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Astra Zeneca CDIO Cindy Hoots: We're aiming to leverage APIs in a much more self-service mode.

Digital driving things at a rate that we just haven't seen before: 2020 gave us a taste of that.

Pharmaceuticals heavyweight AstraZeneca is "really driving" to get citizen developers more and more technology across the multinational in a self-service mode using APIs, as the company starts thinking about technological integrations from a "far more strategic standpoint", says AstraZeneca CDIO Cindy Hoots.

Hoots, who leads digital and data strategy at the £106 billion by market capitalisation company, was speaking at MuleSoft's CONNECT event this week (May 19). She said: "One of the things that we're trying to do at AstraZeneca is to really drive self-service of technology. An API-led approach allows us to put technology in the hands of all of our employees, so that they can then work at the speed and the time that they are looking for, and aren't always as reliant on it to create custom code." She added: "This reusable component approach is really helping us to democratise technology, and really leverage it across our entire organisation."

The company, a Mulesoft customer for the past four years, and uses its application program interface (API) tools along with software like Snaplogic and Globalscape to integrate software, and exchange data and tools across its digital estate. As Hoots noted: "In working with MuleSoft, we've been able to think through how to go from a point-to-point or an enterprise service bus (ESB)-type approach into much more of an API-led strategy.

"The ability for us to pivot and be fast and nimble has really accelerated as we've matured our API strategy."

(An ESB architecture lets you integrate different applications by putting a communication bus between them so each application can talk to the bus. While providing a well defined, pluggable" system, ESB can become the bottleneck to implementing changes, with all required changes -- which might vary wildly across a business -- added to a typically slow-moving ESB change queue. Implementing multiple ESB instances to support multiple business domains can rapidly get very expensive and not always prove hugely cloud-friendly.)

See also: Q&A: Deryck Mitchelson, Director of National Digital & Information Security, NHS National Services Scotland.

The API strategy blueprint: Credit, MuleSoft.

This API-led strategy came in critical during the pandemic as supply chains faced abrupt upheaval, AstraZeneca CDIO Cindy Hoots said. As she put it: "Like so many, we found ourselves thrust into a new way of working in a matter of days, and making sure that our supply chains could continue to operate. Commercial fights were being shut down which carries a lot of our cargo... making sure that we could get into countries that were starting to close their borders was really important, given the life-saving nature of the medicines we provide.

"As a result, getting that real-time inventory view, and being able to exchange data with our co-manufacturers, our distribution, transportation companies, etc., was really, really important. Again, it's where we could leverage these API components to be able to share that data seamlessly across our broader ecosystem."

She added: "One of the things that we're really driving at AstraZeneca is how do we get citizen developers more and more technology integrated into the jobs within every function; it's no longer just reserved for IT.

"With the work that we're doing with MuleSoft and the API's, we're able to provide them an environment where they can -- in a much more self-service mode -- really leverage those API's, and make sure that when they're developing things, they're still doing it in a secure and safe way that gives us overall confidence of our overall security, but at the same time, gives us the time and the agility that they need to respond to quickly."

This is an approach that extends to R&D, she noted.

"Making medicines is really complex, whether it's through the identification of medicines, or clinical trials, getting regulatory approval, as well as mass producing the medicines that patients need. And therefore, up and down that value stream we're needing to share data on a much more regular and consistent basis. Having an API led approach allows us to really seamlessly flow that information across our enterprise..."

She added: "I would really encourage people to think about how do you drive simplicity? How do you increase reuse?' Because I think that's what gets speed. And I think when we think about digital, one of the biggest components is about driving things at a rate that we just haven't seen before: 2020 certainly gave us an example of what that could look like. But imagine if that's what we were doing every day, in the years ahead! One of the lessons learned that we've really gathered through this whole process is that this is not about the technology. It is really about the mindset shift. And thinking about your integrations from a far more strategic standpoint, rather than a tactical project to project approach of traditional integration [is critical].

"I think this reusable component and having people think about the integration at the beginning of the project, rather than just the end that's really going to make a difference", she concluded.

See also: Sol Rashidi, Chief Analytics Officer, Estée Lauder, on making a mess, building a data culture, playing pro rugby.