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Knowledge Management > Articles > Speedier innovation, more cost savings: KM in the pharma industr >

Speedier innovation, more cost savings: KM in the pharma industry


Madanmohan Rao reports from the Pharma KM conference in London



Can the pharmaceutical industry leverage knowledge management to reconfigure the pharmaceutical value chain and harness the fruits of research and development more effectively? How can tools and technologies ranging from portals to handheld devices be efficiently used? Does it make sense to talk of "knowledge factories?" How should a company successfully innovate faster than its competition?

Intriguing questions indeed, and an array of pharmaceutical companies, consultancies and technology vendors pondered these issues in London recently at the "Pharmaceutical Knowledge Management" conference hosted by Marcus Evans. 

Industry Profile

Pharmaceutical companies offer a wide array of solutions on numerous platforms (eg. bioinformatics, combinatorial chemistry) to a diverse range of customers (eg. pharmacies, hospitals, specialists, patients) in several therapeutic categories (eg. respiratory, cardiovascular).

Thus, in the R&D process, KM challenges arise in each of the steps like basic research, target identification, lead discovery, pre-clinical research and registration, said Thomas Schneider, senior manager of healthcare practices at Arthur D. Little.

The consulting firm's recent survey of 25 European healthcare companies revealed that their KM objectives include process integration and efficiency increases, but few companies have an overall KM roadmap. Deployed KM tools and activities include document libraries, mobile solutions, expert networks, KM scouts, job rotation and e-learning.

Companies usually spend between 6 months to 2 years on conceptualising and implementing a KM initiative. Success factors have included proper communication, expectation management, alignment with business needs and early involvement of the right and relevant people.

Unfortunately, 45 per cent of the surveyed companies have no permanent KM positions. "Pharma companies should connect internal and external knowledge. Successes need to be captured and communicated," advised Schneider.

Quite a few notable successes have already emerged on the KM front in the pharmaceutical industry, particularly in terms of efficiency and innovation via methods like knowledge communities, portals, e-learning frameworks, and knowledge discovery.


"The speed of innovation is determined by experts' awareness of new direction and opportunity, their ability to integrate knowledge into a teachable framework, and the organisation's ability to mobilise it," said Victor Newman, CLO at Pfizer, and author of "The Knowledge Activist's Handbook."

Companies should start thinking in terms of "return on experience" and not just "return on investment," he advised. A learnings database is a good start for a KM system, but it should also intuitively and visually model the way experts pay attention and think about work.

Pfizer's Corporate University is structured to follow the "concept to commercialisation" process, and not just aping traditional faculty structure. It has developed new learning techniques like "Baton Build and Passing" and institutionalises new high-value learnings into orientation workshops.

"If a company does not know what it knows, it has never had to explain it to anyone. If it knows what it knows, then this documented knowledge must be consistently renewed and reviewed. If the company knows what it does not know, then it must analyse knowledge lifecycles and capability gaps to expose itself to new practitioner learnings. And if a company does not know what it does not know, it must use techniques like intra- and inter-sector KM benchmarks," explained Newman.

e-Knowledge building and e-Learning need to be put to work in tandem to create knowledge prototypes, stabilise knowledge assets, and mobilise the acquired knowledge.

Performance improvement cycles must include intellectual capital and individual learning, agreed Emmanuel Vergison, corporate knowledge manager at Solvay.

Solvay has set up an iterative audit of its KM initiatives based on the "5W + 2H" rule (what, why, who, when, where followed by how, how much). The evaluation committee consists of different experts and is chaired by an outsider; the KM Steering Committee reports directly to the board.

KM projects fall into 10 types: benchmarking, competitive intelligence, workflow, CoPs, organisational modelling, learning, portals, skills, knowledge-based systems and idea box systems. For a KM project to get funding, it must have a credible workplan covering at least two years.

"From our learnings, I would recommend that KM practitioners work with motivated people, get top level support, and pay attention to individual learning issues. Technology is important, but should not be the first step. New technology + Old organisation = Costly old solution," Vergison joked.

Solvay has implemented an expert finder solution called X-Fert (cross fertilisation) for almost 500 employees. It has over 3,000 personal pages. 35 global communities of practice are connected to X-Fert, in countries ranging from the US and Thailand to Portugal and Argentina. Solvay also has implemented a "KM-orientated document writing method" to re-centre document creation on the strategic content of industrial processes, based on Robert Horn's Information Mapping method.

The Solvay Intranet (called Faros) was based on concepts developed by INSEAD's Centre for Advanced Learning Technologies. Solvay's Idea Box Portal has 250 facilitators in Europe alone. Awareness campaigns about KM were started in March 2002, with focused presentations, in-depth training and mock-up exercises.

Cultural challenges

Cultural problems which can impede KM include a hoarding mentality, insecurity in giving away knowledge perceived as valuable, lack of trust, and fear of having ideas ridiculed. "People may share less information if they find that their colleagues share only the bare minimum information," observed Wolfgang Simon, KM director at Bayer.

KM at Bayer is facilitated via its knowledge portal called KIBIT (KM in Bayer's Intranet), hosted on its BayNet Intranet. Over five million documents are downloaded each month; employees are also given training on how to deal with information overload. The knowledge capture process is designed in such a way that learnings are captured from failures as well, not just successes.

Pharmaceutical companies today are still finding it difficult to retrieve discarded research which becomes relevant again in new regulatory environments, or locate appropriate expertise, or provide new employees with the appropriate information and tools quickly enough, observed Joel Miller, manager of learning information technology at Eli Lilly & Co.

