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Pharma Achieves ‘Collaboration on a Monster Scale’ Using Tools that Reduce Noise and Advance Teamwork

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4 minute read
Back to blog
4 minute read

Intra-business communication is getting more complex, and every new tool adds a layer of both useful data and noise. Unsatisfied by the insufficient flexibility and integration offered by commercially available collaboration tools, AbbVie was looking for a solution that would help advance collaboration in integrated networks while reducing noise and streamlining operations.

In response, AbbVie’s Business Technology Solutions (BTS) Division built a highly integrated, flexible and easy-to-use collaboration and no-code app-building platform called Ethos.

AbbVie’s Derek Debe and TJ Tang outlined how the Ethos system came about in their MarkLogic World presentation, AbbVie’s Collaboration Platform: Flexible, Empowering Tools to Advance Life-Saving Drug Development.

‘The Original Moon Shot’

AbbVie has partnerships with 310 other biotech companies, universities, nonprofits and government agencies. With each project comes a unique set of stakeholders, documents, processes and data sets, often in siloed applications. The company needed its data to be deeply searchable and easily usable by all collaborators.

Derek Debe, Ph.D., the company’s Director of Innovation & Emerging Technology, told MarkLogic World attendees that the explosion of group chat capabilities means that collaborating is often inefficient and can be overwhelming.

“Discovering and developing a drug is like the original moon shot. We’re talking 10 years and 10,000 people,” he said.

“Taking a drug from idea to market is a collaborative effort on a monster scale.”

Dr. Debe said his goal was to simplify the analogous tools into integrated solutions that were searchable and made it possible for an individual staff member to instantly see the context required to understand the data they were looking at and how it was relevant to them. Less context switching means knowledge workers can spend more time on the task at hand, reducing collaboration overhead.

How MarkLogic Powers Collaboration

Created in partnership with Maven Wave Partners, AbbVie’s Business Technology Solutions division named its solution the Ethos System. It is comprised of three tools:

  • Buzz is for team communication and industry news. An analog for Slack or Microsoft Teams, it allows for free-flowing conversation and alignment.
  • Dash is a drag-and-drop intranet with change tracking across all types of files. Wherever a file is saved, it is linked to that place only, and is searchable from any tool.
  • Knowledge Notebooks unites forms, views and data management with project, task and workflow management.

Dr. Debe said that teams could follow the set of topics relating to their work and ignore the others. Instead of push notifications for small changes, staff could see change tracking that was relevant to their role and when they last viewed the file. He said as processes mature, the teams worked more frequently in Knowledge Notebooks, leaving Buzz and Dash for collaboration on less-generic projects.

Principal Architect, TJ Tang, said the Ethos system was built on MarkLogic’s ability to find and connect information previously stored in siloed systems, including custom AbbVie apps. He said the raw binary data and source metadata was fed into MarkLogic, and the team used a suite of classification tools including SciBite TERMite and Smartlogic’s Semaphore to enrich the raw text with entity annotation.

“You can filter on drug names and company names and so forth—those are surfaced through this kind of entity annotation,” he said.

“We picked MarkLogic because it’s a component we can fit overall into this whole custom development flow. It can easily fit in, and we can customize it however we want to.”

MarkLogic now ingests information from Knowledge Notebooks and Dash, and surfaces it for Buzz, keeping relevant teams in the loop. It makes all information searchable, shareable, and linkable across the complex company collaboration structure.

Owning their own system also created major cost savings, Dr. Debe said. Upgrading enterprise-level tools was hugely expensive, and making them backward-compatible added more cost. Now AbbVie could control when and how to upgrade its systems, building them specifically for business needs.

Individual teams can also take control of their processes by building their own knowledge bases.

“Overall we’ve got about 1,500 Knowledge Notebooks going,” Dr. Debe said.

“We estimated that’s about $5 million in IT capital project costs and 10 full-time equivalents in support personnel.”

Accelerating the Development Pipeline

Dr. Debe said the Ethos suite had simplified team communications, sharing and collaboration. With the ability to listen to channels that matter and tune out the rest, staff were context switching less often and able to find whatever they needed with a few keystrokes.

“MarkLogic serves that information up in stunning real-time speed,” he said.

He said his aim was to encourage staff to “shift right” from Buzz, the chat channel, through Dash to the Knowledge Notebooks, which allowed for process-driven, mature business practices.

“Happy users are our guiding light, and we’ve gotten positive feedback on all these different platforms. We try to drive people to Knowledge Notebooks when their business processes are ‘wash, rinse and repeatable’ and they have matured to that point. Otherwise, Buzz and Dash are more the order of the day.”

Today the Ethos suite provides AbbVie with a powerful collaboration platform for self-service business process improvement for AbbVie.

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Fiona Ehret-Kayser

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