Life Science companies have some complex requirements for Electronic Content Management: not just the range of content that has to be managed for a product from it’s early discovery through the decade+ cycle to post-marketing monitoring, but also the frequent collaborations with external companies such as CROs and co-marketing partners; and all of this having to meet stringent regulatory guidelines for traceability, security and of course industry standards such as eTMF, CTD and Labeling.

Most Life Science companies now have established ECM systems for managing at least the business-critical areas of documentation (submissions, clinical, labelling and so on). However, from what we have seen, the real hurdles to the smooth flow of information and therefore to getting real value from EMC, come from the way those systems might interact. For example:

  • Does your submission (CTD) system not only allow publishing, but seamless integration with submission planning, and post-submission tracking systems?
  • Do your labels in their ECM system tie in with any registration tracking systems?
  • Do documents from your eTMF system link automatically to your submissions, and does data enter your eTMF automatically from your Clinical Trial Management System (CTMS)?

In short – how many systems do your users need to log into in order to manage what is effectively one set of data? And how current is that data between systems?

At this stage, technology has advanced through things like Web Services (including CMIS) to mean that these things are possible. There are tool suites out there (our own CARA Hub included) that can provide you such capabilities. So top of our wish-list of Life Science ECM goals in 2014 would be

1. Connect all your information systems, ideally through a single access point user interface

To provide this connectivity, the systems at the back end need to be able to talk to each other, of course. But assuming they all allow communication, the next question is what those systems are. Do you need each one to be different? Can you merge? Can you go Open Source? Can the systems that normally hold content (Alfresco, Documentum, SharePoint etc) also hold metadata that is the sole purpose of other systems? In other words can you:

2. Evaluate the various back ends and switch to cheaper alternatives, as the main functionality is being delivered via the application layer

Once you have your systems talking, and the back end becomes a commodity to switch according to your own price / functionality scale, you should arrive at a point where data flows more freely between systems. This means that, instead of storing it all in multiple systems, you can have one “version of the truth” which is simply referenced and updated from multiple other systems. Of course, this sounds relatively straightforward, but masks the demon of data migration / cleanup / de-duplication which… – well let’s put that off until 2015. What we could do in the meantime is:

3. Streamline the user experience – people see what they need for their role

I know we all have the same version of MS Word, and it has 100s of menu items. But how many do we actually use or need? And wouldn’t it be nice if the things I did most frequently started to appear on my toolbar and the rest was hidden, or possibly not even there for my role? Same with content management user interfaces – start to look for the new breed of UIs that are not static black boxes but dynamic, based on role, and learn about the user over time.

All very exciting, I hear you say, but for me the problem is, I want to:

4. Just be able to find my stuff

Really – how much use is a content management system if I can’t find things? Or find them quickly, easily, without running “Advanced Searches” and too many clicks? We all search differently on the web, but we are used to Amazon-style filters, to results being ranked based on who we are, where we happen to be and so on, and to seeing those results instantaneously as we type. We wouldn’t accept less from the likes of Google and Bing, so why do we sit back and take 90s-style searching in our ECM?

So what I want, what I really really want, is the ECM system to show me my stuff quickly, allow me to interact with it and all associated information with just a few clicks, and then leave me time for my “real” job. Or extra time for coffee.