KM at Novartis

Depending on how far back in the literature you go, there are two different versions of what is happening with knowledge management at Novartis, the pharma giant formed in 1996 with the merger of Sandoz and Ciba-Geigy.

Today, the biggest direct hit with knowledge management in Novartis is the Informatics and Knowledge Management (IK@N) organization in the Novartis Institute for Biomedical Research, based in Cambridge, MA. This group is responsible for the standard informatics issues found in biological research, such as dealing with massive quantities of data from modern research into genomics and proteomics. The group description also includes a number of functions specific to "knowledge:"

  • Information Integration Unit: integration and analysis tools, including e-learning and collaborative tools

  • Knowledge Production Unit: statistics, decision support, competitive intelligence, patents

  • Knowledge Base Unit: documentation, storage, "knowledge curation"

  • Knowledge Center Unit: library functions, knowledge policies for copyright and records retention

  • Knowledge Engineering Unit: KnowledgeSpace portal, text mining technology, common terminology

Manuel Peitsch, a trained biochemist / bioinformatician, is the IK@N leader. He has presented at a number of conferences, discussing the issues associated with creating knowledge culture and tying this together with the informatics needs of his organization.

As the merger was stabilizing, Novartis created functions that were geared toward making knowledge transfer really work. Joerg Staeheli was put in charge of the work and went about creating the infrastructure needed to make "knowledge networking" a reality in the organization. A good starting point for learning about this effort is the March 1999 CIO article by Gary Abramson, Wiring the Corporate Brain. The article itself is part of the global scale of the effort by Joerg Staeheli to get the word out to the scientists of Novartis - get published in magazines and journals that they read. The major components of the knowledge networking effort at Novartis are Knowledge Fairs, the Knowledge Marketplace, Scientific Networks, and Science Committees.

Knowledge Fairs are designed to bring people together with posters, possibly with presentations, so that large groups of people can see what others are doing around the company. Steve Denning talks knowledge fairs in his books on storytelling.

The Knowledge Marketplace is described as the virtual forum for the people at Novartis, which includes internal and external expert databases and a forum. In 1999 this was based in Lotus Notes and tied to the web. One hopes that the expert locator service has been upgraded with advances in the field since then. Scientists were encouraged to participate in the forums, and the discussions described typical difficulties associated with getting discussion forums up and running: people's time and focus. But the highest-level people, including Staeheli himself, have stayed involved and reenergized disucssions when they started flagging.

The Scientific Networks are formal and informal networking opportunities for the scientists. Today, one might call these communities of practice, though the description of them differs from the typical community. The formal networks are described as formal, face-to-face networking sessions, held a number of times a year. Scientists from varying disciplines are brought together to talk about the latest technological advances and how they might be applied to benefit the company. They are encouraged to continue their conversations through the Knowledge Marketplace forums.

Finally, the Scientific Committees act as a funding agency for the ideas that come out of the Scientific Networks. They evaluate the ideas and help find funding or work with outside academic organizations to build the concepts further.

Overall, these ideas are familiar to the times. When Monsanto was a life sciences competitor to Novartis, they had a strong KM presence in the executive suite. Bipin Junnarkar was the Monsanto proponent for KM and talked about creating "white spaces" where serendipitous meetings could create new knowledge for the company. (Creating a Fertile Ground for Knowledge at Monsanto, Perspectives on Business Innovation, Issue 1)

Joerg Staeheli is still active at Novartis as the Leader of Knowledge Networking for Novartis, though the level of external publicity for these efforts has decreased. Given the continued successes of companies like Novartis, the belief is that these techniques are becoming part of the fabric of the organizations, rather than special "gee whiz" activities that need constant reinforcement.

9 Comment(s)

Bill Stevens said:

This article is being used to formulate a PowerPoint presentation for our Information Sciences Seminar class on Novartis and how they are using Knowledge Management. We would appreciate information from others as to what their perspective(s)are on how Novartis has utilized Knowledge Management or Knowledge Networking, as a 1999 article referred to it. Be advised that your comments and website will be credited in full as part of our annotated bibliography when turned in to Dr. Mike Pemberton, CRM, FAI when it is completed. WE WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU CONCERNING THIS ARTICLE!

