed, BoxWorks edition. We're recapping and highlighting some of the conversations we had at our biggest event of the year, BoxWorks Digital. We heard from business and IT leaders shaping a new era of work, who shared best practices for enabling teams in a work-from-anywhere world.

Alexion Pharmaceuticals has always been on the forefront of fighting rare (and ultra rare) diseases that devastate people’s lives. Now, the company has joined the fight to solve the current global health crisis. Alexion scientists are engaged in Phase 3 of a clinical trial for a new COVID-19 therapy called ULTOMIRIS®.

As CIO, George Llado supports state-of-the-art therapy development by ensuring the technology Alexion employs is state of the art, too. When he joined the company in 2015, he had his work cut out for him. A sports fan, Llado likens the technology stack of that time to “Old Yankee Stadium,” with cracking infrastructure at every turn. He has devoted his time at Alexion to building a stack of “best athletes” — technology platforms that are bringing the innovative life sciences company into the vanguard of digital work, as well. 

One of those best athletes is Box. In conversation with Paul Chapman, Senior VP and Global CIO, Box, Llado told a BoxWorks Remote audience how he scaled Alexion’s tech to keep pace with the lifesaving innovation the company is known for.

A mindset shift around remote work

Alexion is headquartered in Boston, and about half its employees are located on the East Coast of the U.S., but there are others in the UK, Japan, and around the world. Before COVID-19, it was typical to have 200 people to a floor in a physical office. The great majority of those employees have been working remotely for most of 2020.

While many originally envisioned themselves returning to the office as soon as it was safe, that mentality has shifted. Commuting in for rotating shifts, socially distanced in the office, wearing plenty of PPE — this picture of work is not nearly as enticing as staying home, where work can happen in comfort and convenience. When asked how often they’d ideally like to come into the physical office in the future, employees now say “zero to two days a week.” That’s largely thanks to the remote tools Alexion has put in place.

In a way, the shift to remote has leveled the playing field for collaboration. Leadership meetings that used to take place in a conference room with just a handful of people on Zoom are now held entirely online. Llado describes the old setup as creating “a mentality of inferiority and superiority. The folks on the Zoom waffle never spoke up.” But now, with everyone equally represented by a small square on a screen, there’s no more sense of biased participation. “It’s democratizing participation,” he explains. “When I go back [to the office], I want to still be a square on a screen so I’m not impacting someone else’s ability to speak up.”

The foundation for secure productivity

The shift to working remotely has been successful at Alexion because Llado and his team had already done a lot of the prep to prepare Alexion for a remote scenario. No stranger to snow days after years of IT work in the blustery Northeast, Llado reflects, “February and March were never good to me. Ten years ago I was getting calls about VPN. There are so many capacity issues when everyone goes home on the East Coast.”

So early on, he had pivoted Alexion to the cloud and banked on emerging technologies as a strategy. He learned that elastic capacity was critical to remote work, because it gives the IT team the flexibility to ratchet up with capacity or down because of a bad business event. As a result, Llado says, “When we pivoted on March 10th, we didn’t break a sweat. Zoom zoomed, Box boxed. Okta said, ‘I’m connecting all you guys.’ It was almost like we didn’t leave — except we were at home.”

There were still technology considerations to focus on quickly, of course. One was content security. With people apt to revert to non-sanctioned personal devices when working at home, risk of breach increases. And in Alexion’s case, because the company is engaged in valuable, time-sensitive COVID-19 therapies, IP has become a hot commodity. Llado says “We’ve certainly seen an increase of knocks on the door. It’s scary. There’s an attack surface that’s now spread out.”

The team combatted this threat by prioritizing multi-factor authentication measures and relying on the Box and Okta integration. Llado cites the ability to see data classification and keep an eye on the content feed in Box as strong information streams around data security. With these parameters in place, Alexion has experienced zero breaches to date.

What the future holds for Alexion and its ability to save lives

With content secure in the cloud and Alexion’s workforce adapting to a new normal of working remotely, Llado sees great potential in the future of hiring. “Technology makes it possible to work from Mars,” he quips. “You can truly hire the best, and not be constrained by only hiring ‘the best in Boston.’” 

Geographic hiring constraints are suddenly an archaic idea, and he believes Alexion can now woo technology talent away from heavy hitters like Google and Amazon. After all, Alexion has a powerful recruitment tool. As Llado says: “We save lives.”

With technology better supporting remote work, companies like Alexion can access more talent. More talent will lead to better outcomes. Better outcomes mean better, longer lives.

Watch the full session from BoxWorks Digital below! 

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