Pharmaceutical and consumer packaged goods giant Johnson & Johnson has held a position on the Top 25 Supply Chains list for the past dozen years, dating back to when Gartner first began compiling its rankings, and a lot of the credit for the company’s solid reputation in supply chain circles is due to Kathy Wengel, worldwide vice president of Johnson & Johnson Supply Chain. Her 28-year career at J&J has included leadership roles in such areas as operations, quality, new products, and engineering, and in 2009 she co-led the design of J&J’s new enterprise supply chain operating model.

In addition to her extensive supply chain responsibilities, Wengel is also quite involved in mentoring roles at J&J, including her executive sponsorship of J&J’s Women’s Leadership Initiative and her leadership of J&J’s Women in Science, Technology, Math, Manufacturing and Design (WiSTEM2D) program. She also serves on the advisory board of the AWESOME (Achieving Women’s Excellence in Supply Chain Operations, Management and Education) organization.

In naming J&J to the Top 25 Supply Chains of 2016 (the company finished in 21st place), Gartner’s analysts in particular praised J&J’s deployment of digital technologies to improve supplier collaboration, as well as its use of the Internet of Things, serialization and track-and-trace technologies throughout its supply chain. In an interview with IndustryWeek, Wengel talked about the impact technology is having on Johnson & Johnson.

“Within the supply chain of Johnson & Johnson, my team has responsibility to work with R&D to bring to life every product that J&J makes around the world – more than 300,000 different SKUs – and to make those, test those and deliver those to customers everywhere in the world,” Wengel explains. “To give you a sense of scale, we have 250,000 customers, and we do about 100,000 orders per day on a very globally balanced scale. So you can imagine that technology can create some big opportunities for us. It’s not only developing strategies of where do we put our plants or how do we optimize our logistics networks. It’s truly built around how technology will help change our innovation strategy.”

At J&J, supply chain refers to the total end-to-end process, and thus Wengel has responsibility for planning, manufacturing (both internal and external), direct material procurement, distribution, and customer service for the entire corporation. Additionally, she adds, her responsibility includes quality and compliance, including for J&J’s R&D and commercial business, environmental health, safety and sustainability for the corporation, and worldwide engineering and real estate facility management. All told, then, roughly 45% of J&J’s employees are inside Wengel’s team, organized to match the company’s business segments: pharmaceuticals, medical devices, and consumer products.

“As we look forward at J&J, we have been a healthcare company for 130 years, but more and more we see ourselves not only as a healthcare company but also as a technology company,” she says. “Technology is dramatically changing the landscape of what’s possible for us—in how we can approach problems of global health through Big Data and analytics and being able to look at patient populations in different ways, all the way through to how we design products to be smart products that use technology on an ongoing basis to improve the patient or the customer outcome.”

Within J&J, there are three main areas where Internet of Things (IoT) technologies are having an impact, she notes:

“One is the end-to-end supply chain customer type technology, whether it’s traceability, on-shelf availability, the assurance that each node of the supply chain is what it should be or what we want it to be or when we want it to be there, and the ability for IoT to give us data and access real-time in that regard.

“Second is in the core product technologies that we sell, an area where R&D certainly owns more of that decision-making process.

“And third is our operational technology, whether it’s how we run our plants and deploy technology in each of our three different businesses, or how we use the IoT in our plants to give us better data and make better real-time decisions.“ (You can learn more about J&J's IoT projects in "The Healing Power of the IoT.")

As noted earlier, Wengel is a passionate advocate of the role of women in industry, and a year ago was named as one of the Women of Excellence by the National Association for Female Executives (NAFE). She proudly points to the fact that the number of women in every leadership role she’s held at J&J for the past 15 years has substantially increased. At a recent speech explaining her role as head of J&J’s WiSTEM2D program, Wengel said, “Creating a truly healthy society requires unlocking the talent and creativity of the entire population.”