- IMD Business School
Alumni Stories · Innovation - Entrepreneurship

‘They refer to me as the transformer, I set change in motion, and I put things in order when they are not’  

Giulio Vannini, Senior IT Lead at Ferring Pharmaceuticals has long been passionate about the opportunity that digital technologies present for transforming business. So much so that almost a decade ago, when he was at Merck Group, he helped pioneer enterprise social practices well ahead of the mainstream tools that are more widely adopted today. 
June 2023

In 2015, Vannini, who was Director and Head of Digital Workplace at Merck Group, – a global Healthcare, Life Sciences and technology company – was the program lead for Merck’s award-winning Connect15 initiative. Connect15 was a project focused on transforming the company’s legacy IT systems, to enable harmonized digital workplace collaboration group-wide.

“We were ahead of our time when we started this significant digital transformation project,” said Vannini. “The project was exciting because it presented the opportunity to use technology to bring the company’s vision of a more digitally collaborative future to life.”  

While the Connect15 project team initially looked to clean up old technologies, they were increasingly bold and innovative in their thinking and set about building systems, that would enable digital communication, collaboration and knowledge sharing across the organization. 

 - IMD Business School
<em>Giulio Vannini Senior Lead IT Infrastructure Transformation Analytics Ferring Pharmaceuticals<em>

“It was at this time that I enrolled in IMD’s Leading Digital Business Transformation program. I was keen to explore digital transformation from a business perspective, to better understand what the business challenges are, so that I can provide the technological solutions. The way I see it, as the technology expert I am always the companion, whereas the business is in the driver seat.”  

Merck’s modern digital workplace  

Connect15 resulted in Merck launching its new global intranet – internally branded as “EVA” as digital workplace in 2015.  It replaced several disparate platforms and provided the foundation for future digital collaboration.

The award-winning EVA platform was designed around the concept of ‘rooms’ for collaboration and publishing across departmental boundaries and national borders for its over 60,000 employees. Its success was accredited to the strong governance model put in place and a well-executed change management program driven by Group Communications

“It was about more than just organizing information,” reflects Vannini.  “We saw an opportunity to help connect people, and this set the wheels in motion for digital collaboration as we now know it. This was not common at the time.”

“We pioneered social practices, collaboration and engagement into working anytime, anywhere and from any device.”  

While the project revolutionized the way of work at Merck, Vannini said that with hindsight they started too early. Flexible working was less common then and employee experience platforms were not yet mature. It was also just before the move to the cloud became a possibility.

“We built a system that was company-owned, but soon the technology became available that would have enabled us to embrace the cloud. When you build on your own, unfortunately you create a lot of heaviness,” said Vannini.  

Ferring sets its sights on being an insights-driven organization  

In 2020, Vannini joined Swiss multinational company Ferring Pharmaceuticals as the Senior Lead of IT Infrastructure Transformation and Analytics. He was tasked with the migration of Ferring’s analytics infrastructure into the cloud. 

They refer to me as the transformer or ‘cleaner’, I put things in order when they are not,” says Vannini. 

Ferring wanted to transform its customer-related processes and to enable more insight-driven decision making. Vannini explains that to achieve this level of data governance standards had to be unified across all divisions and customer data needed to be transformed into a common data warehouse in the cloud. This would ensure efficient business workflows and give employees the ability to use obtain powerful insights from company-wide data, which would ultimately enhance customer experience. 

A foundation of intertwined data is laid 

The pilot project took three months to implement and during the implementation it was important to create a single source of unified data from multiple sources. A single source of data would enable Ferring’s marketing teams, no matter which of the 65 countries they are in, to use data driven insights to create personalized client-centric campaigns that drive higher engagement.  

“We converged multiple internal data streams to create Ferring’s data foundation,” explains Vannini. “We also set the course for expansion, such as big data from external sources” 

“The platform now is evolving into a single source of truth, unifying processes and data across many offices and countries.”   

Although Vannini has now moved to a different role within the organization, more focused on infrastructure outsourcing, he found great satisfaction in helping to set the digital transformation pathway at Ferring.  

“I have learnt that the key to successful digital transformation is combining business change with technology. This is the essence of what I do. I take a vision and I make it happen technologically. Then when it works, I move on to the next transformation.” 

A likeminded business network 

Although it has been seven years since he completed IMD’s Leading Digital Business Transformation program, Vannini says he has kept in contact with Faculty over the years, mainly to exchange ideas and for some advice whilst working on projects. He is also still in contact with other IMD alumni he met at IMD. 

“Jobs change, but people don’t. We stay connected. This is the big value I see every day from the attending the program.”