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“Our goal is to be the best-connected company”

Having been in the hot seat at Johnson and Johnson Limited for close to a decade, Mr. Narendra Ambwani, Managing Director, Johnson and Johnson Limited, talks about how IT has made a difference to J&J’s business. by Deepali Gupta

What are your business goals?

The search for new products and brand building exercises are an ongoing process. We keep these undercover until the day of release. Our broad objective is to grow sales and profits in double digits.

How has IT helped J&J and in what way will it contribute going forward?

IT has brought efficiency and speed into the system making it transparent. If there is a product inauguration in the morning, sometimes people can access its pictures in the afternoon over the J&J Intranet. Tsunami contributions were also tracked on this system. People could see what the company did, who contributed and the quantum of funds generated and sent. Forms, leave applications, room bookings--everything to do with the company is available on the system.

Strategically IT is beneficial because someone would otherwise have to spend a lot of time performing the tasks that the system performs. If data is not in a consolidated format, someone has to collate it. Technology is used to consolidate and present information so that it is easy for the marketing manager or any other person to access it.

Does that include business reports?

This includes report generation, information analysis and maintaining consumer contacts. Customers can now call on a toll free number and data regarding their suggestions and complaints are tracked by the system. We can, as the management, review these complaints and take corrective action much faster. This leads to product improvement and consequently improves business.

How often do you use your IT enabled services?

As often as is required. The sales team typically accesses the system more frequently. At the top level I go through the sales figures daily. We examine several parameters at different levels on a monthly basis. Line Item Fill Rate for example is a service measure of the company that tracks how many orders are completed on time. The use of the technology across the entire company is a cultural change in itself.

What have you done to enable this transformation?

IT investment at Johnson & Johnson Limited began in 1996. We were early movers in using the information available on the Internet for business advantage. I myself have been a big promoter of IT. Five years ago we put a smart card solution in place to control entry. We installed SAP two years back. Now all our conference rooms, my room etc. are [WLAN] enabled so that anyone can log into the intranet and even surf the Internet from his or her laptop.

Five years ago, we had cyber cafes in all our company offices, so that people could connect and learn to send e-mail. We also had a policy for employees to acquire personal PCs, initially at the company's cost, which could be paid off over a period of five years. So most of our employees have computers at home because of the low starting cost. Now we are extending this scheme to workers on the shop floor, because the change has to happen at every level.

Can you cite an IT implementation that redefined business for J&J?

IT has enabled communication to a level that would have been inconceivable earlier. People within the company are connected to the database and distributors get relevant data through the system. Retail points will get connected in the future. Our worldwide goal is to be the best-connected company.

For example when a distributor has been invoiced or a product has been shipped or a debit has been made, the distributor receives an SMS.

We also had an initiative where a sales team visited doctors with regard to our baby products. They filed their reports, on the move, over the Internet.

Do you insist on an ROI assessment of your IT investment?

Over the years I have sanctioned perhaps Rs 50 crores for IT alone. Initially the senior management asked me this question, but it is extremely difficult to do such an assessment. Of course we did some of it based on theoretical assumptions [such as value of efficiency], but come to think of it, there are many secondary benefits of IT that we cannot incorporate in such an assessment.

What role does the IT Head play in J&J?

He already is a board member who discusses all issues like other business heads. The relationship we share is that I pose a business challenge and he comes up with a solution. There is a lot to be learnt from IT Heads.

Deepali Gupta can be reached at:

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Indian Express - Business Publications Division

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