The company's mission statement is to provide its customers with "answers that matter" via innovative medicines, information and customer support, and KM is an important strategy for linking people to other people, knowledge and experiences. Eli Lilly's portal has subject guides, people look-up facilities, CommunitySpace, and a learning portal. Called myELVIS (Eli Lilly Virtual Information Service!), the corporate portal was launched in a 90-day focussed effort.

Miller advises KM practitioners to establish governance structures early, use demos frequently, and ensure that search techniques work properly. "Scientists and researchers tolerate more complexity than business customers when it comes to information discovery," he observed. Challenges up ahead for Eli Lilly include staying focused on innovation, and handling governance as the portal becomes truly global (the company has over 40,000 employees in 160 countries).

"Understanding of global rules and roles is critical for content management on large distributed portals," said Marianne Kohne, global Intranet content manager at Boehringer Ingelheim. The company's Intranet is called BIGnet (Boehringer Ingelheim Global Intranet).

Capacity-building for KM in an organisation includes project identification, planing, assessment, leadership, technology support and education. For instance, the worldwide knowledge networking group at Johnson&Johnson provides a full range of such internal consulting to support decentralised KM, according to its executive director Michael Burtha.

"Successful knowledge-enabled organisations have an aspiration to innovate, a capability to perform and deliver, and an environment to collaborate. Leaders must be students of change first, before they become teachers of change to others," advised Burtha.

The success of KM initiatives can be measured via user surveys, tracking access patterns of knowledge objects, and capturing meaningful stories of the power of knowledge capture and transfer of innovation. But knowledge activities can get complicated as a result of mergers and acquisitions and the fact that internal competition between business units is possible.

"In our case, we had 3 million formal documents in 80 identifiable collections, 11 different technologies, and 'bruised human capital' after mergers and acquisitions," recalled Pauline Stewart, knowledge manager at Syngenta.

The company's KM initiative has focused on saving money in project management, via solutions ranging from content formats and shared vocabularies to knowledge behaviours and a revamped Intranet. "Buy-in is necessary from the IT department but KM is not necessarily high on their agenda," Stewart cautioned. There is also a tendency among employees to be "good enough" during a merger but not necessarily "the best."

Communities of Practice

Organisational communities can be of several types: personal networks, spontaneous communities, strategic community, and centre of excellence. "Many leadership roles can arise in this context: community leader, thought leader, knowledge miner, subject matter expert, core group member," said Richard McDermott, co-author of "Communities of Practice." It is important to align reward, recognition and career development, he advised.

A key role in this context is the knowledge facilitator, according to Jonas Roth, Knowledge Manager at AstraZeneca. The facilitator must coordinate and catalyse knowledge creation, build a caring and stimulating climate, enable a sharing culture and be a guide to the company's knowledge vision

Technology Support

Techniques like automatic email profiling can be used to identify business strengths in community users, said Jean-Marc Girodeau, from the Drug Innovation and Approval division of Aventis in France. The KnowledeMail profiling tool for locating internal expertise scans emails and attachments, and allows users to control their private and public profiles. Based on the Balanced ScoreCard approach, a tool called KnowledgeMail Navigator is used to evaluate the impact of the profiling system on time-saving, productivity and innovation at Aventis. "The adoption of this system is heavily dependent on trust," Girodeau cautioned.

In addition to linguistic analysis, information visualisation can also benefit KM, said Ramana Rao, CTO and co-founder of Xerox spinoff Inxight. "New technologies for mining and access can help deal with the problem of content under-utilisation. After lab work, information gathering and analysis are the most time-consuming activities in pharmaceutical research and development," he said. Inxight has developed automatic categorisation tools for managing embedded concepts, topical categories, metadata and linked concepts in documents; its clients include Pfizer, the European Patent Office and Factiva.

Internal and External Knowledge Strategies

Knowledge-driven drug development ("KD3") can be used in clinical trial simulation to increase the chances of success and limit the number of clinical studies, according to Andreas Lohman, VP at Organon.

KM can be used to optimise the R&D value chain with workflow management in areas like regulatory claim submission, said Rudiger Buchkremer, IT head at Altana Pharma, whose wide-ranging KM suite also includes news spiders, PDA-based content delivery, collaboration with external universities, and social knowledge activities like management development circles and experience exchange groups.

"In the highly competitive pharmaceutical industry, speed and efficiency are crucial for drug development," said Sven Vogelgesang, global head of clinical application services at Merck.

Merck is a member of European consortia on management of corporate knowledge, and also conducts a KM Benchmarking Study with Berlin's Fraunhofer Institute. It has a KM Competency Centre (km.merck.de) with members from different business units, and has implemented KM applications on its Intranet ("MerckNet") like an Ideas Bank, Project Teams Databases, Blue Pages, Competitor Databases and Online Campus.

"Our mission statement is to be number one through innovations created by talented, entrepreneurial employees, and KM helps in hiring the right people, training them, empowering them, and fostering innovation," said Vogelgesang. The company has instituted a Merck Award Plan for inventions, a Merck Innovation Award, an employee suggestion scheme (20,000 improvement suggestions have been received since 1986),

Key barriers for implementing KM include inadequate awareness of information needs of colleagues, and missing overviews of the available knowledge sources, Vogelgesang observes. His key recommendations for other KM practitioners include start with quick wins, choose measurable goals, conduct surveys on KM usefulness, communicate the benefits of KM and convey a sense of urgency.


Madanmohan Rao (madan@techsparks.com)


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