While managing the IT needs of some 8,300 employees with a barely $90 million technology budget, Lemelle knew that his having a 118-year-old $47 billion corporate parent in J&J was both a blessing and a curse.
It's a blessing in the vastness of people and resources that his parent could offer him, but a curse in that mining such an ocean of data is expensive, time-consuming and difficult.
"The good thing about Johnson & Johnson is that, no matter the problem, someone somewhere here has already done it," Lemelle said. "It's just a matter of finding it and stealing it shamelessly."
The classroom version of knowledge management today typically envisions a huge data warehouse where all files, memos and design plans are all stored and analyzed.
All employees, contractors and freelancers are to write debriefing memos on every project and pour it into that database so other employees can benefit from the knowledge.
But like so many technology plans that sound great summarized on a whiteboard, the pharmaceutical giant found it lacking when implemented in the real world of deadlines, P&Ls and overlong TODO lists.
"We used to have a database system called Knowledge Network. It was all about sharing ideas and leveraging concepts" and was similar in scope to those whiteboard concepts, Lemelle said. "It lasted about five years before it died a very slow death on the vine."
So if the new ways lost to the old ways, what won? The old ways, with the new ways playing a deferential role in the background.
J&J does have a mega-database, but it's limited to documents and pieces of information that were already in electronic form.
"We do now have a database of all the existing databases that exist within all the different J&J companies," Lemelle said, which is not trivial given that there are more than 190 J&J companies within the pharmaceutical empire.
"Finding out who has done what today is easier than it has ever been," the CIO said.
But instead of forcing employees and contractors to meticulously log every change and every discussion, the system listens in at places where those conversations naturally happen.
"We use a series of databases that capture methodologies. It listens in on forums where there is knowledge-sharing all the time and where the knowledge-sharing happens in realtime," Lemelle said.
"It's all about the various forums we already have. For example, we have the Medical Devices and Diagnostics [group] that looks at the identification of applications for us to collaborate on. We have actual teams that have formed from these opportunities."
Sometimes those discussions are about applications, sometimes about business issues and often about personnel.
"You are already providing information to associates in your organizations. What countries should we launch our products in? What countries would be most receptive to our products? There's a lot of work involved in looking in many different databases. Is there a resource, a person who has knowledge of the local authority's processes?" Lemelle asked.
"Those things now happen through a myriad of different people. I want to be able to simplify that and to be able to ask questions, to search all different databases that have those answers at once."
Matt Brown, a senior analyst with Forrester Research who tracks business intelligence issues, including knowledge management, said the Ethicon experience is not atypical.
"It's a very common thing for a large organization to say it wants one big repository. But the problem with that approach is that it ignores things like who's contributing what and are they willingly contributing. It waters down the information," Brown said.
"With the collaborative approach, you see a lot more cooperation and adoption among employees because it's being deployed on a more local basis. You see more success in the companies that aren't IP-centric. There's more success with the specific business unit and collaboration approach."
Lemelle's informational challenges are not only about collecting, analyzing and accessing data from people and programs.
Recent portable hardware changes?such as PDAs, cell phones, pagers and some desktops?have given J&J employees the advantages of "information anywhere anytime" while leaving the associated data headaches to Lemelle's team.
The Ethicon network today is based on a Microsoft Windows NT and Citrix environment, with large doses of Oracle databases and Cognos for data mining.
Lemelle's top priority (what he dubs his "golden asset") is that he wants to own the intersections between the major applications that J&J uses.
Deploying or tweaking those apps is a fine job for systems integrators, he said, but making them all share information so the company can have the much-desired single-view of the customer.
Enterprise app consolidation today has delivered a handful full of software companies "that can make 60 to 75 percent of the applications that your business needs," Lemelle said, citing SAP, Oracle and Siebel Systems as examples. "But in between is what is interesting because they don't cover end-to-end processes."
He offered an example: "Let's say I want to dollarize one of my customers. We have to link our sales systems?probably Siebel?with budgeting systems, to get the cost of the product versus what you're selling it for. We need to look at the order to cash system and your customer database because that's where the ordering takes place. We're looking for the automation of the capability to link all these processes together."
This is the only way, Lemelle said, to truly identify and understand a company's best customers and to tell if the customer's largest customer by revenue might actually be delivering a very small dollar of profit.
"We need to be able to calculate the value of our customers globally, wherever they happen to be," he said. "The people who need to access that information to make better decisions, they have to have what they need in whatever format they need."
Ethicon has dedicated intranets for most major process areas, including sales/marketing, research and technology, and Lemelle wants them to all be more integrated. "I need to get all the information I need within two clicks," he said.