Correspondence

Nature Reviews Drug Discovery 11, 497 (June 2012) | doi:10.1038/nrd2973-c1

A blueprint for an ideal corporate information centre

See also: Analysis by Pankaj Agarwal et al.

Oliver Renn1, Michael Archer2, Carmen Burkhardt3, Jeannette Ginestet4, Henning P. Nielsen5 & Joanna Woodward6

Author affiliations

  1. Oliver Renn (formerly at Boehringer Ingelheim) is at Adalbert-Stifter-Straße 16, 79102 Freiburg, Germany.
  2. Michael Archer (formerly at AstraZeneca) is at Swets Information Services, Abingdon Business Park, Abingdon, Oxfordshire OX14 1UQ, UK.
  3. Carmen Burkhardt is at Novartis, CH.4056 Basel, Switzerland.
  4. Jeannette Ginestet has recently retired from Sanofi-aventis Montpellier, France.
  5. Henning P. Nielsen is at Novo Nordisk, DK-2880 Bagsværd, Denmark.
  6. Joanna Woodward is at Pfizer, Eastern Point Road, Groton, Connecticut 06340, USA.

Correspondence to: Oliver Renn1 Email: olrenn@aol.com

Published online 18 May 2012

Innovation is fostered by information, and so gaining and analysing information has always been a key competitive asset in any research-based company, including those in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries. Indeed, as an article by Agarwal and Searls noted (Can literature analysis identify innovation drivers in drug discovery? Nature Rev. Drug Discov. 8, 865–878 (2009))1, the focus of innovative drug research and development (R&D) should be guided not only by medical need and commercial potential but also by using information analysis to identify the areas in which new science is creating therapeutic opportunities.

Corporate libraries have therefore always had an indispensable function in the drug industry. Furthermore, technological advances in the past 20 years have transformed the information world, and corporate libraries have evolved into information management and knowledge centres, thus turning into innovation partners2, 3, 4, 5, 6.

Within companies, corporate information centres are expected to gain efficiency and to provide greater value to the multidisciplinary groups that use them, which are often distributed over several sites globally. So, such centres are constantly facing reorganization, and need to define the functions that are required to fulfil their tasks of fostering innovation, enabling access to internal and external knowledge, and integrating content into the workflow of researchers. However, there is no publication so far that describes a state-of-the-art corporate information centre. Thus, the P-D-R (Pharma Documentation Ring), an association whose members represent the scientific information departments of 21 leading international R&D-based pharmaceutical corporations, has developed a blueprint, which we present here, for an ideal corporate information centre (ICIC) that could be used by any company — not only in the pharmaceutical industry (see Further information for an extended version). The P-D-R has defined twelve building blocks that such an ICIC should consist of, which are described below, as well as how an ICIC should be integrated into the corporation.

The 12 core elements of an ICIC

Corporate information centres can be organized in multiple ways, but there are a set of core functions that need to be included. The twelve core elements (Fig. 1) do not need to be organizational units within an ICIC but are functions that an ICIC should include, and some elements could be merged with or embedded in other business units. However, to maximize the impact of the ICIC on the competitiveness of the company, an ICIC should integrate all of these core elements.


The twelve core elements can be grouped into four categories: information access, information research, information technology (IT) and knowledge management. Figure 2 summarizes and describes key features of these elements. First, the three core elements grouped under information access ensure that the content that drives a corporation's R&D can be acquired and disseminated, which is the foundation for getting decision-making and processes right. Second, information research ensures that the money spent on information access has multiple returns, by boosting innovation and saving expenditure in R&D. This is done by reaching out to researchers as well as by providing individual consultancy and highly customized information services. Third, an ICIC needs a state-of-the-art information architecture to support its services and allow integration into the workflow of users. Last, knowledge management should be an attitude that characterizes the ICIC overall, and does not necessarily need to be an organizational unit, but it has been included in the twelve core elements.

Figure 2 | The twelve core elements of an ideal corporate information centre.
Figure 2 : The twelve core elements of an ideal corporate information centre. Unfortunately we are unable to provide accessible alternative text for this. If you require assistance to access this image, or to obtain a text description, please contact npg@nature.comThe elements are shown in a pictorial form in Fig. 1 and are colour-coded accordingly here. ICIC, ideal corporate information centre; R&D, research and development.

Reporting line of the ICIC

Information centres are found in various positions in the company structure. At present, the majority (~60%) of information centres in the member companies of the P-D-R report into the R&D function. The general rationale for this is that many of the users are in R&D and they appreciate that success depends on access to cutting-edge information services. However, in companies in which an information centre provides services for the entire company (for example, also including sales and marketing), prioritizing needs and budget demands becomes an issue.

About 20% of information centres report into the IT function. IT serves the whole company and has become a vital part of the infrastructure (similarly to the information centre); however, this is where the similarity ends. The disadvantage of reporting into IT is that technology takes over and the focus tends to be shifted towards hardware and software management, rather than on catalysing innovation through facilitating information dissemination and analysis.

The corporate-wide nature of information services suggests that there could be advantages in having a reporting line with other corporate services, as do 20% of information centres in the P-D-R. The issue here is that although these are serving the whole company, they may well be seen as an overhead, with little understanding of their value.

In our view, the ideal reporting line for a corporate information centre would be to someone at board level who understands all aspects of information management, but otherwise into the part of the organization in which information as a key competitive asset is best understood, which is most likely to be R&D.

How can ICIC budgets be set?

All departments need information in their work processes, as much as they need IT services and a basic workplace, and so in general the ideal way of budgeting is to take the cost centrally with no back- or cross-charging at the level of individuals or teams. This ensures that information will not be missed because it is too expensive. However, it is equally important to visualize its cost, as the impression that information is free is widespread.

Sharing or back-charging of costs across the corporation is also often done on the basis of employee numbers, and it makes sense if combined with usage, but adds to the administration costs.

Another way of setting an information budget would be as a percentage of total spending, or of spending on R&D. However, in a cross-organizational CIC the priorities would become a problem if the R&D budget is going to be cut, because this would result in reduced information resources for other functions.

The opposite option to having a centrally funded resource is to organize for information suppliers to charge the departments directly on a per-use basis or a full charge-back model. This has the disadvantage of placing a high administrative burden on the information centre while shifting the focus of negotiations away from vendors of information and analysis tools towards internal bargaining between users and the centre.

So, in our view, having a fixed ICIC budget derived from general funding by all user groups from a high level, based on a clear information strategy and a thorough audit process, is the most effective.

The question of physical space

With the disappearance of the classical library, there is a declining need for physical space to store information. Nevertheless, there still needs to be a space that hosts the ICIC staff and that preferably has meeting rooms and presentation rooms that could be used for raising awareness, training activities and other interactions with users.

Benefits of an ICIC

A quote attributed to Harvard University chemistry professor Frank Westheimer — “A month in the laboratory can often save an hour in the library” — is even more pertinent in this era of the virtual library. Pharmaceutical R&D depends on access to information such as the published literature. So how do we put a value to it and decide on a budget for it? There have been several attempts to calculate return on investment, mostly by publishers7, 8, 9, 10, 11. Another way of considering the value is to estimate the cost in the case of information not being available: for example, if a company misses a paper reporting toxic effects, which would — if known — result in a project being halted or changed. The cost of not getting or applying information could be millions of dollars. Every company manages information at some level, but the companies that outperform the competition are likely to be those that have optimized their information management capabilities.

Competing interests statement

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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