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KM practitioners move ideas forward: Transforming the old into the new through the research and development process

By Kim Ann Zimmermann

The research and development process has to be well-documented. That is especially true in a regulated industry such as pharmaceuticals, where the development process is carefully scrutinized. The development of a new drug can take years and involve a number of people throughout the organization and outside it, which means that collaboration and visibility are key.

KM is a perfect fit in the research and development arena because it facilitates the gathering and dissemination of information, crucial to successful R&D efforts. Increasingly, companies are realizing that current methods of managing the process that rely on paper and e-mails are not optimal.


Many companies have been using existing systems, such as folders in e-mails, to share ideas and track research and development. Among the companies that was managing their R&D efforts that way was Rio Tinto Borax , a supplier of borates—a key ingredient in glass, fiberglass, ceramics, detergents, personal care products, fertilizers and wood preservatives. In Spring 2002, Borax began looking for a smoother way to share, investigate and execute ideas.

Bob McBroom, who was the ideation manager at Borax at that time, looked to collaboration technology as an answer to the dilemma.

"There are vast numbers of people out there in the Borax community who know things that you don't know they know," he says. "That's why we looked for a product that offered threaded discussions. We were trying to engage people who work throughout Borax, since ideas come from many sources in Borax. Our job is to screen those ideas and cultivate the good ones."

Previously, employees were using shared folders in Outlook, but that was too difficult for people to search and find information. Moreover, shared folders didn't offer a means to move ideas from concept to completion. Borax opted for SiteScape Forum because it provided a way to share, store and search information with colleagues internationally.

"It's not as intrusive as e-mail, and you can decide for yourself which ideas you want to read," says McBroom.

Originally Forum was a pilot program that included the business development group, but Borax gradually added other staff so that about 60 people, including project management staff, now use it.

Although Forum was quickly embraced, McBroom invited SiteScape's Consulting Services in September 2002 to further refine the process. The result was the Ideation Forum.

In the Ideation Forum, ideas are submitted, evaluated by the innovation manager, and available for comment and discussion by Forum members. When someone adds an idea, it launches a workflow, allowing the innovation manager to accept, reject or put an idea on hold. Once an idea is accepted, the manager creates a separate forum for it in the project management workspace.

"There's a certain amount of efficiency in collaboration," McBroom says. "You capture more knowledge, you get more input from a wider variety of people, and by sharing ideas you increase the quality and quantity of ideas."


Ericsson, a provider of mobile, broadband and telecommunications services, also found that existing technology did not fit the bill for managing an extensive research and development effort.

Rather than taking a publish-and-search approach to manage the effort involved in developing new products and services, Ericsson chose Sopheon's (sopheon.com) Organik system, which has the ability to capture worker questions and answers for reuse, and points users to internal and external experts.

Currently, Organik is deployed among 1,000 users within Ericsson, most of whom are located in the Montreal facility. Workers at Ericsson sites in the United States, Latin America, Europe, Australia and Asia also access the system.

It was crucial that the system go beyond existing technologies such as e-mail, newsgroups, discussion forums and search engines, according to Anders Hemre, director of enterprise performance and CKO.

"Organik's approach to supporting communities was an easy sell within Ericsson because our engineers are keen to share best practices and discover new ideas in an informal and intuitive manner," says Hemre.

Ericsson sees great potential in deploying Organik beyond the Canadian-based group to the company's entire R&D organization. Many projects are conducted at multiple sites. The company is also considering opening up its R&D knowledgebase to some of its business partners and customers so that they can get involved in the company's research and development efforts.

"We plan to continue to build global knowledge networks using Organik technology and also extend the reach of the knowledge desk to support office applications and field trials of new products at customer sites," Hemre says.


At Eminent Research Systems using e-mail to manage its research projects was not even an option. As a contract research organization that conducts government-required clinical trials for medical devices, forms can be 100 pages or longer. Since each study must be reviewed and approved by physicians and researchers across the country, they were resorting to FedEx and mail to disseminate research documents.

Large medical device manufacturers, pharmaceutical and life sciences companies like Johnson & Johnson,3M and Medtronic hire Eminent Research to perform and manage clinical studies per year for product approvals and market launches.

Eminent is now using technology from Stellent. Stellent Content Management allows content to be contributed to clinical studies in two ways. One method is to contribute the content to the Stellent Content Server using a Web browser,where the content is then saved in its native format, such as a PDF file,word processing document, spreadsheet or graphic file. Another method is contributing content through Eminent's clinical trial system,Themis, which integrates with the Stellent Content Management system and enables Eminent to report and track study progress.

Stellent Content Management's version control feature ensures only the most current draft of a study is published to the extranet and enables Eminent to easily document and store each version of a study, which is critical for government compliance. Stellent Content Management easily integrates with the company's existing security system and Oracle database and fulfills the Food and Drug Administration's 21CFR Part 11 compliance requirements, according to Linn Laak, chief operating officer, Eminent Research Services.

"Our business is heavily regulated by the government, and as a result we need a content management system that meets our unique security and customization needs," Laak says. "Stellent Content Management effectively fulfills our needs, propelling us far beyond the competition because of the speed at which we can now complete the clinical research process for our customers."

Kim Ann Zimmermann is a free-lance writer, 732-636-3612, e-mail kimzim2764@yahoo.com.

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