Boston Scientific wants to tear down barriers that prevent product developers from accessing the research that went into its successful medical devices so that they can create new products faster.
But making data too easily accessible could open the way to theft of information potentially worth millions or billions of dollars. It's a classic corporate data privacy problem.
"The more info you give knowledge workers, the more effective they can be in creating a lot of value for the company," says Boris Evelson, a principal analyst at Forrester. "This creates disclosure risks--that someone's going to walk away with the data and give it to a competitor."
To read more on this topic, see: Security Breaches: Three Tools for Preventing Data Loss and Sustainable Innovation at Boston Scientific.
This tension compels the $8 billion company to seek out software that allows the broader engineering community to share knowledge while managing access to product development data, says Jude Currier, cardiovascular knowledge management and innovation practices lead at Boston Scientific.
Active security is the way to address this problem, Currier says. That is, regularly monitor who's accessing what and adjust permissions as business conditions change.
Open but Protected
Keeping the pipeline of new stents, pacemakers and catheters fresh is especially important because heart-related items account for 80 percent of Boston Scientific's sales.
Over the past few years engineers have been focused on quality system improvements, Currier says. Boston Scientific had inherited regulatory problems from acquisitions it made during that time. Now that those situations are addressed, the company is ready to reinvigorate internal innovation, he says.
Boston Scientific is piloting Invention Machine's Goldfire software, which, Currier says, provides the right mix of openness and security for data. Before, Boston Scientific's product developers worked in silos with limited access to research by colleagues on different product lines.
Information was so locked down that even if scientists found something useful from a past project, they often didn't have access to it. "We're changing that," Currier says.
Goldfire makes an automated workflow out of such tasks as analyzing markets and milking a company's intellectual property. It combines internal company data with information from public sources, such as federal government databases.
Researchers can use the software to find connections among different sources, for instance by highlighting similar ideas. Engineers can use such analysis to get ideas for new products and begin to study their feasibility.
The goal is to have any engineer access any other's research. "The people in trenches can't wait for [that] day to arrive," he says.
Although the goal is more openness, not all data stays open forever. For example, as a project gets closer to the patent application stage, access to the data about it is clipped to fewer people, Currier says.
He adds that since installing Goldfire, patent applications are up compared to similar engineering groups that do not use the Goldfire tool.
"We have had to educate [people] that we aren't throwing security out the window [but] making valuable knowledge available to the organization," he says.