April 12, 2024

Johnson & Johnson’s CIO says employee upskilling is critical to transforming healthcare

When Jim Swanson rejoined Johnson & Johnson as Chief Information Officer in 2019 after nearly 15 years away from the pharmaceutical giant, he set three key goals.

Swanson sought to modernize J&J’s technology and ensure the company had the right foundation of systems and data to propel a company valued at more than $375 billion today. He also wanted to “innovate for impact,” meaning he didn’t just want to invest in the latest technology, but instead focus on technologies that would ultimately support better health outcomes.

For his third goal he found inspiration in his own education. At Drexel University, Swanson earned a bachelor’s degree in life sciences and biotechnology, as well as a master’s degree in computer science. He is drawn to the combination of science and technology, which has led him to encourage J&J’s 130,000 employees to add technical skills relevant to their area of ​​focus.

“When you apply technology, coupled with people’s domain expertise, you can truly reimagine and innovate rather than just improve incrementally,” says Swanson, previously CIO at Monsanto, Bayer Crop Science and for J&J’s pharmaceutical division. “We’ve seen a lot of value in thinking about bilingual skills, even to the point of building it into career paths and pathways.”

Being bilingual, as Swanson defines it for the purposes of our conversation, means having domain expertise as a scientist, or in departments from finance to marketing, and combining that knowledge with relevant technical insights. For such further training, employees can take interactive classes or watch videos developed by J&J and third-party vendors.

Swanson shared a few examples of how bilingual employees are essential to J&J’s success and the company’s mission. One is a research and development scientist who takes the time to learn to apply models that make it easier to identify molecules and can then accelerate research in a clinical setting. Another is a training specialist who adds augmented reality expertise and can therefore teach surgeons much faster than with traditional methods. Yet another is a finance professional who is adept at using forecasting models and can use them to generate meaningful insights that can support J&J’s business objectives.

With forecasting, an improvement in accuracy of just one to two percentage points could yield as much as $1.5 billion in financial improvement for a $90 billion company like J&J, Swanson says. “That is material for the company,” he says.

And while upskilling J&J’s workforce to better understand artificial intelligence is a priority, Swanson says adding technical skills is much broader than AI. Augmented reality and new technologies that help reshape J&J’s manufacturing processes are also important.

As part of its technology education campaign last year, J&J hosted its first global “learning day” for all employees. It has also had wider success, with almost half of its workforce using the company’s internal learning platform, J&J Learn. Meanwhile, employees using J&J’s digital bootcamp – courses that explain the basics of AI, automation, data and more – have completed nearly 30,000 courses. And about 20,000 employees have undergone generative AI training, which is necessary for those who want to leverage that technology.

To foster a culture of learning, Swanson works closely with senior leaders within J&J and with head of human resources Peter Fasolo, to align the training content and technical skills the company wants for its workforce. Swanson first tested his vision of connecting technical knowledge with domain expertise within his own department of approximately 4,000 employees, before expanding his knowledge to other corners of J&J.

“We are definitely on a journey and we are not done yet,” Swanson said. “We have a lot more to do. And I wouldn’t say we have perfection, but it has really picked up momentum.”

John Kel

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