John Chu, a consultant formerly with Baxter Healthcare, spoke about an expert locator system developed at Baxter. I followed his discussion with a general discussion of knowledge management in the pharmaceutical industry, based on my experience and recent research with my job hunt.
The expertise locator / yellow pages at Baxter was first conceived several years ago, and the original project was run with Teltech (now Sopheon) conducting interviews and populating the expertise database. The expensive interviewing was moved in-house, and the goal has been to set up the system to self-populate information. Participants in the system were welcomed to the world of experts by the Chief Science Office, Norbert Riedel, as additional encouragement for them to get involved.
Has the system been successful? Partially. Over 600 experts have profiles, and the system is still in use after three years, however that usage is relatively low, compared to the expectations of the original developers. Some of the biggest successes of the system have been in situations where there were high-profile problems at Baxter. They were able to quickly locate and mobilize experts in the given problem area.
When asked what he might do differently, John had a number of thoughts:
A. Identify the long-term budget and commitment to the project up front.
B. The system should be web-based from the beginning.
C. The information within the system needs to be self-maintaining as much as possible to reduce the likelihood of info-rot reducing the value of the system. John did not discuss using tools that automatically populate expertise information based on reports and communications, such as Tacit Mail.
D. Corporate information and data systems need to be integrated, from the basic HR systems to provide contact data to more sophisticated links between the expert database and patent and report databases. For Baxter, the vision of the expert locator system did not include these connections, and there was internal resistance in adding them after the fact.
For the second half of the meeting, we expanded the discussion from the specifics of an expert locator system to the larger issues associated with KM in the pharmaceutical industry. At the lowest level, companies need to ensure their data systems are valid, reliable and usable. From there, the systems need to tie together in ways that enable people in the organization to understand what is happening in the underlying data. At the highest levels of the organization, these systems need to work together to provide a reliable and accurate picture of what is happening in the business to drive it towards its overall goals.
Pharmaceutical companies are not that different from other companies in terms of the need for KM. In fact, some may argue that the pharmaceutical industry has had it "easy" in that times have not been as difficult as they have for the chemical process or automotive industries. Even so, the need to draw together knowledge and expertise from across the organization is always growing as the cost of developing new therapeutics keeps climbing and the number of new drugs approved by the FDA stagnates.