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Using Data Science to Touch All of Humanity: Pallaw Sharma's Leadership Journey Using Data Science to Touch All of Humanity: Pallaw Sharma's Leadership Journey

How can we solve real-world challenges that are, in Pallaw’s words, both “deeply, deeply important and really, really hard”? Five insights from the Co-Chair of our Data Science Council and Chief Data Science Officer, Johnson & Johnson Supply Chain.

1. The Inflection Point in Healthcare Data Science

Pallaw thinks we're rapidly approaching an inflection point in data science at Johnson & Johnson, the other side of which holds the potential for unimaginable breakthroughs. Underlying that inflection point are a confluence of factors: dramatic increases in the volume of available data, significant advances in computing and algorithms, broad-based trends toward personalization—and more.

"We’re already deep in a data science revolution," Pallaw said. "We’re applying data science with the same level of sophistication as the most advanced companies today. The difference is that we're using it to touch all of humanity. There’s no limit to the positive impact we’re creating to advance human health and well-being."

For proof, Pallaw points to our recent work on a COVID-19 vaccine, which his team has supported with next-generation manufacturing, logistics and distribution capabilities. Data science has played a key role in all of that.

"Using data science in this way—in the service of all of humanity—is very fulfilling, and even more so if we step back and look at how big these problems truly are. I think this is something that fills us all with a shared sense of excitement, pride and humility."

Pallaw added, "Healthcare is personal. It matters to everyone. The problems we’re working on at Johnson & Johnson are both deeply, deeply important and really, really hard."

2. Where One Field Meets Another

In Pallaw’s telling, data Science can be leveraged to improve virtually all processes, activities and decisions at Johnson & Johnson. But these applications have to be aligned with a crucial end-goal: delivering value to patients and customers.

“You have to start by thinking about the patient or customer,” Pallaw explained, “and work backward from there. Data science at Johnson & Johnson is all about bringing together diverse skill sets. The real magic happens at the intersections—the places where one field meets another, where data can be leveraged in new ways.”

To that effect, Pallaw broke down a few of our current focus areas:

  • Always keeping patients and customers at the center of our work
  • Defining what success looks like, and measuring both the tangible and intangible business outcomes that stem from data science projects
  • Bringing the best data scientists on board, along with domain experts in various business areas, in order to build products that can be deployment rapidly
  • Engaging in fast-paced experimentation while remaining compliant

As Co-Chair of our Data Science Council, the group of senior leaders responsible for developing our data science capabilities, Pallaw has a hand in bringing that magic to life every day.

3. Our Evolving Data Science Maturity

The abundance of data available today creates exciting new opportunities, but Pallaw is quick to point out the challenges it creates as well.

He called out a couple: “Where is the data generated? How can you ensure that you have the right data—the highest-quality data—available and ready for use? How will you clean that data and apply the right algorithms? How do you understand the full lifecycle of the data?”

To that end, we’re challenging ourselves to rethink how data get generated, managed, curated and ultimately used.

“Every data point matters,” he said. “Every data point has the potential to unlock value. That’s the mindset at Johnson & Johnson. We want to accelerate the journey and reach the state where we are making personalized, health-promoting decisions at scale based on real-time data. For us, that’s the ‘nirvana stage’ of data science.”

4. Why Democratizing Data Matters (a Lot)

At Johnson & Johnson, we often talk about the importance of "democratizing data." But what does that really mean—or look like—in practice?

"It means empowering every individual to touch, feel and analyze the data that is a part of their work," Pallaw said.

After all, our employees are taking on complex health challenges every day, and making decisions that have the power to touch the lives of people everywhere (just ask Charles Bridges, Xiaoying Wu or Alex Javidi, for example).

"Today, our people want to make decisions based on data," Pallaw said, “but they might not always have access to the right data at exactly the right moment.”

The goal of democratizing data is to change that.

When intelligent people and intelligent systems come together, Pallaw argues, both sides become smarter than they would be apart. “Systems and people are making decisions together,” he said. “It’s not just business leaders who need this. Everyone needs this.”

5. Guiding Principles for a Data Science Career

Reflecting on his own career path, Pallaw insists there was no grand blueprint for what he's accomplished. There were, however, a few guiding principles.

"I wanted to work on things I liked, things I was passionate about," he said. "I've largely been on a journey driven by exploration, principles and beliefs. And honestly, I wouldn’t have been sad if it hadn't 'worked out,' because that wasn't the goal. I was just doing what I wanted to do. There wasn't any more design than that at play. The joy of doing what you’re passionate about ensures that the journey is meaningful.”

Initially, Pallaw went to work as a consultant after completing his MBA. He also embraced data analytics—to the point where it sometimes seemed like his career was on a parallel path with data science. Eventually, he took a senior leadership role with Microsoft, followed by a similar engagement with a retailer.

That’s when Johnson & Johnson came calling. By then, Pallaw says he had become fascinated by the opportunity to apply data science in the context of healthcare.

"I thought data science could totally reimagine how we serve patients and change the trajectory of healthcare globally. I thought it would let us serve them in ways that were better, faster and more personal, and I thought that healthcare was a really interesting canvas to work with."

Join Our Data Science Community Today

Today, Pallaw is applying data science to solve urgent real-world problems, helping us deliver vital treatments and products to the patients and customers who need them most. But to succeed in that mission, he knows we need to continue to add the world's brightest minds and most compassionate hearts to our team. So if you’re ready to embark on your own purpose-driven professional journey, be sure to check out the data science roles we're hiring for right now.

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