Marching Order: Johnson & Johnson’s new CIO, LaVerne Council – Part 2

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Less than one year ago, LaVerne Council joined Johnson & Johnson, charged with crafting a new IT strategy to drive the global enterprise. In part two of this two-part podcast, join host John Gallant and Council, who takes audience questions and shares:

  • Strategies for helping Johnson & Johnson leverage information across its diverse, global businesses.
  • How IT fulfills Johnson & Johnson’s company credo.
  • Insights on her greatest IT challenges.
  • Transcript:

    John Gallant: Hi, and welcome to Stories from the Trenches: The Change Artists Spotlight. I’m your host, John Gallant, and today we’re continuing our discussion with LaVerne Council, the CIO of Johnson & Johnson.

    You know one of the most important opportunities for a company as large and as distributed as J&J is around knowledge sharing, and during our discussion you mentioned a pretty innovative knowledge sharing system that’s in place. And I was hoping that you could expand on that a little, tell us a little bit more about that.

    LC: We actually implemented a product that will allow anyone to ask a question, and then based on folks that have given us access to their email or access to them, we will then begin the process of really data mining for answers to that question. And as was mentioned, it really did help us solve a very hairy issue for one of our products, and it just so happens that one of the associates had completed his thesis in college on that very topic, and they weren’t in the same sector, they weren’t in the same company, but through the use of this very sophisticated search technique, we were able to really come back with answers. So, we have now connected researchers from all over the world to information that they’re willing to open up and share with each other to answer some very, very tough questions. And it is based on some very sophisticated search capability. It has changed the scope of who researchers have to go to to have questions asked and answered, and it’s really creating a more robust community.

    JG: Now LaVerne, one of the things I know that’s very important at J&J is the J&J credo, the philosophy that drives the company. And a question that came in from one of our viewers over the web is how would you describe how IT employees at J&J make a difference in the lives of their customers and their community?

    LC: That’s an interesting question. The credo is the core value set within Johnson & Johnson, and I think it is what makes Johnson & Johnson a very different company and a special company, and people here don’t talk about it sort of nonchalantly. It becomes a core value set. And so when I think about the folks in technology and IT, I think about people that don’t just try to deliver projects, but they try to deliver the best that they can to their business leaders, and they’re trying to do it because ultimately they’re concerned about the patient and being able to help a discovery be made faster or being able to make sure that when that kid needs that cold medicine it’s available for them. People really take it to heart. And one of the things that really stood out to me is every year Johnson & Johnson puts out a very large brochure – probably as big as our annual report – on our community activities around the world. And you see in it the number of people that are volunteering their time and really getting involved in the community and making a difference, and in fact, we have a volunteer web location where people can go and find out where needs are needed, and you go and you see the cafeteria, and there’s always something going on where people are asking for volunteers or giving blood or just sharing amongst themselves. And so it’s a very giving environment, and the IT organization is no different. The people within the organization understand their purpose here. They’re very purposeful and get excited with every new product launch, get excited every time they hear that the company has made a great donation. When we had the new drug Prezista – which is a new HIV drug – there was a lot of elation over that drug. The conversation wasn’t about being a blockbuster, it was about helping people and changing a very debilitating disease in the world and helping on the continent of Africa. So, incredibly, incredibly involved. It’s natural. It comes from the heart, and it’s in the IT organization, as well as the whole organization.

    JG: Do you see technology, or perhaps talk about how technology is making a dramatic difference in the development of new pharmaceuticals and other products.

    LC: Oh it definitely is. I mean, there are things that without technology we couldn’t do, from everything from how we handle the CAD machines that draw and cut out and do the different things on our stents to ensuring that the right batches are made of certain products and the right constitutions are put together. It’s beyond the point of where you want to have any kind of human error, and you need to be able to ensure that you can track it, and that’s where technology comes in. But it goes even further when you look at discovery and being able to understand different kinds of molecular structures and … it’s fascinating to me as I start to look at technology that now takes – there are things that would take us a year – and this is no exaggeration – a year in previous ways that we would analyze different molecules. The things we can do now from a year – 365 days – now we can do it in 15 days. And so that means the opportunity for the scientist to try different kinds of combinations and see if they can come with the right one. Time goes down. And now from 15 days to a day. The opportunities are just huge. And so if you can get the right information to the right people and give them a chance to – finding a discovery, as many scientists will tell you, sometimes it’s hit and miss. And so you’ve just got to keep hitting. And if you can shorten that time, you know they’re going to get more hits if they could just get more chances to try. And so that’s really what technology is about, is creating that opportunity to get more credibility in information and give them more opportunity to have more hits, and just keep having more tries.

