Three years ago, Johnson & Johnson (J&J) set out to apply intelligent automation (IA) to every aspect of its business. As the global COVID-19 pandemic was beginning to spread, the company, one of the world’s largest suppliers of pharmaceuticals, medical devices, and consumer packaged goods, needed to reduce costs, speed up tasks, and improve the accuracy of its core business operations.

Robotic process automation (RPA) was already gaining traction as organizations sought to apply software “robots” to automate rules-based business processes. But organizations like J&J wanted to take automation further. By combining RPA with machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI), they sought to automate more complex tasks. The opportunity led J&J’s Ajay Anand and Stephen Sorenson to place a very big bet in 2021.

“The one way to get attention in J&J from your very senior leaders is with the size of the impact that you could have,” says Anand, the pharmaceuticals’ vice president of global services strategy and transformation. “Generally, J&J prefers everything in billions.”

Anand and Sorenson, the company’s senior vice president of technology services, supply chain, data integration, and reliability engineering, proposed the creation of an enterprise-wide Intelligent Automation Council that they would chair. And they said they would deliver half a billion dollars of impact over the following three years. The team has already nearly hit that mark. Anand notes that, in a recent review, an executive committee member asked them to double that number based on the current pace.

Early intelligent automation roadblocks

Thanks to the work of the Intelligent Automation Council, J&J is now applying IA to everything from basic business processes, to chatbots that can help employees and customers, to algorithms that can monitor the company’s supply chain and help it adjust to changing conditions — like a doubling of the demand for Tylenol in the early days of the pandemic.

Stephen Sorenson, SVP of technology services, supply chain, data integration, and reliability engineering, Johnson & Johnson

Johnson & Johnson

But when Anand and Sorenson helped J&J take its first steps on its automation journey, they quickly ran into roadblocks.

“We were offshoring and using low-cost labor and trying to simplify our processes, but it was very difficult to scale and turnover was high,” Sorenson says. “We had this scenario where we were constantly retraining people and exception processes were killing us.”

It’s difficult to imagine just how many exceptions a process has until you actually execute on it or train people to do it, Sorenson explains. Exceptions can gum up even seemingly simple tasks, like sending confirmation forms. Typos, a new job title — any little thing could send those forms straight into the error queue, Sorenson says.

“We tried to automate them and what we realized was that people didn’t know their business processes as well as they thought they did,” he explains. “They knew their jobs and they could get work from point A to point Z, but if you tried to automate that, very few of the automations had an easy path to the end.”

It didn’t take long to realize that the traditional approach to mapping business processes — sitting down with employees, understanding how they go about their work, and capturing that — wasn’t going to give the automation team what they needed. To get a complete view of business processes, J&J brought in a task mining tool.

“We picked a handful of employees who were willing to partner with us in the early stages and we went through all of their privacy concerns and trained them, then we put this tool on their desktop to record the actual activity,” Anand explains. “When they were starting a specific process, they would hit record, and then we would capture it on this tool. We ended up creating the swim lane and all the documentation associated with it.”

Rather than interviewing the employees about the process up front, the team took the recordings and reviewed them with employees, asking whether there were any variations that weren’t captured that they wanted to share.

Adopting a digital-first mindset

J&J started using RPA for simple business process tasks such as moving documents, filling out spreadsheets, sending key messages, email integrations, and the like. It grew from there.

Ajay Anand, VP of global services strategy and transformation, Johnson & Johnson

Johnson & Johnson

“When we looked at all of our business processes, we were also very keen on ways in which we might be able to reimagine them with a digital-first lens,” says Anand, pointing to invoice-to-cash as a key example of the company’s new perspective. Like any company, when executing that process, J&J sometimes had errors or disputes with customers.

“By reimagining those processes with a digital-first mindset, we were able to look at things end-to-end and look for places where we are not only just able to automate, but also incorporate some intelligence,” he says. “Can we predict the customers with which we may have some disputes, and can we start taking some steps, proactively?”

