You may or may not be familiar with the concept known as Unified Namespace (UNS) popularised by Walker Reynolds, which has been gaining significant traction in various industries, including pharmaceuticals. In essence, UNS represents a shared vision - it’s the idea of having an agreed naming convention and data format, designed for effortless data flow across all systems. This means gone are the days characterized by the traditional approach of costly and manual integrations between only two systems at a time.
Logically this is far more efficient and beneficial all around, not unlike the standardisation of fuel types in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The desired end result of UNS is that data becomes far more accessible and easily leveraged across entire organisations to drive efficiency, flexibility and better decisions. What’s not to love? I'm greatly simplifying here and I recommend you look up the large volume of material on the subject.
So what is a Unified Knowledge Space (UKS)?
Where a Unified Namespace focuses on the flow of data between systems, a Unified Knowledge Space is focused on the flow of knowledge between people.
Bringing this idea right back to first principles, humans have been creating various methods and technologies for the transfer of knowledge throughout history. From language to writing and drawing, these tools have served us extremely well up until the modern age. However, as our need to transfer more nuanced and complex knowledge grew, the effectiveness of these traditional and generic methods eventually reached their limits. In order to manage higher levels of complexity and coordination, hybrid models were required to be built on, expanded and adapted for their specific purposes. While this may feel a little conceptual and fluffy, allow us to bring it to life through tangible examples.
You are tasked with creating an object. Take a moment to imagine this.
- It should have a round handle and edges
- It is narrow
- It has a flat end at a right angle to the handle
- It has tightly packed synthetic fibres protruding out from the flat surface half an inch.
How did you get on? Skip to the end of the blog to see the object (no peeking until you’ve tried, now!). Clearly, describing an object through text proves very inefficient and inaccurate. While shared understandings of what a simple object like this should look like might suffice, when complexity increases and layers of detail are added, improved formats or a hybrid of many formats of knowledge become essential.
Application of a Unified Knowledge Space in Industry
To grasp a better understanding, let’s look at an industry other than Pharma. In construction, the complexity of a building can vary greatly, ranging from a simple single-story house, to a multi-level, ten-story complex. The amount of detail that goes into large construction projects is astounding.
It’s not just, “this wall goes here” but “this wall goes here, has this internal structure and spaces for utilities, is composed of this material from these suppliers, who have provided these certs and testing documents, is load bearing to this degree for this other section of the building, has been designed with future expansion in mind, is to be put in place by the contractor at this time between these other activities.” As you can probably imagine, complexity explodes very quickly here and this is multiplied across an entire large construction project. So how do they handle all this knowledge critical for what they’re trying to achieve?
Up until very recently the answer was MANY MANY documents and millions of hours making sense of them all. Countless documents, including text files, drawings, diagrams, bills of materials, disparate spec sheets, and floor plans, were scattered across multiple locations and difficult-to-understand formats. It required extensive time and effort to make sense of it all. However, as the drive for speed, efficiency, safety and quality grew, the need to effectively manage this wealth of knowledge became evident. The transition from hand-drawn designs to Computer-Aided Design (CAD) systems played a significant role in facilitating faster drafting, better revision control, and improved accessibility.
With advancing technology, traditional practices across the construction industry gradually evolved, converging into a transformative approach known as Building Information Modeling (BIM). It is a centralised digital system based around the 3D model where all knowledge flows in real-time. Want to know about a particular section of a building? Go to it in the 3D model and dig down for each component in full context. BIM stands out for its user-friendly nature, accessibility, contextualisation, efficiency, logic, and long-lasting relevance compared to physical warehouses or outdated systems.
It’s seen by many as the endpoint for managing modern construction projects. Its adoption has been rapid and extensive, with many countries even mandating its use on public projects. BIM is a fantastic example of a Unified Knowledge Space and how it can transform an entire industry.
What defines a Unified Knowledge Space?
Here are a few common criteria:
- It’s for many distinct functional groups, not just a single group.
- The depth of detail required should be balanced to be maximally useful to the most number of people using it. There is a possibility to dive down into fine detail if required.
- It is a living knowledge source and not a point-in-time activity which benefits both immediately and far into the future.
- It’s an agreed and shared understanding. Its accuracy is trusted at any given time.
- It is a space where cross-functional collaboration on designs and decisions can happen in real time and where the outcomes can be captured immediately in the flow of work.
- It is highly visual, has an intuitive interface, is easy to access and to understand. It can be handed to someone just in the door who should be able to navigate and understand without overbearing training.
- It is designed around how people best navigate, understand and create knowledge.
So, when might a Unified Knowledge Space be needed?
Is a Universal Knowledge Space overkill for your applications, like bringing a jackhammer to crack a nut? Here are a few criteria to look at to determine whether a Unified Knowledge Space may be useful in a given scenario:
- The overall deliverable requires many distinct functional groups to collaborate and coordinate
- Decisions and details are heavily interdependent on each other
- Work results in creation of large amounts of data in many different formats
- Overall deliverable is cognitively complex to understand clearly
- Context and meaning of knowledge is required to endure into future
As shown from its application in Construction, a Unified Knowledge Space can be transformative for efficiency, quality and output of organisations. That said, they do require understanding in order to identify if they are appropriate and how best to use them.
In the next blog instalment, we’ll examine how the Unified Knowledge Space concept fits into Pharmaceutical Production.