David L. Chu said:

I worked with Joerg Staheli, whom I consider to be my mentor, to create the Knolwdge Marketplace. I, too, was a technology scout and my contribution was in knowledge management. I had proposed a Knowledge Office for Novartis Pharma Research during the merger process. And as a result I was named the first Knowledge Officer of Novartis Pharma Research. I had already re-architected the technical architecture of the Knowledge Marketplace in Notes and later for the event documented by CIO re-engineered the Knowledge Marketplace for the Web.

"Knowledge Networking" was a term that I had coined in 1995 when I first joined Sandoz. I had also coined the phrase, "Knowledge without Action is useless. Action without Knowledge is dangerous." There was a big news group discussion/argument between two camps on the international scene. One camp wanted to call the knowledge effort "knowledge management" and the other thought it was to controlling.

I first presented the concept of the "Organizational Mind" at the Sandoz 6/9-12/1996 Montpellier Research Conference. It was in the documented conference report.

The first useful knowledge product for business in Sandoz was the Sandoz Competitor Intelligence tool. This product was created and launched in Novemenber of 1995. We identified knowledge gatekeepers and evangelized the concept. The first contributor to this effort was Dr. Paul Herrling, the Research VP, himself. I believe that this tool had contributed to the selection of Ciba and its pipeline as merger partner. I had always meant to validate the actual knowledge about Ciba after the merger with the knowledge we had compiled from published works. Unfortunately I left Pharma from boredom resulting from the lack of progress due to the fog of merger.

The second major knowledge product was the InfoWeb at Novartis Consumer Health. Dr. Werner Tschollar was named the R&D VP and I joined NCH as the head of Knowledge Management and Collaboration Technologies. I created the k-layered knowledge architecture and acted as the IT project manager for InfoWeb with Ms Maryam Olsen as the business project managerm The result of this effort included an encylopedia of all NCH products as they are branded in all countries, knowledge about all experts and sites, a project porfolio integrated with MS project to manage all projects, and many team workspaces for collaborative management of all processes. I reported this at the 9/15-16/1998 Conference on Knowledge Management and Organizational Learning, European Conference Board.

I hope that this information helps to clarify the story about how knowledge management was started at Novartis.

David L. Chu
P.S. I kept copies of all the historic records in my portfolio and would be more than happy to share with your Web Site.

David L. Chu said:

I left off one other historic note. Frank LaSaracina, who I believe was a VP at Ciba, and I, from Sandoz, invited a number of business, research, and library staff during the merger process to join the Novartis Knowledge Network that the two of us founded. This was the very first Novartis knowledge network.

» KM at Novartis, Part 2 from Knowledge Jolt with Jack

I wrote about KM at Novartis last year, concluding that there wasn't much happening at the pharmaceutical giant with respect to knowledge management. Apparently I was wrong. The Novartis Campus Project in their "about Novartis" pages talks about their ... Read More

» More KM at Novartis from Knowledge Jolt with Jack

David L. Chu has commented on my KM at Novartis. He was one of the key people involved in creating Novartis' Knowledge Marketplace with Joerg Staheli. He has also provided some old presentations to help see historical context. Read More

Actually Novartis Infant and Baby (Gerber Baby Foods) has recently been recognized as a knowledge management leader within Novartis. Gerber's knowledge network powered by AskMe Enterprise is used to systematically link and leverage expertise while ensuring the capture and re-application of lessons learned. The system has been in place since 2003 and was recently featured in an internal magazine publication of Novartis Consumer Health.

» KM at Novartis, Part 2 from Knowledge Jolt with Jack

An update on my earlier writing about KM at Novartis. It seems there is more happening behind the scenes these days. Read More

David L. Chu said:

It is indeed gratifying to learn that my pioneering work at NCH had produced enough interest and understanding at Gerber, as noted by Daniel Teeter, to continue to evolve. I remember fondly my trip to Gerber with the global CIO, Mr. Leo Foketyn, as his deputy. I was evangelising about the benefits of KM and the Infoweb suite. I understand that Leo's replacement, Mr. Hoehenwater, who became my manager, was named CIO for Gerber when it moved its HQ to Summit, NJ. Perhaps Daniel could post a link to the article itself? I would like to read up on it.

Sorry David - I can't post the document as it is not publicly available. It is interesting to see the evolution as you describe it in past efforts and it is fairly representative of what we have seen across the pharma industry.

Leave a comment

Previous entry: Patti Anklam coming to AOK

Next entry: The Best Thing I've Ever Tasted

Picture a steaming coffee cup. Better yet, grab one and have a read!

KJolt Memberships

Follow jackvinson on Twitter

View Jack Vinson's profile on LinkedIn