Chaotic Content: Streamlined Solutions

October 1, 2001
Mark Hollander

Mark Hollander is executive vice president of New York-based DeepBridge Content Solutions, a pharmaceutical content management systems integrator.

Pharmaceutical Executive

Pharmaceutical Executive, Pharmaceutical Executive-10-01-2001, Volume 0, Issue 0

t's 4 pm on Friday. The board of directors has just made an important decision and wants to announce it over the weekend. The challenge? Publish an English-language version on the company's global Web portals immediately. The problem? It's the weekend and offices around the world are about to close. In the past, that meant hunkering down for a weekend of e-mails to coordinate the effort, but now there is a better solution. After writing the document in Microsoft Word, the sender simply clicks on a special menu item, "Publish to Portals," and off it goes. Confirming dialogue boxes allow

t's 4 pm on Friday. The board of directors has just made an important decision and wants to announce it over the weekend. The challenge? Publish an English-language version on the company's global Web portals immediately. The problem? It's the weekend and offices around the world are about to close. In the past, that meant hunkering down for a weekend of e-mails to coordinate the effort, but now there is a better solution. After writing the document in Microsoft Word, the sender simply clicks on a special menu item, "Publish to Portals," and off it goes. Confirming dialogue boxes allow the sender to double check the work and select the countries where the announcement will appear. The release can even be embargoed until midnight on Sunday, and the links will occur automatically.

Web content management systems (CMSs) are real and already in use by major companies. Web CMSs are software tool kits that automate content's rapid deployment from multiple sources, a necessity for any business handling significant amounts of volatile content. The system creates pages, links, and navigation aids in seconds, as opposed to hours, for manual deployment.

Easy to Use

For global pharma companies facing the explosion in web-based direct-to-consumer (DTC), direct-to-physician, and portal promotion, the software saves thousands of labor hours a year and accelerates the delivery of key promotional, educational, regulatory, and investor information. Three core capabilities make the CMS ready to use for all employees with little to no training.

Content acceptance defines an easy-to-use web interface that permits nontechnical people to put their content into the system with virtually no knowledge of XML, HTML, Java, Solaris, Oracle, or any other programming language. Typically, users type or copy and paste their content into a web form on their screens. Check boxes, text boxes, and pull-down menus "tell" the system where the webpage belongs, whether someone else must approve it before going live, and when the document expires or needs reviewing for timeliness. Some vendors have begun integrating their software into Microsoft Office 2000, allowing users to create web pages from within the familiar desktop environment and to skip the copy and paste steps.

Webpage publication is wholly transparent to the end user. (See "Web Words," page 70.) It typically includes the creation of links to the new page and an updated navigation. Without a CMS, a webmaster or consultant must manually convert text into HTML, the file format that ultimately defines the page's appearance. Although products like FrontPage and Dreamweaver claim to make that process easier, users are still limited by their own skill level. In the world of CMS, all contributors are elevated to expert status, making it possible for anyone to rapidly post to the website.

Automated site management reduces busywork. A CMS can automatically

  • delete obsolete pages

  • change artwork, such as a logo or design, once and have that change ripple through the site

  • manage an archive by moving older pages into a subsection at specified intervals.

If the management of the website can be reduced to a business rule and the conditions under which that rule should be applied, the web CMS can oversee the process. For example, a built-in program might do the following:

  • show five press release headlines on the home page

  • place new releases at the top of the list on the home page, push the oldest ones out, and relocate them on the "news" page

  • when there are more than 20 releases on the "news" page, move the oldest into the archive.

Contributors need not be concerned about the machinations of the process but can focus on their job: good media coverage for the company.

Several vendors offer a feature that automates the process of moving a webpage along the review cycle from creative through brand-team approval, through regulatory and legal, and, ultimately, to the web. Each stage of the work process, including comments, review dates and times, and deadlines, is documented. The process is transparent to the "content owner," who is always able to track its progress.

Work-Flow Management

Content creation, review, and publication approval are collectively referred to as work flow-literally, the flow of work through its life cycle. When codified into a series of distinct steps, such as who sees what when and who has the authority to approve it for release to the public, the process can be automated.

Work-flow management can mean real dividends and was a vital element of Aventis' CMS strategy. "We saw work flow as an area of opportunity to improve," says Diane B. DeMarco, vice-president of the company's e-business innovation group. "With the regulatory environment in which all pharmaceutical companies operate, it's vital to have an internal process for reviewing anything and everything we publish. Work flow is one of the key drivers behind our decision to implement a CMS."

Philip Connolly, IT communications manager for GlaxoSmithKline, agrees that work-flow management has been a key factor for his company, realizing that the biggest CMS benefits are the result of work-flow improvements in copy-approval policies and risk reduction, which are associated with tight control of what is published and when on their websites. "With a CMS, our brands and functional areas can easily manage and publish content with a trusted web content copy approval," says Connolly. "That makes the approval process much faster, allowing us to go from static brochureware to more interactive and up-to-date websites."

Transitioning to a work flow that electronically sends materials through regulatory and legal reviews isn't an easy process, as DeMarco discovered. Aventis is still implementing the transformation, moving all the companies' websites, country by country and business function by business function, to an e-business platform that will enable online reviews for regulatory and legal purposes.

A typical pharma company website inventory will turn up hundreds of sites, including corporate portals for each country in which the company conducts business, DTC sites where permitted, and professional education sites where DTC isn't permitted. When mergers and acquisitions impact companies and their employees, the number of sites can increase, and the need to extract economies of scale becomes all the more important. The reality of business is that size does count; discounts and better service agreements can be negotiated from software, hardware, and internet service providers when most or all of the company's business is contracted to a few vendors. Fewer vendors also mean greater efficiency.

The Real World

That was part of the thinking behind GSK's integrated web presence. "There was a general feeling in both companies that we could do things a little smarter," explains Connolly. "A CMS enables us to take out the IT bottleneck and improve and accelerate the way we communicate. Currently, publishing our content from paper to our websites is a nightmare. Our corporate communications people have to mail, fax, or e-mail the content around for approval, then farm it out to agencies or webmasters for publication online. Overall, it is a slow, resource-intensive, and complex process."

When customer relationship management (CRM) is factored in, the equation becomes more complicated, but the possibilities are even more appealing. "What started us down the path of looking at a CMS," DeMarco says, "was the need to build a new website to act as the foundation for an e-business platform allowing us to reach a broader segment of customers and to manage those relationships. The focus of e-business at Aventis is to use technology to enhance and improve patient outcomes, and Aventis.com became the cornerstone of our efforts to realize that strategy."

Almost every pharma company has some type of content-management initiative underway, whether it's a committee charged with evaluating potential systems and vendors, a proof-of-concept prototype, or a full-blown deployment. Most of those systems focus on global corporate portals, in which the content contributors and types are most clearly defined and the regulatory issues are easily addressed.

Tying It Together

Streamlined marketing is the ultimate goal of all those activities. In fact, by tying CMS, CRM, and DTC together, pharmaceutical executives can realistically look forward to forging tight relationships with all customers across all channels.