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Collaboration across the pharma industry

Published on 08/10/03 at 01:18pm

The need for collaboration in todays business environment is greater than ever. All pharma companies are under pressure to improve results and increase shareholder value. An increasingly competitive world requires that projects are prioritised in an informed and efficient manner, funding decisions made, non-viable projects closed, progress tracked and results presented. Companies involved with the process of shepherding drugs down the road to market also face challenges not encountered in other industries. Take, for example, the need to capture, organise and share the vast amounts of knowledge emerging from the human genome project, internal discovery initiatives and preclinical as well as clinical trials  a truly daunting task.

To address these and many other competitive pressures there is a new imperative across the industry to significantly increase internal and external collaboration capabilities. Unfortunately in the past some IT groups within the pharma industry have made the software standards decisions, usually without a clear understanding of the underlying business need. As a result, many deployments have failed to deliver promised value or even made the situation worse. For example, dozens of niche applications are deployed throughout the pharmaceutical value chain that cannot share information between one another. The result: silos of information accessible only by those within a given location.

Many companies are grappling with what is commonly referred to as knowledge glut  the need to convert mountains of data that reside in separate locations (C-drives, network drives, file cabinets) into meaningful information. As a VP of R&D from a major pharmaceutical company put it: The problem is that there is too much information. [We] dont have the tools or the people to manage it all in a coherent way.

This situation is further complicated by the lack of a consistent interface or querying mechanism, and the need to define a streamlined process for the creation, acquisition, analysis, application and transfer of information. The objective is to not only guarantee that all intellectual capital is captured, but also to ensure that it can be easily found now or in the distant future. The tremendous diversity and complexity of information that accompanies a project from concept to commercialisation makes achievement of this objective a truly daunting endeavour.

Beyond the challenge of knowledge management is the task of confronting the geographic, organisational, functional and application gaps that are typical throughout a global pharma company. In the past, a project team would be located at the same site and could easily meet once a week in a nearby conference room or cafeteria. Todays environment commonly sees multinational project teams, which may include members from external partners, often using heterogeneous systems. To interact efficiently means enabling collaboration beyond phone calls, encrypted and non-encrypted e-mail, faxing, CD-ROM and floppy disk transfer via overnight courier, or getting on an airplane.

One particularly remarkable trend in the biopharmaceutical industry is the growing reliance on external partners. With margins to preserve and resources to optimise, todays companies must focus on their core competencies by shedding so-called non-core activities that fail to significantly contribute to the business model. This allows companies to focus on what they do best, while providing the agility to quickly respond to new opportunities and changing market dynamics. The result is a decentralised and well-distributed network of business partners  and even competitors  often with disparate business processes, work styles and strategic interests. Effective collaboration is critical for transforming this diverse network of contributors into an integrated value-chain, creating efficiencies throughout the extended enterprise.

As a result, many companies are putting in place initiatives to improve collaboration across the extended enterprise. There are three primary characteristics of collaboration tools such as the eRoom Digital Workplace that help drive rapid adoption throughout the pharma industry. Firstly, integration allows the three primary IT initiatives of the pharma industry  collaboration, document/content management and portals  to interact with one another. Secondly, adaptability results in collaborative environments mapped to specific business processes so team members use it both initially and persistently. Finally, a flexible architecture leads to rapid adoption across the extended enterprise  internally as well as with external partners.

The benefits from collaboration include rapid prototyping, chain reaction roll-out and natural growth (no bureaucracy), peer/team pressure, the power of the template and return on investment such as cost savings, cost avoidance, increased productivity and new insights.

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