By Drew Ianni
March 17, 2021

CIO Jim Swanson On the Pandemic and Beyond

Mere days before the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine was approved by the FDA, the company’s Enterprise CIO Jim Swanson joined CDX at the Accelerate conference to discuss the future of healthcare. Though he wasn’t at liberty to discuss the vaccine at the time, Swanson shared insights into the transformative effects of the pandemic on Johnson & Johnson’s core business—and on technology’s ongoing role in advancing human health.

While Covid accelerated innovation and digital transformation at Johnson & Johnson, the company’s existing frameworks and groundwork helped it succeed during these challenging times. In addition to investments in areas like cloud computing, for instance, Swanson highlighted “digital twinning,” a data-driven strategy and operational efficiency that allows the company to simulate supply chain processes and test different parameters to optimize efficiency and improve output.

 What J&J’s CIO Learned From the Pandemic

Johnson & Johnson’s forward thinking and focus on data is clearly paying off, including in the all-important vaccine business. “[When] you think about what we do in our clinical trials, putting together real-world evidence data…and marrying that with our clinical data…we can actually accelerate clinical trials,” said Swanson. “We can look at enrollment, getting the right patients through those programs, accelerating the timeline, and [then] delivering that innovation to the marketplace.”

Swanson also underscored the importance of integrating business and technology strategies and aligning internally on “must wins,” which became especially relevant during the pandemic. “We all aligned on ensuring we had supply. We all aligned on ensuring employees were safe. We all aligned on making sure we can keep connectivity with our healthcare professionals and the patients that we serve. And that drove our agenda.”

Connection and communication have also required special care in this difficult period. For employees, Swanson and his tech leaders had to think about everything from virtual desktop infrastructure to cloud computing to video conferencing to taking their entire global services call center off site – and doing it all at scale. (Johnson & Johnson employs approximately 134,000 people.) And, of course, a large part of the company’s business requires effective, rapid, and secure communication with health care professionals.

Swanson outlined changes to operations in Latin America, where sales representatives had been doing an average of 3,000 in-person visits each day with healthcare professionals. When Covid hit, that number suddenly went to near zero. J&J quickly evolved its approach to enable the secure connectivity the reps needed. “What would have taken us probably months or years to test a pilot, we had to do in weeks. And what the organization started to learn is this ability to be agile, to be adaptive, to be minimal viable product, and then evaluate and then adapt as you go.”

Taking things virtual also yielded unexpected benefits. Under normal circumstances, surgeons attend in-person training sessions to learn how to use J&J equipment, but webinars allowed them to connect virtually with colleagues all around the world. “That was something they really loved. And something that actually brought more information they needed to make sure that they get the right outcomes for their patients.”

Looking Beyond the Pandemic

 As soon as Swanson became Johnson & Johnson’s Enterprise CIO, he created a statement of purpose with his team: We shape the future of healthcare by unlocking the power of people, technology, and insights. Now the pandemic has opened everyone’s eyes to what’s possible and there’s no slowing down, he said. “As our CEO said to me, ‘Wow, it’s amazing what we’ve been able to do with technology. The bar has been raised,’” recounted Swanson. So the question becomes: “How do we now take it to that next level? Because now the appetite is there. We understand the value, but we’re just starting at the tip of the iceberg. We expect so much more now.”

Beyond the tech, how can the company ensure it remains future-ready? Swanson pointed to recruiting new talent and reskilling existing talent. “We’ve been doing some pretty innovative things with AI and inference engines that allow us to take external de-identified data, marry that with our internal data, and look at what are the skill gaps and skill strengths we have in the organization.”

Swanson also emphasized the importance of putting diversity at the core of what the company does. “We make that a material effort–that we’re inclusive, where diversity of thought, diversity of gender, sexual orientation, diversity of geography, all those matter, and skill sets as well,” he said. “Because only then can you get the best outcomes.”

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