When information consultant John Swartzendruber saw the simple way the World Wide Web conveys information, he had a vision of how that could change things for his employer, pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly & Co. "I was struck with all the kinds of data you could get at with just one interface," he says. Swartzendruber sold management on his vision and last year hooked up 3,000 desktops in two dozen countries. By the end of 1996, Lilly's intranet will link some 16,000 workers--almost two-thirds of its worldwide staff.
Already it has simplified tasks such as scheduling clinical trials and submissions for new drugs in 120 countries. Typically, each market has unique requirements on how trial data must be collected, analyzed, and labeled. Before the intranet, teams of research administrators, physicians, statisticians, and legal experts relied on fragmentary information and guesswork to choose trial sites. Regulatory information from different countries had to be laboriously assembled via E-mail, causing deadlines to slide.
The situation was maddening because all the required information existed somewhere in the company--if one only knew where to look. Now, the intranet brings it all to a series of Web pages. "The regulatory person at a meeting can refer to a page on the Web and take the whole group through the process step-by-step," says Diana McKenzie, an information technology manager in charge of regulatory affairs. A planning team in Indianapolis can skip across time zones to databases on far-flung servers without waiting for colleagues on different continents to punch in. That way, it can tell in minutes whether the preparation time for a given market will meet management's schedule. "We find everything out at the planning session, before it's too late," McKenzie says.
"Groupware" products such as Lotus Notes could do all that--but only after considerable outlays of money and time for training and support, says Michael C. Heim, an information officer for Lilly Research Laboratories. For people simply reviewing and sharing data, he says, "Notes gives you more complexity than you need." Indeed, Swartzendruber linked Lilly's first 3,000 intranet acolytes for just $80,000. "Intranets aren't the Holy Grail of computing," he says. "But for now, they're hard to beat."