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An Interview with Igor Gershfang, Senior Director Emerging Technology Solutions, Innovation and Strategy, Walgreens
Igor Gershfang is a Senior Director of Emerging Technology Solutions and is responsible for the ideation, research, validation, investments, strategy, and development of new business and technology solutions that focus on both healthcare and retail use cases and interconnected markets overall. Igor is leading the mHealth journey at Walgreens, and his other current focus areas include mobile CRM, analytics at scale, internet of things, behavioral change solutions, consumerization and retailization of health.
THE ENTERPRISERS PROJECT: Walgreens has 8,000 locations and serves 10 million customers a day through all its channels. How do you evaluate emerging technologies for such a large company?
GERSHFANG: My job, in a nutshell, is to provide foresight. But I can’t do that unless I really understand what our company’s strategies are, what we are trying to be and where we are trying to go. Only then can I line up the emerging technologies that could play a key role in meeting the objectives of that strategy.
To do that, I scan three horizons: 1 to 2 years out, 3 to 5 years out, and 5 to 10 years out and beyond. That includes retail, healthcare, wellness, and information technologies. But it’s not just scanning. There’s no shortage of ideas or of technologies that appear to be promising. I think the real value of the function I represent is to validate whether there is an overall applicability to what we do, and then what is the potential value. Otherwise it may become what is the next bright and shiny object and disconnect from the business. The business still drives the agenda.
TEP: What are the business goal posts you use to pursue interesting technologies?
GERSHFANG: I use what our CIO Tim Theriault calls the triple aim of true innovation.
First, the technology has to be relevant to the business and aligned to a revenue-building strategy we have in place. For example, Walgreens wants to transform the community pharmacy into a healthcare hub. Is the technology I’m considering relevant in helping us achieve that? Will it help us bring in new business? Will it be more than just incremental to what we already are doing?
Second, it has to improve outcomes and improve our customer experience. Will this new technology help our customers stay well, get well, or live better? Does it present an opportunity to have a more meaningful engagement with them? Will it make dealing with Walgreens more convenient and more seamless?
Third, it has to reduce costs. If we are reducing costs, it will help our shareholders realize profit.
TEP: Once the technology clears those hurdles, how do you work with the business to prototype and pilot it?
GERSHFANG: Perhaps there are 30 out of 200 technologies I’ve looked at that pass the first set of questions. Then I try to build the business case more. It could be a differentiator for us, but is it feasible? If it is feasible, what can we do on prototyping? Because there is a limited budget associated with that.
At that point I may get left with ten technologies, and then I work with my business counterparts, who I’ve been working with all along. If the prototype goes well we get to a pilot stage where we might deploy into a number of stores or online. We do field testing, and then depending on the learnings we make plans to really operationalize the offering throughout the chain. Out of 200, maybe four to six make it that far. And if we have to stop considering something, we need to stop it fast.
In the end we are constantly looking for ways to make our current customers happier with their care and attract new customers. This is the sort of job where you feel you can always do better and attract more customers in different demographics and different segments.