A conversation with Mingyi Liu at GPC Biotech
- # of employees
- About 220 (half in Germany; half in Massachusetts and New Jersey)
- # of people using Confluence
- 130 users
- # of Confluence pages
GPC Biotech is a biotechnology company headquartered Martinsried/Munich (Germany) focused on discovering, developing and commercialising new anticancer drugs.
What prompted GPC Biotech to try Confluence?
It started when we had an internal project coming up in our informatics department. Executives wanted us to create a knowledge base for reviewing scientific projects. One person mentioned a wiki and Wikipedia. Initially we shot down the idea but when I started evaluating software solutions, it became clear that some wikis, like Confluence, have functionality with features that we need.
Confluence was the clear winner because it's so easy to install and use. There's also a wealth of features that meet or exceed our needs. Its pricing is very reasonable and it has a very strong support team.
Pharmaceutical companies are interested in knowledge bases and some choose grand solutions for storing and managing various types of experimental results. I feel that a wiki, Confluence, serves a good niche where your main need is to store and share heterogeneous data without hassle for both scientists and informatics personnel. You can't beat the ease of sharing information through powerful versioning and searching of both heterogeneous result/presentation file formats and the user-contributed articles containing knowledge that was usually isolated among different research and development departments. Confluence is just perfect in this use.
"Confluence serves a good niche where your main need is to store and share heterogeneous data without hassle for both scientists and informatics personnel."
Mingyi Liu at GPC Biotech
Before Confluence, what served as your primary knowledge base?
There was hardly anything in place beforehand. The knowledge base is for scientists, for storing experimental results, conclusions, and ideas. They previously stored those in Excel or PowerPoint files. Then they exchanged the files in emails or on shared drives. This is messy, making it hard to find information.
Is your content stored as wiki pages or as attachments in Confluence?
The results and documentations are stored both ways. Even though the experimental results in Excel attachments are indexed, they're mostly just numbers so it's hard to search them directly. By creating a wiki page and attaching the Excel results for every experiment, people can find the appropriate files, and all the versions.
In addition to being your default knowledge base, is Confluence used in other ways?
We use Confluence as a collaboration tool, too. Some files are edited by several people and not maintained by one person. The same thing goes with scientific projects. These projects become spaces in Confluence and people are constantly submitting new experimental results. People comment, summarize and organize the results. Confluence is actually a collaborative platform, and with the ease of use Confluence provides, it's just very convenient to share and contribute. And that's a great way to enhance the collaboration among our Research & Development teams.
It's also used to record our meeting bits. Before a meeting, the manager creates a page and everyone adds in their agenda items. During the meeting, the manager records discussions, decisions, items to do, and the like. After the meeting people will update the status of action items and so forth. Confluence is, indeed, becoming a collaborative platform rather than just a place to store static information.
Which departments use Confluence and how do they use it differently?
We have biologists and chemists, pharmacology and several other R&D departments — basically all the R&D scientists. They use Confluence for their projects. In the informatics department, we're using it internally as well. Executives are using Confluence to review the knowledge base. The finance department manages their documents, and the IT department also started using it.
"Confluence is actually a collaborative platform, and with the ease of use Confluence provides, it's just very convenient to share and contribute. And that's a great way to enhance the collaboration among our Research & Development teams."
Mingyi Liu at GPC Biotech
Has Confluence affected the way GPC Biotech communicates?
We've improved our communications process with Confluence as our knowledge base. Having one place where everybody with the appropriate permission level can access, use and contribute really serves as a model for asynchronous communications — that really helps with companies in different time zones.
The search is easy and powerful, so it was very easy to sort through the presentations and people don't waste time. And that really is a bonus with the communications process too because otherwise they would just be wasting time writing emails, saying 'Where's your old presentation? Please send them to me.'
How did Confluence spread throughout your organisation?
We started out using Confluence internally first. We created scientific content ourselves to get it started as a useful knowledge base. We made a space for storing all the knowledge that our scientists created internally or obtained from public domains about a certain compound that we have in a clinical trial.
Next we created a few spaces for the general users, including information on research and development, common articles, essays, and the results we obtained internally. Finally, we created a space for our own department to get familiar with it. For example, we began storing different documents, meeting bits, software documentation for different software that we implemented for users, and reports. This showcased the capabilities of the knowledge base and served as a model for people to start using it.
After a month or two we officially rolled out the knowledge base. We gave presentations and seminars in both Germany and US sites and we talked about how to use Confluence. The reaction was very positive. It just took off from there.
Describe the learning curve for Confluence.
It's pretty short. From the administrator's point of view, it took me very little time to start the installation, customization and just basically starting to use it. That was really valuable because we don't want to be spending all the time on the software. As a company we want to use Confluence to store and share our knowledge. Of course we want to spend as little time as possible in actually learning the software, and that is what makes Confluence perfect in this sense.
As for the users, our presentation jumpstarted the usage. At first, some people were a little bit apprehensive with the wiki syntax. Then they just started using it and we never heard any complaints. After upgrading to 2.0 where the default became the Rich Text Editor, new users really had no problem adding content.
"With the rich features that Confluence has, the possibilities are just endless and we are taking more and more advantage of the features."
Mingyi Liu at GPC Biotech
Which Confluence features does everyone find most attractive?
The power of versioning, indexing and searching of both the documents and the attachments really attracted our users. So did the very customizable layouts and all the extensions macros you can use to accomplish certain things.
Users particularly like the very powerful and accessible permission controls on the content they have because they are concerned that while they're putting in preliminary data, people would be interpreting it prematurely and reach the conclusion they don't want other people to reach, so they want to have control as to when they present and share the data within the whole company. Of course there's information that should not be shared among all company scientists or personnel, so the permission control was also one of the most important requirements for the users.
What's your favourite thing about Confluence?
Given that I am an administrator, I really like that Confluence is so easy to install and use. Confluence is almost an out-of-box solution. It's very professional looking; there are very few things that you need to customize. And even when you do, it's very easy to find where and how to customize it. Also, the Admin console page is very powerful. Confluence has very strong support and it's always constantly evolving and that's something I like even more. Yeah, there are just too many things to like.
Did you customise Confluence in any way?
Yes. We use a number of plugins, like the task list macro, the tracking macro, the table of contents macros, etc. They are really easy to install and use. We also customized the look and feel. We added a global 'help' link, 'search help' link, and 'knowledge base' link into the global template. That was easily doable. Other than that, we did not really need to customize Confluence.
Is Confluence being used in other ways than what was expected?
Some uses came along as we started using it. Initially, we were sharing knowledge articles. But people loved the versioning control of pages and attachments, so they actually started using it like a file manager — they share files and uploaded files as attachments; they record comments, and create pages for their attachments. They manage experimental results this way. With the rich features that Confluence has, the possibilities are just endless and we are taking more and more advantage of the features.