Tapping the Enterprise's Expertise Infrastructure

At Aventis, software seeks out knowledge in company's systems to promote collaboration

Palo Alto, CA  June 20, 2002  Aventis, like other pharmaceutical companies, faces constant pressure to discover new drugs and get them onto the market more rapidly, and last year alone it invested $2.7 billion in research and development to do just that.

Yet, ironically, the emphasis on generating results within the $15.9 billion company's geographically dispersed Drug Innovation and Approval (DI&A) organization meant that researchers tended to become siloed in their work at Aventis, which was formed by the merger of Hoechst AG of Germany and Rhone-Poulenc S.A. of France.

Moreover, interviews with the Aventis scientists revealed frustrations in being able to find appropriate knowledge that they were sure existed somewhere in the company, such as being able to track down the internal research history of a compound or previous learnings around a particular enzyme.

Given Aventis' focus on time-to-market, the company undertook an initiative to become a more networked enterprise. Last year, for example, Aventis elected to adopt solutions from IBM and software company Spotfire to manage and integrate data from multiple biological and chemical databases, with the goal of allowing researchers to query those databases and identify new drug targets. In addition to these solutions, Aventis sought out technology that would allow for better sharing of its scientists' knowledge across the company.

Enter Tacit Knowledge Systems, a software company offering just such a solution.

Tacit, which just rolled out version 4.0 of its flagship ESP solution, said its "expertise infrastructure" software can help enterprises connect their employees to expertise, information and activities across their organizations.

As the provider explained it, Tacit's software automatically discovers expertise and activity across large and complex organizations and connects people so they can collaborate, share information and coordinate their activities. The software trolls through existing content sources, such as document repositories and e-mail archives, to discover individual expertise and activity, and then it makes end-users aware of relevant colleagues through interfaces in productivity applications like Microsoft Outlook, Lotus Notes and enterprise portals.

For those inclined to cry "Shades of Big Brother!," Tacit said its system includes mechanisms that protect individual privacy and allow end-users control over what information about them is revealed to others.

"Expertise infrastructure is a key technology component in any large or complex organization," said David Gilmour, Tacit's president and CEO. "It detects expertise from IT systems already in place, then automatically connects people across the enterprise to save time, coordinate activity, drive innovation and produce better results for customers."

Version 4.0 of ESP, due to be released June 28, includes multi-language profiling and search, expanded XML integration APIs, and new document link and search capability for tighter integration with content management systems and information repositories to allow end-users to access not only relevant colleagues but also the key relevant documents and files those people have worked on or worked with.

Because there were no pharmaceutical implementations to use as a benchmark, Aventis elected to pilot Tacit's KnowledgeMail solution with 435 people across three sites, out of a total of 75,000 people employees. Success of the pilot was measured based on productivity gains, product usability and cultural-fit.

At the end of the three-month pilot Aventis estimated the solution had saved the company 7.8 man months in research time. Participants in the pilot rated the solution as a 4.1 out of 5.0 in terms of usability, and at the end of the pilot 83 percent of users asked that the product not be taken away.

In one case, a scientist was trying to develop a macrophage assay by culturing macrophages and using cell sorting. Normally he would have spent up to two weeks searching through literature to find examples of different protocols on various methods for culturing and an additional two weeks to identify appropriate cell sorting technology. Instead, he used the Tacit solution to find other scientists who were able to provide the information and relevant experience he was looking for. This information was not published in any public repository, but Tacit's technology was able to make the connection between these scientists and reduced the research effort by four weeks.

Since the Aventis implementation, Tacit has signed another pharmaceutical client, AstraZeneca, and the provider recently reported that Gillette will use its solutions, too. Other existing customers include ChevronTexaco and Northrop Grumman  and, not surprisingly given the current environment, the U.S. intelligence community.

Michael Mooradian, Tacit's vice president of worldwide sales, attributed the company's recent success to the niche that it fills in the marketplace. "Companies spent $3.6 billion on collaboration and messaging software over the last two years," Morradian said, "but end-users have no way to find out who they should collaborate with, when they should collaborate or why. That's what Tacit does, and that's why customers are buying our software."