By applying intelligent automation to invoice-to-cash, J&J was able to increase cash collection, reduce the error rate, and reduce the number of work hours and dollars spent to achieve the same results.

Anand explains that the core of J&J’s digital-first mindset around intelligent automation is 3E: experience, effectiveness, and efficiency. Does the automation change the experience of employees, customers, and suppliers? Does it make processes more effective and more efficient?

Success flowed from small wins

Sorenson says the team learned that the key to successful automation, as with many IT projects, was starting small, getting wins, and educating people about the possibilities.

“We had a saying, ‘Don’t try to get a home run.’ Just get on base, get the players on base, and we’ll move them around, start getting some hits. And then we’ll start getting some runs,” Sorenson says. “That really helped people think they didn’t have to worry about everything, they just needed to get these few steps automated and then we can see where we can take it from there.”

Sorenson notes that the small wins were able to help the automation team earn trust, but they also generated data that allowed them to show that the digital-first, machine-first mindset led to more accurate results.

“If you thought about it differently, you could actually automate the steps so that they were more accurate and build in detection so that you could find issues where things were failing historically, or even reconciliation steps that allowed us to confirm that things were working all along,” Sorenson says.

Pretty soon, as trust grew, the conversations were no longer about convincing stakeholders about the value of automation; they were about what else the team could do.

Anand notes that managing fears by showing examples to peers and partners was key.

“When people saw those examples, that really inspired them,” Anand says. “There was always this little fear that automation means people are going to lose their jobs. And they were able to see that it actually moved employees to more higher-order work and freed them up to do more innovation.”

Artificial Intelligence, Robotic Process Automation

Most people wouldn’t consider diving in a flimsy cage near an aggressive shark. After all, a strong cage is an essential part of that experience. When you know you’ll be swimming in chummed waters, the quality of the cage’s design and construction suddenly becomes crucial — and the open ocean is not the place to make your safety checks.

Enterprise data is no different. In a world full of cyber threats, running a business is difficult enough without taking unnecessary risks. Much like the diver’s cage, the IT infrastructure you choose can make a critical difference in data protection. How well-protected is your data? And how quickly can you restore things to normal should something go wrong? You need to answer these questions now, before your defenses are breached.

If your IT organization is like most, you’ve been accumulating data protection solutions over the years. Now you find yourself saddled with rigid, siloed infrastructure based on an equally rigid backup strategy. If it feels like inadequate protection, that’s because it is. You’re constantly stuck in maintenance mode, with disparate, multi-vendor backup and recovery systems that are complex and expensive to maintain. Multiple touch points of administration slow down production, and the costs of software licensing, disruptive upgrades, and capacity over-provisioning add up fast.

Hybrid cloud multiplies your challenges

As your organization leverages the cloud to grow your business, you start generating volumes of production data that must be efficiently protected as you scale. But protecting and managing apps and data in a hybrid cloud can prove even more complex and costly than legacy on-prem solutions. You need to deal with:

Growing cyberthreats. Ever-increasing ransomware attacks affect every industry. With data distributed across multiple locations on-premises and in the cloud, IT leaders need a solution to effectively protect their data against ransomware and malware threats.Siloed data. Data that is difficult to access increases cost and risk while lowering efficiency. With the proliferation of data infrastructure, data is increasingly likely to be siloed by location, owner, data type, management platform, and more. IDC finds that companies on average must manage and protect 14-20 different data silos. This level of complexity severely inhibits the innovation and business value that data offers — while increasing IT expense, risk of attack, and potential data loss. In response, IT leaders need platforms to unify data and eliminate siloed infrastructure.Inconsistent protection policies. Data protection across on-premises and cloud tends to be inconsistently enforced and complex to manage. Often, there are no common protection policies, creating a corresponding increase in risk for your data. IT leaders need a solution that unifies management across hybrid cloud.

