Web 2.0 in Pharma Enterprise

Improving internal communication

Simon Revell,  Manager of Enterprise 2.0 Technology Development, Information and Knowledge Management, Pfizer Inc, UK

The adoption of simple and easy-to-use Web 2.0-inspired technologies and approaches inside the enterprise provides companies with opportunities to improve their collaboration, communication and knowledge sharing.

During 2007, use of 'Web 2.0' 'social media' sites on the World Wide Web finally started to break out of the exclusive domain of the young and the technically-focussed.

Rise of Social Web

Increasing number of people are looking for information in Wikipedia, the free wiki-powered online encyclopaedia. Some, if not all, are even contributing to it in the form of new articles and edits. The social networking site for business users, LinkedIn, exploded into many people's consciousness for the first time, as professionals started issuing invites to connect to their work colleagues and contacts. Some users are experiencing their first taste of consuming content via RSS using Google Reader or the Bloglines site, and social bookmarking and tagging have become more mainstream through the growth of bookmarking websites like del.icio.us.

More individual blogs are being added to the ever-expanding web 'blogsphere', and users have found it quick and easy to set up online communities to support their societies or clubs through Yahoo Groups, Facebook, etc.

Those with a desire to express their creative side have found outlets in Flickr for photo-sharing, and YouTube for videos, while PowerPoint has become fashionable again with the introduction of SlideShare, a site for sharing PowerPoint presentations.

There are obvious benefits in using these Web 2.0 sites. Users are rewarded with enriched collaboration and communication capabilities. Web 2.0 software designed around the user has resulted in sites and tools that are easy to access, and incredibly simple to pick up and use. This ease of authoring has facilitated the availability of content for a 'long tail' ("The Long Tail" by Chris Anderson, Wired, Oct. 2004) of interests, and with the support of RSS, individuals find that they have the ability to subscribe to and consume information specific to their own personal needs.

Also highly visible are 'open-source' collaborations. Efforts made by individuals connected through a shared objective and through the use of Web 2.0 software are able to contribute based on their personal passions and skills, regardless of where they live and what time-zone they inhabit.

Web 2.0 into the enterprise

For those experiencing Web 2.0 and working within a big global corporation a similar thought probably came to mind, "Why can't I have IT like this inside my place of work?" In industries such as Pharma, the need for knowledge management and collaboration tools is being recognised of late. Also, there is an increasing focus on facilitating 'Open Innovation' (A term first used by Henry Chesbrough. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_innovation for more details http://www.chicagocrime.org/) through the utilisation of the full breadth of talent available within the organisation and through partnerships and collaborations with other companies. Hence, with all such developments gaining prominence in this industry, there is obvious potential in the idea of applying Web 2.0-like software and approaches.

Enterprise 2.0

Enterprise 2.0 is a fast emerging and new area of IT dedicated to delivering on that idea. Enterprise 2.0 is quite literally, "the application of Web 2.0 within the enterprise". The specifics of Enterprise 2.0 are still evolving, and in most cases it is never quite as simple as implementing or using existing Web 2.0 software, mainly due to perceived security constraints or the need to integrate software with existing enterprise technology standards or platforms. The good news is that purpose-built software now exists for all of the major categories most commonly associated with Enterprise 2.0.

Wikis

Wikis
Wiki software has been around for almost ten years, and while there is now a wide choice of wiki products available, the fundamental purpose of the software has remained the same, namely the ability for communities of users to quickly and easily create, edit and link web pages.

The most famous application of wiki software on the World Wide Web is Wikipedia, and many organisations make the mistake of assuming that the use of wiki software inside the enterprise has to take a similar form. However there are many different potential uses organisations can make of wikis.

For instance traditional company intranets can easily be hosted on a wiki, and at much less cost and effort than traditional approaches and platforms (both from the perspective of end-users and IT).

Purpose-built information or knowledge management systems can be replaced by a single wiki instance, reducing the organisational IT support and maintenance overheads. Content stored within wikis is much more accessible and easier to navigate than if stored within multiple individual documents. Wikis negate duplication of content, since subject text can be stored once and then easily linked to from within other pages in the wiki.

Wiki functionality offers opportunities in the area of true collaborative authoring. Even if the end product has to be published in a Document Management System, there is no reason why it can't be developed first within a wiki. Here authors can work in parallel, in real-time, and the need for time-consuming iterative review loops can be slashed in favour of 'live documents'. This ensures duplication of content development and feedback is eradicated as the most up-to-date version of the text is always on display for everybody to see.

Blogs

Blogs are certainly the most discussed component of the Enterprise 2.0 toolset for those yet to take the plunge. This is probably due to the notoriety and popularity that blogging has sometimes attracted on the World Wide Web. However, in a consistent theme within Enterprise 2.0, the internal version of blogging takes a much different form to its web-based predecessor. Internal blogs can be put to many different uses as described in Box 2.

Wherever there is a need for some form of communication or discussion, a blog is a good candidate for a solution. In common with all of the tools discussed here, a successful blog will often lead to lesser email traffic- certainly something to strive for in our era of unmanageable inboxes. By surfacing information and discussion via a team or community blog, the inbox can start to be reclaimed for action-oriented correspondence.

