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Knowledge management in Life Sciences

Whether you are a pharmaceutical, biotech or a medical device company, knowledge is pivotal for achieving success. In all functional pillars of a Life Sciences company from R&D, manufacturing to clinical, regulatory and market access, complexity and cross-functional interdependency is high and is generally executed by skilled professionals with extensive knowledge. Moreover, companies in the Life Sciences space that are competent at knowledge management are significantly more successful in e.g. the conduct of compliance and audit processes.Consequently, managing knowledge is crucial.

What is knowledge management?

Knowledge management can essentially be broken down into 4 key elements encompassing: Creating, Applying, Sharing and Maintaining knowledge.

Creating – Engulfs new knowledge creation through learning, coaching, mentoring etc. In an industry that is continually facing new regulations, technology and innovations, new knowledge creation is critical and a focal competitive parameter.

Applying – Engulfs making sure the environment is set up for people to use their knowledge/experience – hereunder making sure that the right systems, processes and structures are in place to form a platform of efficient knowledge flow.

Sharing – Engulfs how knowledge is transferred between individuals. Is there e.g. a strong process for transferring knowledge throughout the team, department or organisation?

Maintaining – Engulfs making sure that knowledge is maintained within an organisation. Are there software, filing systems, trainings etc. in place to make sure that the latest knowledge is made readily available to people.

As a headhunter to the Life Sciences industry, we can see how important knowledge management is for instance in the onboarding phase of new executive candidates. In our experience, companies that are good at creating, using, sharing and maintaining knowledge are generally more effective in onboarding a new executive quickly. Essentially, these companies have created an environment and a culture that enables newcomers to understand their role and tasks quickly.

When hiring a new executive, the primary objective of any company should be ensuring that the executive obtains the capability to take the lead and deliver added value in his/her new role within the shortest possible timeframe. However, an executive will not be able to deliver benefit, nor undertake independent leadership, until he/she has reached the necessary level of decision-making competency. Therefore, in order for the executive to become competent in decision-making, he/she must have acquired the necessary insights, knowledge and relationships to make informed and value-adding decisions. In addition, the ambition of the company and the onboarding executive should be to narrow the time gap between the new executive contributing as much value to their company as they have consumed from it – and here knowledge management is the key to narrowing this gap.

Why is knowledge management particularly important in Life Sciences?

Organisations that manage knowledge effectively are more agile and better suited to drive effective innovation. They are also better positioned to drive compliance and demonstrate competence to regulators. Here are some key benefits that come with being good at knowledge management in the Life Sciences space:

Increased cross-functional and cross-organisational transparency – E.g. In the complex transfer phase of a product from R&D to manufacturing it is critical that design assurance processes, data and documents are compliant, transparent and transferable across departments, otherwise increased risks of non-compliance will occur. Hence an environment of openness, learning and sharing knowledge between functional and organizational silos will improve transparency and lower the risks.

Faster access to knowledge – Due to continuously changing market conditions, Life Sciences companies need to be agile and dynamic which again requires an environment providing quick access to information. For instance, when dealing with safety issues, the pharmacovigilance/ vigilance department needs to have quick access to adverse effect data and trending as the risk to patient’s lives when it comes to serious adverse effects may rise by the minute.

More innovation – A positive outcome of an environment of learning and sharing knowledge is innovation and exchange of new ideas. In recent years more and more Life Sciences companies have formed “network teams” consisting of people from different functional pillars sharing knowledge on e.g. specific therapeutic or product areas often increasing the output of new innovation.

Improved quality of information – A positive side effect of effective knowledge management systems and processes is an increased focus on the quality of data and information. Often it is the combination of having put formalized systems, processes and structures in place offering greater overview while facilitating knowledge sharing combined with broader cross-value chain access to critical data, that drives improved data quality.

Improved regulatory agility – Continuous changes in regulations and innovations require Life Sciences companies to adapt to changing market contexts. A strong knowledge management set-up offering intelligence access and effective inter- and intra-organisational knowledge sharing processes is critical in order to remain agile. Fore instance a fundamental change in a local regulation in a key market may leave a huge impact on the future regional and global regulatory strategy.

Life Sciences companies create, acquire and accumulate vast amounts of unstructured data. These data are often the most important assets owned by the company, often scattered across different knowledge repositories and not easily accessible or searchable. Adding to this, is the huge complexity related to patient- and payer journeys and the diversity of stakeholders involved along the care continuum. Having a corporate culture that encourages knowledge management is quite simply paramount to the success of any Life Sciences company. Moreover, it will ultimately lead to improved onboarding of new executive talent, reduced staff turnover and often an improved employer brand. In fact, organisational culture and knowledge management go hand in hand, and in order to manage knowledge effectively one needs to create an environment and culture that promotes knowledge acquisition, application and maintenance.


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