Backup as a service solves many challenges

Agile, resilient data protection is key to always-on availability for data and applications in today’s dynamic hybrid cloud environments. While every organization has its own set of requirements, almost all focus on cost efficiency, simplicity, performance, scalability, and future-readiness when architecting a data protection strategy and evaluating new technologies. These days, you can solve for all these criteria with a pay-as-you-go, backup as a service solution.

Modern backup as a service solutions are designed to support today’s challenging IT environments by delivering five key benefits:

Simplicity. Simplicity should be at the top of your list for an as-a-service data protection offering. Traditional backup approaches are notorious for their complexity, requiring multiple backup tools to manage operations across hybrid cloud. This fragmented approach inhibits innovation because you must divert time and energy to configuring, initializing, and managing separate operating systems and establishing best practices.Consistent protection. You should be able to deploy your solution quickly and manage it simply via a single console. Global protection policy and automation help to ensure consistent protection for your on-prem and cloud workloads. Users can visualize multiple VMs, data stores, or cloud native workloads from a single dashboard; this allows execution of backup and recovery for operations and applies appropriate protection when required.Meeting RTO/RPO requirements. A modern backup and recovery service leverages consumption-based pricing and efficient data mobility to eliminate complexity and free customers from the day-to-day hassles and operational costs of backup infrastructure. And it’s flexible: customers should be able to restore instantly using snapshots or recover workloads rapidly on-premises and leverage the cloud for long-term, cost-effective data retention.High efficiency. Space-efficient backups deliver better storage economics as compared to alternate backup solutions. Your backup data should be stored in a compressed, de-duplicated format that helps to drive down the cost of long-term retention and reduce backup storage costs. Additional storage efficiency benefits include:Reduced network bandwidth costsEfficient data transfers and faster backup completion using only incremental changesFaster restores using only missing blocks from the cloud store for recoveryIncreased capacity with predictable costs and cloud scaleComprehensive data management. The most advanced backup as a service solutions integrate with comprehensive cloud data services offerings to orchestrate compute, provision storage resources, configure networking, and protect workloads with a unified experience. This creates a single, company-wide data management strategy that breaks down data silos and complexity with self-service agility and a cloud operational experience everywhere.

Protection against ransomware

For virtually every company, the question is not if, but when, a ransomware attack will occur. We’ve looked at this issue in detail, but the key takeaway is that IT leaders need a robust data protection solution to effectively counter this metastasizing threat.

Leading backup as a service solutions efficiently protect backup data from cyberattacks like ransomware by keeping data hidden from attackers. After all, ransomware can’t infect and encrypt what it cannot access. Your backup and recovery solution should be able to create backup stores which are not directly accessible by the operating system. It should also provide configurable backup data immutability to prevent a backup being deleted or modified before the designated retention date.

HPE leads on backup as a service

HPE Backup and Recovery Service delivers the simplicity of the cloud experience while seamlessly protecting on-prem and cloud-native workloads. The solution can meet any backup SLA and is managed from a single console. HPE Backup and Recovery Service sets up in minutes with no additional proxies, virtual appliances, media servers, or software. IT leaders can experience the benefits of HPE Backup and Recovery Service for themselves — including all features and support — with a 90-day free trial.

The bottom line

Data plays an increasingly important role in today’s modern enterprise. As organizations leverage the hybrid cloud to grow and innovate, the volume of data requiring protection continues to expand, and providing that protection becomes more complex and costly. When architecting a data protection strategy and evaluating new technologies, a modern backup as a service solution offers cost efficiency, simplicity, performance, scalability, and future-readiness.


About Ashwin Shetty

Ashwin Shetty is a Product Marketing Manager for HPE Storage. In this role, Ashwin is responsible for helping customers understand the value of modernizing data protection with HPE Backup and Recovery Service, HPE StoreOnce, HPE RMC, and HPE StoreEver Tape. Prior to joining HPE, Ashwin worked in the sales and marketing groups of Oracle and HCL.

Data Management, HPE, IT Leadership