Really Simple Syndication (RSS)

RSS, the most low-key of the Enterprise 2.0 tools, actually has the potential to be the most significant. If successful, RSS stands to become part of the average PC user's 'core productivity toolset', sitting alongside packages such as email and office suite software.

RSS offers a very basic premise. Users no longer have to visit web or intranet based sites of interest to see what new changes or posts have taken place. Instead the new content is delivered to the user, or at least a summary enabling them to decide whether to click through to the site itself to see the full body of the text.

The user views the updates in an RSS reader. RSS readers now come in many different shapes and sizes, including Outlook email client plug-ins, standalone desktop clients, or via an Internet browser. Because all content is displayed in a standard format, regardless of where it was originated, it is possible to quickly scan a large number of posts from a variety of sites and focus only on those which are of most interest.

Because content is pre-arranged into specific 'channels', the individuals have control over (a) what they chose to subscribe to and (b) what priority they place in terms of the frequency with which they will review it.

RSS has emerged as a pre-requisite for successful take-up of whatever Enterprise 2.0 tools are deployed. But even if one decides not to implement any of the other Enterprise 2.0 tools, RSS can still provide huge benefit to the organisation since many legacy intranet sites and web-based applications can easily be adapted to provide RSS subscription feeds, and most Web-based sites now support RSS.

Social bookmarking

Social bookmarking is a good entry-point for new Enterprise 2.0 users. It provides a very simple function that can be seen to provide almost instant pay-back to the users and also gently introduces them to the benefits of social software, in this instance the sharing of bookmarks online with others.

On the web, the most famous instance of this category of software is del.icio.us. It allows the user to create an online space for the storage of their web or intranet bookmarks. Rather than forcing the users to organise their bookmarks in a rigid hierarchical folder structure, del.icio.us allows them to apply any number of freeform tags to describe the nature of the link.

A limitation of folder structures is that the categorisation of a resource may evolve over time, and hence one might struggle to re-plot the path to the resource in question. Application of tags that are meaningful to the users provide them with multiple routes back to finding the link in the future.

The social aspect results from other people storing bookmarks and tags in the same application. As the number of users and bookmarks stored increases, the potential for the individual to find value in what others have stored increases. For instance, through the discovery of links to resources of interest that have been stored by other users using tags that are identical to, or related to, tags the user has added themselves.

The online community acts as a valuable filter with the passage of time. Combining metadata generated within an enterprise social bookmarking application with the results of an enterprise search indicates the value of a link. The very act of somebody storing a bookmark suggests there is usefulness in that link, and the addition of tags and a brief description provides context that would not otherwise be available in an enterprise search.

Mashups

Mashups are an emerging category within the Web 2.0 world. The mashup name was stolen from the music scene, where it describes the art of mixing two pieces of music together to produce a new track. To date almost all examples of Mashups on the web have revolved around Google Maps, for instance the Chicago Crime Database Mashup, which takes a Google map of Chicago and 'mashes' it with available crime statistics by area, thus enabling the casual browser to see where the crim hotspots in Chicago are physically located.

Inside the enterprise, this is perhaps one area where the corporate sector is slightly ahead, at least in the variety of uses of mashups we can identify. While purpose-built software designed to facilitate it is slowly starting to emerge, we are fortunate in already having existing access to powerful data-querying software that can be turned to this pursuit if so desired.

Uses of different internal blogs

Project team blogs: Posting status and update communication to the project blog enablesface-to-face time to be used for value-added activities and supports globally distributed teams

Leadership blogs: Excellent for communicating message, direction or developingunderstanding of strategy, and generally reaching-out, connecting, and receiving feedback

Functional group blogs: A means of connecting and sharing within a functional area Subject matter expert / 'idea leader' blogs: A platform for inspiring and educating across theorganisation, even when the individual doesn't necessarily have the advantage of naturalvisibility via a management or leadership position

Special interest group blogs: For connecting those with an interest in a particular subject area,regardless of where they sit in the organisation.

Applying Enterprise 2.0

There can be no doubt there are plenty of compelling reasons for organisations to consider the introduction of Enterprise 2.0 software into their environment. Indeed they may need to consider it in relation to the talent emerging onto the marketplace for the first time, who will expect nothing less. Companies risk appearing as out-of-date and out-of-touch if they are not seen to be embracing it.

Use of these tools within organisations will evolve over time, as will the software itself. There is no 'one size fits all' approach. The strength of Enterprise 2.0 is that users have the flexibility in the way they choose to apply the technology, meaning improvement in their productivity.

If successful, the net effect of implementing Enterprise 2.0 within the organisation will be an environment where workers are less constrained by organisational or geographical barriers, have easier access to information and knowledge that can help them carry out their roles more effectively, and the organisation is able to better optimise the skills, passions and experience of the workforce.

Author Bio

Simon Revell

Simon Revell is Manager of Enterprise 2.0 Technology Development at Pfizer, the global pharmaceutical company. In this role he focusses on exploring and managing the implementation of Web 2.0 inspired technologies and approaches for internal use within the company.

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