Pharmacy giant CVS Health will open digital innovation lab in Boston

CVS store
CVS will open a new technology development center in Boston this winter. AP/FILE

Rhode Island-based CVS Health, operator of Minute Clinics and the country’s second-biggest drugstore chain, is planning to open a technology development center in Boston this winter. Chief Digital Officer Brian Tilzer tells me that the CVS Health Digital Innovation Lab will fit about 100 people — some of whom will move from CVS HQ in Woonsocket, and some of whom will be new hires. “We may not hire all 100 next year, but we’re going to hire a lot,” Tilzer says. The lab’s focus will be on “building customer-centric experiences in health care.”

Since Tilzer arrived at the company from Staples early last year, he says CVS has “tripled our investment in digital and multichannel e-commerce,” creating apps for its various business units; testing videoconferencing with docs in some of its Minute Clinics; and communicating about prescriptions via text messages. The goal, he says, is a “seamless experience” whether you’re interacting with the company on the web, via a mobile phone, or in one of its 7,800 stores. (And, yes, Tilzer says “seamless” will soon entail delivering all those offers on CVS’s notoriously long receipts straight to your smartphone.)

Brian Tilzer, Chief Digital Officer at CVS Health. (Photo by Scott Kirsner, BetaBoston.) Brian Tilzer, chief digital officer at CVS Health. (Photo by Scott Kirsner, BetaBoston.)

But as CVS continues to explore what Tilzer calls the “digital enablement of health care,” he decided that a location in Boston made sense. The new 15,000-square foot office will be at 116 Huntington Ave., “centrally located to the medical community in Longwood and the tech community in Cambridge,” he says. The Boston presence, he says, “will help us attract additional talent and increase our connectivity to those communities.”

Tilzer, who was formerly Staples’ head of e-commerce, says he’ll spend time at the new office, which will be staffed with techies, product managers, digital strategists, and user experience designers. One big goal, he adds, is to connect with startups that are developing new health care-related products and services. “We can be an ideal learning lab for early-stage companies,” he says.

Tilzer says that CVS has another interesting project in the works: “lab stores” in Boston, New York, and Menlo Park, Calif. As CVS develops its own new technologies, or collaborates with outside partners, the lab stores will provide a “live environment” to “explore whether they can be meaningful,” Tilzer says. All three locations will open next year, he says.

CVS is #12 on the Fortune 500 list, with $127 billion in 2013 revenues. That’s a lot of greeting cards, Swedish Fish, and Prozac…

Scott Kirsner writes the Innovation Economy column every Sunday in the Boston Globe, in which he tracks entrepreneurship, investment, and big company activities around New England.
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