Depending on how far back in the literature you go, there are two different versions of what is happening with knowledge management at Novartis, the pharma giant formed in 1996 with the merger of Sandoz and Ciba-Geigy.
Today, the biggest direct hit with knowledge management in Novartis is the Informatics and Knowledge Management (IK@N) organization in the Novartis Institute for Biomedical Research, based in Cambridge, MA. This group is responsible for the standard informatics issues found in biological research, such as dealing with massive quantities of data from modern research into genomics and proteomics. The group description also includes a number of functions specific to "knowledge:"
- Information Integration Unit: integration and analysis tools, including e-learning and collaborative tools
- Knowledge Production Unit: statistics, decision support, competitive intelligence, patents
- Knowledge Base Unit: documentation, storage, "knowledge curation"
- Knowledge Center Unit: library functions, knowledge policies for copyright and records retention
- Knowledge Engineering Unit: KnowledgeSpace portal, text mining technology, common terminology
Manuel Peitsch, a trained biochemist / bioinformatician, is the IK@N leader. He has presented at a number of conferences, discussing the issues associated with creating knowledge culture and tying this together with the informatics needs of his organization.
As the merger was stabilizing, Novartis created functions that were geared toward making knowledge transfer really work. Joerg Staeheli was put in charge of the work and went about creating the infrastructure needed to make "knowledge networking" a reality in the organization. A good starting point for learning about this effort is the March 1999 CIO article by Gary Abramson, Wiring the Corporate Brain. The article itself is part of the global scale of the effort by Joerg Staeheli to get the word out to the scientists of Novartis - get published in magazines and journals that they read. The major components of the knowledge networking effort at Novartis are Knowledge Fairs, the Knowledge Marketplace, Scientific Networks, and Science Committees.
Knowledge Fairs are designed to bring people together with posters, possibly with presentations, so that large groups of people can see what others are doing around the company. Steve Denning talks knowledge fairs in his books on storytelling.
The Knowledge Marketplace is described as the virtual forum for the people at Novartis, which includes internal and external expert databases and a forum. In 1999 this was based in Lotus Notes and tied to the web. One hopes that the expert locator service has been upgraded with advances in the field since then. Scientists were encouraged to participate in the forums, and the discussions described typical difficulties associated with getting discussion forums up and running: people's time and focus. But the highest-level people, including Staeheli himself, have stayed involved and reenergized disucssions when they started flagging.
The Scientific Networks are formal and informal networking opportunities for the scientists. Today, one might call these communities of practice, though the description of them differs from the typical community. The formal networks are described as formal, face-to-face networking sessions, held a number of times a year. Scientists from varying disciplines are brought together to talk about the latest technological advances and how they might be applied to benefit the company. They are encouraged to continue their conversations through the Knowledge Marketplace forums.
Finally, the Scientific Committees act as a funding agency for the ideas that come out of the Scientific Networks. They evaluate the ideas and help find funding or work with outside academic organizations to build the concepts further.
Overall, these ideas are familiar to the times. When Monsanto was a life sciences competitor to Novartis, they had a strong KM presence in the executive suite. Bipin Junnarkar was the Monsanto proponent for KM and talked about creating "white spaces" where serendipitous meetings could create new knowledge for the company. (Creating a Fertile Ground for Knowledge at Monsanto, Perspectives on Business Innovation, Issue 1)
Joerg Staeheli is still active at Novartis as the Leader of Knowledge Networking for Novartis, though the level of external publicity for these efforts has decreased. Given the continued successes of companies like Novartis, the belief is that these techniques are becoming part of the fabric of the organizations, rather than special "gee whiz" activities that need constant reinforcement.