In cultivating our knowledge management community of practice in the life science, pharma & healthcare sector, I am fortunate to speak daily with many knowledgeable folks. The best part of my role is that I am constantly stimulated, interacting with and learning from others and presented with many different viewpoints on our main themes and topics. The main current theme of “Integrating knowledge across the life science product life cycle” has emerged from these conversations over the past year; I certainly have not chosen it alone by saying “this is something the market wants”. The market, as captured by the everflowing sea of virtual and phone conversations that ebbs and flows over any pre-conceived notions I have, has told me what it wants to examine and address. This market force sometimes destroys the fragile coral reef of a set of ideas I had been forming and at other times it builds a beach which others seem keen to be on.
Notice that “knowledge management” (KM for short) is not in the title of our current theme; rather I have used the verb of integrating. There is much agreement that the industry needs KM applied productively but many, including its practitioners, do not like the term. KM initiatives are perceived to have not delivered; the jury is out on the field. There are new ideas and initiatives afloat that are claimed will make it work: we need “personalised knowledge management”, or the methodology is sound but cultural inertias need to be overcome, the problems have not been solved by IT solutions yet we spend most of our time using them so they must have an involvement, the “data integration” problem is solved (this I find hard to believe) but semantic web approaches will move us into a whole new way of using data (this I can believe). It seems that we are still discovering what are the best KM practices that work for the industry, especially in these post-blockbuster model days.
Note also the emphasis on the “product life cycle”. Over time, space and function this makes this theme a daunting one. Noone has ownership or sufficient decision-making ability over this topic and line managers have their day-to-day business to get done. We need knowledge integration and capitalisation to achieve better outcomes but the many different functions from R&D through clinical through marketing through pharmacovigilance need all to be involved and need to understand and be able to deploy any “KM initiative” to achieve better outcomes. When even chemists and biologists still struggle to communicate their data between each other, one can see a pretty decent challenge for those proposing KM approaches. And the approaches needed go beyond just KM approaches alone, there are methods, actors and data from many sectors and interests required.
There is also the topic of improved integration of the consumer himself. At the end of the day, it is the consumer’s illness, life and death. The pharma industry of the future is not just about delivering pills, it is about providing better knowledge, understanding, influence and participation in the individual’s health and life. The goal of “personalised medicine” should also include one of knowledge-transfer, trust and control to the end consumer.
According to Cap Gemini's new Vision & Reality pharma industry report, 50% of respondents indicated their company's performance in the area of our topic of product lifecycle management was no better than average or poor, yet 90% of senior pharma executives believed the topic is important for their future prosperity, with the majority indicating significant growth in its importance in their organisation during the next 5 years.
To move forward we need a lot more than any one initiative or methodology, we need a networked ocean of conversations and actions across many organisations in the industry, many countries and many consumers. That is indeed the great Knowledge Management challenge for the industry and fundamentally a global community-based one.
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