Embracing Transformation to build a People-First, Data-Driven Business

24 May 2021 | Monday | Opinion | By Lewis Chol |Vice President, Digital & IT – APAC & Emerging Markets for Thermo Fisher Scientific | Driving Digital Strategies & Vision to Deliver Transformational Business Growth

Many organizations today are looking to transform under the banner of digital transformation. You may have heard the common phrase around transformation requiring people, process, then systems to put their people first. That’s no different for us at Thermo Fisher Scientific. But what does that look like in practice? It requires us to embrace transformation in all forms – data, business innovation, and within each of us.

Transforming a Data-Driven Business 

 In my role as Vice President, Digital Solutions, APAC and Emerging Markets, I am challenged to integrate new digital and IT functions into total solutions that support our business growth.  What we are striving for is a balance of continuous growth with transformation towards being more customer-focused. And we can do that by harnessing the power of data. 

The key challenge comes from the sheer vastness and diversity of what we do, with different solutions, customer needs and business needs. But as a whole, we are looking to elevate data science to make it easier for customers to engage with us. 

 The journey to becoming more data-driven comes down to creating a connected digital ecosystem, which connects the data collected from each customer touchpoint to then enrich each touchpoint with the collective data. We can then use the insights to improve the customer experience and build a more prescriptive model in engaging our customers. 

And that is what transformation is – a journey. Digital transformation challenges us to rethink how we’re doing things, and what can be done better. Changing an overall culture is very difficult, but we never stop pushing our boundaries. With the right tools and the right partners, you can transform the business to stay ready and be relevant in the future. 

 We don’t need to look far to see how Thermo Fisher is pushing for this. Take for example our Center of Excellence based around automation, as it builds data-driven capabilities that can be applied to every part of our business. In the Digital Solutions Team, we’re also working on a mobile app that allows customers to input their preferences and receive personalized content, tailored to their persona, and presents relevant products based on their workflow. It will also leverage data to help customers make more informed decisions, and support after-sales to help them get more use out of their purchases. 

Part of being a data-driven, service-focused organization means breaking down walls between teams, and even within a team. To be a leading force in innovation, we need to drive a mindset to start quickly, start small, while keeping the big picture in mind – rather than trying to build something big from the start and risk large failures. We are on a direction to build a more service-based model that can make things more scalable, while being nimble – especially for a large company that continues to grow. 

 Transforming a People-First Culture 

 With my educational background in sociology, it feels like all my learnings in school and throughout my career have been all about putting people first. When put into practice, it means that an organization’s people have more autonomy to bring diversity of thought and passion to their work. With more responsibility, each employee can act as a leader, and the work is not limited to a single leader’s perspective. The idea that the best idea wins, and not the boss’s idea, is paramount to building an innovative culture. 

 We’ve been focused on bringing this transformation to the organization to ensure our traditional leaders are given the support they need to turn into digital leaders. The thought is to flip the organization upside down, so that it’s not the leader at the top – but those who are actually executing. In this upside-down pyramid, leaders need to be in a supporting role that clears barriers and solves problems for colleagues who are executing. With this flipped pyramid, we get a lot more ideas injected into the company and the diversity of thought is crucial to putting the best thoughts out there.  

 We have also been working to cultivate an environment of continuous learning and passion within the team. I know it’s popular to talk about “work-life balance”, but I think there is an essential problem with this term as the practice of balancing is an impossible task that eventually comes out of balance with everything crashing down. Rather than balancing, we may want to consider our individual mission statement and pursue what makes us happy, across the entire spectrum of our lives.

 We should prioritize different aspects of life based on what is most important to us and then spend the right amount of time based on what we prioritize. At Thermo Fisher, those that really stand out and shine are the ones putting in the effort to upskill and learn. They are the ones who are excelling in our industry, and will prepare us to be the most innovative company. Currently, Thermo Fisher is doing an excellent job at recognizing what is ready to leverage now to drive growth, acceleration, and efficiencies. But we need people with the mindset of being passionate about the work, and being agile to know what might be needed in the future. If you have the mindset – being a true believer in Thermo Fisher’s vision and mission statement – you can learn anything. 

 When I think about how we set out to build a people-first corporate culture, the words that come to mind are collaboration, honesty, openness and innovation. We need to build relationships and trust, within and across teams. We need to encourage being open about what’s working and what’s not – that’s collaboration, honesty and openness. Then you can get help quicker and not solve everything on your own. And we need to encourage creativity in trying something new – not just because that’s the way it’s always been done – that’s innovation. With this in play, we can build a high-performing team that trusts one another. And there is so much potential we can derive from a team like that. 

 Transforming for an Innovative Future 

 As we push forward transformation into the future, we need to stay agile. Agility is the priority in evolving the current organization, hiring the right people, and creating a culture that can retain the right mindset and people. We need people who understand what the power of the right data insights can do. And this is a mindset we need to evolve together. If we can have honest conversations, we can drive value. If we can drive value, there is more opportunity than we can imagine. 


When people ask me about digital transformation, I usually relay that to me it is more about business transformation using digital solutions to help accelerate the evolution to support the needs of a changing world due to the digital transformation that is happening all around us. At the end of the day, the key is to pursue your passions with grit and humility and find a place that you are able to drive boldly forward.

    Lewis Chol |Vice President, Digital & IT – APAC & Emerging Markets for Thermo Fisher Scientific | Driving Digital Strategies & Vision to Deliver Transformational Business Growth    


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