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Nearly seven years after the merger that brought together some of the biggest names in retail pharmacy and healthcare, Walgreens Boots Alliance (WBA) operates globally with greater agility after a digital transformation considered to be one of the largest that the industry has seen.

However, in the early days of WBA, the leadership team was quick to identify that they needed best-in-class strategic partners to handle this transformation journey with them and help meet the company’s ambitions for technical and product innovation. 

Today, Alex Gourlay, senior advisor at WBA, reflects on the process that led to the birth of the relationship with TCS.

“We went looking for partners who could really step up their game, who could really help us to not just put the companies together... but, more importantly, could really drive the transformation so that we could continue to develop our purpose, as a pharmacy and patient-centric company, to take better care of communities across the world.”

Going beyond the IT challenge

As with many digital transformation journeys, the main focus at WBA was on the IT structure required to create a modern and lean enterprise, with the right systems and teams in place to best serve the global customer base.

As the relationship between WBA and TCS deepened, it became clear that the merger presented a challenge that went far beyond IT systems. Gourlay credits some key attributes of the TCS team that led to a wider review of operations. “The quality of the listening, the curiosity, the coming up with solutions to the value challenge.” 

For Shankar Narayanan, President & Global Head-Retail CPG & Travel at TCS, the evolving of the relationship over time with WBA has been critical to the success of both organizations.

“At the beginning of such a relationship,” Shankar says, “the value is about our ability to deliver business and technology needs, on time, on budget, with very high quality.

“As the relationship grows, the value shifts to how we leverage our contextual knowledge gained over the years, and how we participate in your growth and transformation agenda. For example, how can we help you improve your patient care and customer experience?

“The real asset at the end of all of this is the endorsement from WBA leaders and the continued trust in us as a strategic partner.” 


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Identifying priorities and sharing risk

One of the major challenges in transforming a global giant like WBA is prioritizing where to begin the project. Which IT systems have the biggest potential to help the company succeed? Which business practices could be improved in the name of progress? Where are the quick wins that will build confidence in the transformation journey and momentum to drive further change? 

Gourlay paints a clear picture of where the biggest leaps were made as WBA shaped itself to meet its digital goals.

“There were really two key projects which were fundamental to the ongoing, and so far, successful transformation of Walgreens Boots Alliance. The first one was the new operating model for IT. It’s an area where TCS had a lot of previous experience and brought a lot of credibility to the table.”

Beyond the IT operating model, TCS revolutionized processes at the core of WBA business operations. ’Pharmacy renewal’ is a business-critical, sector-specific system that enables the company’s pharmacists to do their jobs more effectively.

“The second one was fundamental to our business,” says Gourlay. “TCS demonstrated experience in pharmacy systems. But, most importantly, the TCS teams demonstrated a willingness to share the risk with us, to make sure that, as we went forward, we were able to work together to make sure that we deliver this program.

“But what was even more interesting from our point of view was that TCS wanted to use this new relationship to further evolve its own model, and to become more innovative using new technologies like machine learning to make sure that value is created over the long term.”


From the TCS perspective, Shankar says taking a broader approach to the transformation journey at WBA has brought benefits to both companies. “We developed deep contextual knowledge of the WBA pharmacy system over several years. We leveraged that knowledge to put together a very strong solution to migrate from the age-old legacy platform to modern technologies.

“Over 30% of WBA’s operations have benefitted from cognitive insights and automation, thereby improving the stability and reliability of processes and systems while also providing real-time information to the business.

“And we're very confident that the system will be implemented over the next few months to all Walgreen’s 9,000 stores and start delivering phenomenal benefits to the WBA business and its customers.”

Bringing it all together

After completing one of the biggest digital transformations in retail pharmacy, WBA is now an organization where digital IT and purpose-driven business systems are central to value creation. As a pharmacy-led business, WBA is now able to leverage real-time data and streamlined product innovation to provide the service that its customers and patients demand.

Gourlay says the sense of company purpose has never been clearer—a testament to a long-term partnership built on trust and shared beliefs. 


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