Information Challenges Facing Life Science Startups

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It’s no secret that life science startups face many business challenges.  In the early days of a company’s existence, most often the focus of the business is on research and development rather than policies/procedures, infrastructure, or developing a library/knowledge center.   Information management is typically handled on an ad-hoc basis, if at all, because hiring an information professional is not a priority.  Without a dedicated person to oversee the procurement and management of information resources on behalf of the organization, however, these small companies run into issues that can cost them valuable time and energy, and potentially put them at risk of gaps in coverage for content and rights, inefficiencies in content access, usage, and collaboration (resulting in less-than-optimal productivity),  violation of license agreements, and even copyright infringement claims.

What happens without oversight of information resources?

While smaller companies may not have the need (or have the funds) for a full-time library/knowledge director, it behooves them to appoint someone within the organization to oversee this critical function.  In some companies, a chief of staff can take on the role.  In others, someone in the IT department may be the most logical resource.

Without centralized oversight of information resources:

  • Who procures and renews subscriptions?
  • Who activates subscriptions once they are renewed?
  • Who tracks IP addresses and reports them to publishers?
  • Who evaluates automated tools and work flow solutions that can benefit the organization?
  • Who evaluates what licenses are needed to enable content access and sharing as necessary to achieve the company’s goals?
  • Who ensures that the use of content is consistent with subscriptions and license agreements and educates employees about what content can be shared and in what manner?

These issues may go undetected or overlooked without proper oversight, preventing full optimization and likely leading to inappropriate sharing of resources.

Enhancing productivity through information management

A key benefit of centralizing information resources is the enhanced productivity that stems from employees spending less time searching multiple places for information.  It’s widely acknowledged that the typical employee in R&D spends about 2 hours of their day searching for information.  Any improvement to the findability of information will advance productivity, and that translates into money saved.  Not only are workers wasting less time, but they’re better-positioned to make the strategic decisions that move a business forward in a timely manner.   Centralizing the information function will also help determine which content resources are being used, by whom, and how often, enabling the company to conduct cost-benefit analyses.

While access to content is an issue, another is how the content can be used.  Copyright in the workplace can be confusing, especially for researchers coming directly from academia.

In commercial organizations, compliance issues often surface when researchers continue to retrieve articles through their former academic affiliations even though those institutions’ subscriptions and licenses do not extend to to those researchers’ activities outside the academic institution.  And even when articles are obtained via a corporate subscription from a publisher or through document delivery, questions may arise regarding what reuse or sharing rights are associated with the article.

Without a knowledgeable person or definitive resources to educate the enterprise, organizations are at risk of copyright infringement.  Confusion arises around permissions, such as:

  • Does the organization have the rights to internally share copies of an article that they’ve obtained?
  • Can it be shared if it was downloaded from a personal subscription?
  • Can an article be stored and accessed on a company shared drive?
  • Can a figure from an article be used in an external presentation?
  • How do they get appropriate permissions?

Once companies begin to implement an infrastructure to help with information management, the next challenge becomes change management.  Educating and training within the organization is crucial for adoption.  Continued promotion of resources and training as the company grows is also essential for the best return on investment.

Proper information management within biotech and pharma can help eliminate information silos and streamline processes to enhance productivity, enable agile decision making, and speed time to market—clearly a sensible decision for growing organizations.

Keep Learning:

As companies grow, their information needs grow, as well. CCC recognizes the difficulty in balancing current needs with future growth and is committed to providing smaller life science companies with a sustainable work flow solution to address information “underload” and copyright compliance challenges that grows with the company. Learn more about CCC’s RightFind Suite for Emerging Life Science Companies .

Heather Desmarais

Author: Heather Desmarais

Heather Desmarais is a knowledge and information management consultant, as well as the founder and principal of HJDesmarais Consulting LLC.

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