Health care firm drives progress with SharePoint 2010 implementation

A comprehensive enterprise SharePoint 2010 implementation is expected to help one health care consultancy more effectively advise clients and deliver new drugs and medical tools to the market.

A new SharePoint 2010 implementation that ties together earlier versions of the collaboration platform at a Weston, Mass.-based consultancy should help the firm more effectively advise its clients on the business aspects of getting new drugs and medical tools into the hands of doctors, nurses and other health care workers.

It’s a big project and it’s in the hands of John Burke and Laura Eisenmann of Health Advances LLC. The pair of knowledge management experts are merging “basic -- and in some cases --primitive applications” into a comprehensive enterprise SharePoint 2010 collaboration implementation.

“We’re at the threshold of integrating case management, search and collaboration under one SharePoint umbrella,” said Burke, Health Advances’ consultant on business systems. The project is expected to help streamline the firm’s approach to counseling top-tier pharmaceutical companies, medical device manufacturers and others about product launches, acquisitions and other business aspects of the health care industry.

“Collaboration is a key aspect of what our employees and clients need to do on a daily basis,” Burke said, adding that archiving and retrieving important content should be simple, whether it’s found in statistical databases, analyst reports or government data.

A wealth of information
That effort to make collaboration easy and efficient is aimed at helping companies and researchers develop business strategies for treating disease, conducting clinical trials and developing new medical devices. And while there is a wealth of information available, the key is getting the right information to teams of smart people who regularly collaborate to accomplish a common goal.

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“There’s also a lot of information on the Internet, and we don’t trust that,” said Eisenmann, director of knowledge management at Health Advances. That type of content is often brought in-house by the company, vetted for accuracy, rated by internal experts and historically has then been stored in file shares.

At any one time, Health Advances’ employees are collaborating in small teams and working on projects for a virtual who’s who of health care. Most of its clients are large enterprises, but some are smaller research groups. The teams pull together unstructured content from SharePoint 2003, 2007 and 2010 file shares using different processes and sources. Many of these revolve around databases, one of which is a case summary database Burke called “a giant spreadsheet about all of the cases Health Advances has engaged in over the last 20 years.”

The company believed making that comprehensive database easily searchable would be an easy win. They would simply need to move all the data over to SharePoint 2010. But the latest version didn’t offer a grid view of search results the way 2003 did, which was important to the spreadsheet-centric consultant staff.

No simple transition
Health Advances considered List Search from Bamboo Technologies, but metadata proved to be a problem when transitioning from SharePoint 2003, so they nixed that approach. Instead, Burke and Eisenmann asked Health Advances consultants to continue to search in SharePoint 2003 “and keep the faith” as the two work on a customized search capability for the new SharePoint 2010 deployment.

Another source of information that gives clients access to important research is the “catalog of experts,” Eisenmann said. “It’s sort of our own little Yahoo of experts.”

While it sounds like quite a large and helpful library, it’s difficult to navigate. Consultants are often relying on their memory of past cases and making phone calls to former employees and, Burke said, using “email and walking to someone else’s cube” to collaborate. And when you have satellite offices in San Francisco and Zurich, Switzerland, the effectiveness of that approach is more than suspect.

“Laura was brought in to tame the knowledge structure,” Burke said of his colleague. “I was brought in to tame information processes -- to find a way to ease the pain a lack of software tools was causing people in their everyday tasks.” The plan is to use the SharePoint collaboration platform for workflow, search and data management.

Early in the process
While it’s early yet in Health Advances’ SharePoint implementation, Burke and Eisenmann have mapped out how the deployment will unravel. The plan is to roll it out bit by bit to have version 1.0 in operation by the end of the year. Though Eisenmann said not everyone in the company understands the benefits of SharePoint 2010, she’s been working on that by involving more employees in the planning process.

End users will be asked to evaluate development versions along the way, and education is going to be an ongoing part of deployment.

“People are anxious to get the tools even though they might resist adopting it,” Burke said. However, that’s not a SharePoint issue, according to Eisenmann, but rather a larger knowledge management issue she’s experienced with projects at other companies. In this case, she doesn’t see a very big issue because end user representatives are already part of the process.

Health Advances shares medical industry expertise across consultant teams and already boasts a committee structure that Eisenmann and Burke plan to use for creating SharePoint governance planning and user groups and writing up SharePoint guides and scripts.

“We are tuned into the fact that governance is one of the most gnarly issues that faces a SharePoint deployment [but] we’re reserving that for version two,” Burke said. “Right now my main job here is to keep slugging away [and] once we get this version done, there are other business process items that I need to tackle.”

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