4 Practical uses for a Wiki in Pharma

You’ve lived and experienced the nightmares associated with document management and collaboration in an enterprise environment. E-mails follow multi-branched and reply all paths. Spreadsheets and Word documents get passed around and everyone asks – “do I have the latest version?” Or what about the times when you need a new job posting on your corporate site or to perform an urgent update to content. Do these problems sound like your organizations? Even worse do you have a over burdened process that governs what you need to do to make simple changes?

Enter the wiki: collaboration software that solves all these problems yet, unlike many traditional content management systems, remains simple enough for non-technical employees to use.
Although wikis have been around for a decade, they're just starting to take off in business. Like the Web did when it first caught hold in the corporate world, wikis will likely go through a period of wild growth, fierce competition, and inappropriate usage. Proceed with caution. Any “crazy” technology will cause undue distress amongst your management team. Baby steps are usually best for “crazy” technologies. Likewise as you all know making the business case is just as important. That said, I’ve outlined 4 practical (or crazy) uses for Wiki’s below that will help align a powerful collaboration tool with emerging business needs for the pharmaceutical industry.

  • Create an internal communication portal: Prior to wikis, an expensive enterprise application would have been required for sophisticated information management. But because most wikis are based on open-source code, they're free for companies who opt for an open-source distribution, or relatively cheap for companies willing to pay for their implementation and support. That said portals are implemented very often in pharma companies. For example marketing teams are asked to develop a communication website specific to a particular brand that will help align all internal messages regarding one or multiple indications. Typically when marketing types are asked to create web sites, they have to rely on the chance that someone in a group knows how to make a web site, or that some sort of training is available or even worse spend several thousand dollars to get a static website from an interactive agency. The wiki eliminates all three obstacles, because it provides a ready to use site with a simple user interface, ability to easily add pages, and simple navigation structure. Imagine a wiki that would allow the marketing people to concentrate more on strategy and content development, instead of trying to learn how to put font tags around a section of text. The simplicity of the wiki syntax, or language for formatting text, inserting images and creating links, means your employees spend less time trying to figure out how to make the site do what they want. Easy and empowering
  • Develop a peer reviewed paper: Publish or perish. That’s the tenant that many researchers live by. Publishing is the main vehicle to advertise the positive (and negative) effects of a particular drug, however often times the peer review process is tainted with inefficiencies and lack of a true peer review. A wiki makes it easy for researchers to write, revise and submit a manuscript, since all three activities can take place in the wiki. Imagine a researcher that is provided access to a wiki page to develop an outline. First the researcher will begin by tracking their background research and bibliography. This allows the fellow researchers, to see what they’re using, help them if they’re off track, suggest other resources/searches, or even get ideas based on what others find useful. Next, the researcher can draft the paper in the wiki, taking advantage of the wiki’s automatic revision history that saves a before & after version of the document each time s/he makes changes (sound like EDMS). This allows the peers to see the evolution of the paper over time, and continually comment on it providing transparency. When the researcher completes the final draft, admins and/or agencies can ready all elements of the manuscript for submission to a journal and/or congress. Efficient and transparent.
  • Simplify the maintenance of processes: Just about every pharma/biotech company I’ve worked with has an emphasis on process, however they face 2 challenges in their change management efforts of a process: a) getting buy-in from all who use the process and b) effectively implementing changes and distributing a consistent communication stream to all involved. Imagine a wiki where processes are published for the entire organization. Say the process for reporting expenses is slightly inaccurate and Judy from accounting makes a recommended correction. The process excellence folks see the error and republish the change. Now the challenge, disseminating the change effectively. Imagine then all users who have been trained on the process are distributed an alert and notified to refresh themselves on the revision. This collaboration happens automatically without any human intervention. Impactful and lean.
  • Track emerging regulatory trends: The need to track emerging pharmaceutical trends, especially regulatory ones is a need that pharma companies pay millions for in subscription based services every year, while their most important resource – their people – already have this information in small doses. Built together in a collaborative workspace such as a wiki, a pharma company can be nimble in addressing emerging trends. For example in the news as of late was a re-hash of the PHRMA ethical guidelines. Imagine an internal wiki where a researcher places a notice about the amendment that he/she read on a blog. A medical writer who recently attended a conference posts a slide kit that was posted by a leading opinion leader in the regulatory space. All this in a centralized location where users can sign of real time alerts to get the data. Powerful communication without having to pay for it.

    Stay tuned for my next post – Why a Wiki wouldn’t work for you…

    About the author –Hassan Mahmud is a Principal of WEKGroup, LLC a project and management consultancy specializing in forward thinking and technology adoption within the pharmaceutical industry. He is an early adopter of lean process management and has implemented Wikis at leading pharmaceutical and professional service organizations. For more information on Mahmud and WEKGroup’s services, you can visit them online.

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