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Building a digital-first culture

Investing in our employees to drive transformation



Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the pace of digital transformation has accelerated across the health care industry and is likely to continue accelerating long after the pandemic has ended.


At Cardinal Health, we’re responding by building a core of innovation and data-driven  capability in-house, in order to best serve our customers and their patients. To do so, we’re creating a digital-first culture where continuous learning and innovation are championed and prioritized throughout the company.


We know that the success of our digital transformation is as much about our people as it is about technology. As Harvard Business Review notes, the “ability to adapt to an even more digital future depends on developing the next generation of skills, closing the gap between talent supply and demand….It’s really quite simple: the most brilliant innovation is irrelevant if we are not skilled enough to use it; and even the most impressive human minds will become less useful if they don’t team up with technology.”


Brian Rice, Cardinal Health’s EVP, Chief Information Officer, said, “We can’t simply rely on onboarding new people who have the digital skills we need. Technology is changing so rapidly that we couldn’t hire new folks fast enough to keep up. But more important, we already have such great talent here – people who have deep knowledge of health care and who understand the needs of our customers. We want to grow our own tech talent – to empower our people with digital skills so that they can innovate more quickly, adapt with greater agility and deliver results faster.”


Empowering and upskilling our employees was the impetus behind Cardinal Health’s Digital University, a learning program launched in 2020. We know that, for an organization to thrive in the digital age, its employees must be learning continually, to stay ahead of the changes happening in the greater world. Digital U enables an organization that is always learning new skills so that we can sense, analyze and respond to market opportunities.


Digital U is a comprehensive digital upskilling curriculum designed for employees around the globe. It provides knowledge and skills in areas that are aligned with our emerging business strategies, as well as evolving customer needs.


Digital U features three different levels. Through Digital Fluency, employees are introduced to concepts like design thinking, machine learning, automation, blockchain business, telematics and more. “Digital fluency is for everyone,” Rice said. “It’s an essential skill that gives us a shared language and understanding of the digital world.”


In fact, digital fluency topped the list of priority skills (alongside resilience) to build in LinkedIn’s 2021 Workplace Learning Report. In the report, employers called digital fluency the skill that is “most important to be successful in the new world of work.”


The Digital Fluency program is available in five languages, and nearly 6,000 employees in 33 countries around the globe have completed it; more employees begin the program each month.


Employees can also take advantage of the Digital Immersion program, which provides a deeper dive into specific topics that spark their interest. Employees can choose from more than 42 playlists, with content ranging from quick reads to in-depth training options on such subjects as agile leadership, business analytics, product management, blockchain, robotics, data analytics, design thinking and much more. Digital Immersion is intended to “arm employees with knowledge to increase innovation in their areas of the business, and to boost our overall ability to disrupt the industry,” Rice said.


Employees also can apply to a Digital College. There are currently seven different colleges, each focused on an area fundamental to our business growth: agility, architecture, cloud, digital marketing, engineering, information security, and analytics, automation and artificial intelligence. Each college is an intensive, bootcamp-style program, requiring six- to 12-months of study. Those enrolled in Digital Colleges study foundational, intermediate and advanced curricula, and have access to mentoring from experienced leaders across the company. While in college, employees can shadow those in roles they’re interested in, and develop experience through stretch assignments or special project work. “Digital Colleges give graduates the skills they need to help them expand their roles or move into new ones,” Rice said. “Nearly 200 employees have graduated from a college; about 10% of them have already moved into expanded or new roles.”


Ray Bajaj, SVP, Chief Technology Officer and head of Fuse, Cardinal Health’s innovation engine, emphasized that our Digital College provides direct insight into how the latest technologies will help us make a meaningful impact in health care. “There are endless opportunities to learn a new digital skillset, but the question Digital Colleges encourage employees to consider is: How can Cardinal Health leverage this technology to create exceptional customer experiences and improve patient outcomes?”


By creating synergies between several areas of our business through mentorship and hands-on projects, Digital Colleges increase collaboration and bring more diverse perspectives to the table as we develop innovative solutions to address critical gaps in health care.


Kent Oakley, VP, Enterprise Transformation Services, who helped create Digital U and directs its day-to-day operations, explained that much of the coursework is taught by experts through partners like Udemy and other online teaching platforms. “Leaning on partners to customize materials with us means that we can keep the curricula fresh and relevant.”


Oakley said he and his team plan to expand the program with new disciplines. Over the next year or so, for example, there will be an SAP college and a product management college. The team also is considering a technology college intended for those in non-technology jobs. “Post-pandemic, we’d like to consider some in-person, classroom-style learning,” he said. “We’re also considering potential partnerships with additional training content providers, as well as community colleges and universities to expand curricula.”


“With these programs, we’re empowering our employees to do the best work of their lives,” Oakley said. “That’s great for our employees – and a big win for Cardinal Health’s digital-first culture. And ultimately, it’s a win for health care.” 


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Cardinal Health is a distributor of pharmaceuticals, a global manufacturer and distributor of medical and laboratory products, and a provider of performance and data solutions for healthcare facilities. Subscribe to our News Alerts to get all of our latest news.