    JG: I know in support of that, that J&J has made a big commitment to grid computing and that’s something – grid really isn’t a technology that’s made a great leap into the commercial side. Talk a little bit about your experiences and successes with grid.

    LC: Frankly, grid is sort of a – if you think about it – a common sense view of using assets when they’re not being used, and tying desktops and laptops together to create, really, a super computer capability for processing when folks aren’t using their systems. And, frankly, just on the topic that I was just mentioning, the grid computing really has changed in a revolutionary way how we do molecular discovery and giving us a chance for those tries, for those hits. And it’s interesting that you don’t really have to go out and buy more hardware to make grid work, it’s just how you link and utilize your computer and the processing power of the various computers and assets that you have around your business. We have extensively used grid computing in our R&D business. We are continuing to expand that beyond that and expand it globally, but it has been a major success here.

    JG: LaVerne, I think this is a great question from one of our emailers – what would you say is J&J’s most significant IT challenge today?

    LC: You know, I think for us, because we are in a fairly complex environment, and frankly, support really three very different business models, it’s hard to culminate it to one. We’re not just a consumer healthcare company. We’re not just a medical device company and diagnostics. We’re not just a pharmaceutical or nutritionals company. We’re all three. And so it’s hard to culminate it to one thing. I think from a technology point of view, though, that probably the biggest issue we’re going to have to address is how do we best leverage our knowledge across the enterprise and around the world, and how do we do this in a way that we increase our capabilities and increase our solutions usage and reusage in various areas that we hadn’t thought about before around the world? We’re a global company and it’s really important, I think, from a technology point of view, that we stay with the business, but also get ahead of the business in helping allay the infrastructure that’s needed to drive to some of these new breakthroughs that I think will be coming in the next five to 10 years. So, probably our biggest issue is just being global, acting global, thinking global, and figuring out how to get that best global leverage.

    JG: LaVerne, one of our emailers has asked, ‘What role do you see for J&J in providing a means for electronic healthcare records?’ Obviously, a great number of people concerned about the state of the healthcare industry in the U.S. and potential behind electronic healthcare records. What is J&J’s role there?

    LC: It’s an interesting one, because as a healthcare company, we want to ensure that the right information is available to support the patient at all times. And as you know, our credo starts out with the doctors, the nurses and the patients being critical to us. And so as we have been looking at the whole area of medical alignment in technology and our whole health information technology initiatives here, it’s not just about electronic healthcare records with us, it’s more about the whole efficacy and ensuring that the right information is available at the right time for the patient. So I think our role is really more around aligning to ensure not only that the right information is there, but the privacy of that patient is protected, that they are getting the information that’s germane to their needs, and they’re getting it at the right time. And that as a manufacturer and a researcher, we’re sharing with the parties what they need to know in order to make this a useful process for everyone involved. Frankly, our role should be that people can get what they need as quickly as possible, as effectively as possible and increase that process flow. And I think if everyone looks at electronic healthcare records, we’re really trying to focus on better information getting to the provider as quickly as possible and really eliminating the use of a lot of paper and really eliminating opportunities for mistakes. And so our role is sharing and sharing what we know and being a part of the solution.

    JG: LaVerne, I want to switch and focus a little bit on you personally in your role as CIO. You’ve had a great career leading up to the CIO role, but what’s different about being a CIO? What’s different from what you had envisioned going into the role?

    LC: Well, you know, I think every job, especially as you aspire and move through different levels in the corporation, your role changes every time, and so does your complexity. I think really what’s different is that all eyes are on you. Generally, what happens is you might run a group or a department, and your team knows you and your peers know you, but at the end of the day, as the CIO, people really are expecting you to be the visionary and the core leader and be the role model for what the organization is trying to project in information technology. And I think it’s a critical role, from the vantage point of not only are you the leader of a large group of very, very bright people, but you’re also a business leader in a corporation that has a lot of complexity. And assets – you have a responsibility in that role as well. So, you end up wearing many hats. You end up having to think about things broader than just the project or the team that you have and how you fit and how you’re going to make the organization better, not just in what your role is as a department lead, but what your role is as an officer and as an executive in the corporation.

    JG: LaVerne, thanks for joining us.

    LC: Hey, thank you. I really appreciate talking to you again, John.

    JG: Thank you for tuning into this podcast. If you want to hear more from LaVerne Council, please listen to Part I of this two-part series. For more Stories from the Trenches, or to learn more about HP Change Artists, please go to For HP Change Artists, I’m John Gallant.

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    Posted in: Connected Social Media, Healthcare, HPE - Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Technology