But J&J has yet to prove beyond a doubt that business and technology managers can identify only the most critical projects and execute change without distracting business managers from the core challenges facing their businesses. "The fact that J&J has been able to stick to its knitting on information management strategy is a good sign," says Roddy Martin, life science analyst for AMR Research Inc. "Many organizations are not getting that right."
Insiders like J&J's Selquist also worry that today's tough economy might require the reforms to move faster. Whether J&J can do that without overloading the organization and further taxing its fragile culture, given the company's complexity, is uncertain. "We need to be able to work at a pace our businesses can handle, workload-wise, and financially," Selquist says. "My continual worry is whether we are taking on the right levels of work, and the right level of expense, over the proper period of time."
Undoubtedly, J&J's executives would prefer these worries to the IT jumble J&J was facing in 1996. In some ways, CEO Larsen has already gotten what he wanteda way to selectively centralize IT without alienating the rest of the company. Good management has been key. "JoAnn doesn't act like a czar, she acts in a very collaborative way," says Bill McComb, president of J&J's McNeil Consumer Healthcare unit. That kind of skill, it's turning out, is worth its weight in Tylenol for J&J.
ROBERT SCHEIER is a veteran business and technology writer and editor whose work has appeared in eWEEK, VARBusiness and Computerworld. Comments on this story can be sent to email@example.com.