Making a Case for Multi-Vendor Asset Management Service Providers
Pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies are under increasing pressure to produce results in shorter timelines with decreasing budgets and resources. Lab managers play a vital role in helping companies achieve those goals by supporting scientists in delivering a wide range of experimental results critical to the success of the company. The challenge is to increase productivity and cut costs while maintaining—or even improving—quality.
Most pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies have multiple sites spread across the globe, each utilizing technologies and equipment from a wide range of original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). Indeed, it is not uncommon for individual laboratories to be working with equipment from more than 100 suppliers. Lab managers and their teams usually deal directly with OEMs to maintain and service equipment. This approach has a number of disadvantages that result in reduced productivity:
- Repairing a single instrument can take up to six hours of a scientist’s time per incident, if you include troubleshooting, managing service engineer site visits, and dealing with invoices. Over a year, costs can mount up to thousands of dollars worth of time wasted. This lost time can have a significant impact on drug development/R&D programs, potentially costing companies thousands more dollars (Figure 1).
Using equipment efficiently
- Instruments, service contracts, and consumables are usually purchased from a number of different budgets and controlled by a number of different departments, which means that equipment is used under or over capacity.
- Lab managers often find it difficult to keep track of all pieces of laboratory equipment owned, their locations, and their service histories, especially across multiple sites.
- Inconsistency in record keeping and lack of knowledge regarding service contracts can lead to confusion and wasted time when repairs or servicing are required.
- Employees can become frustrated and de-motivated if vital equipment is nonoperational for extended periods of time, as this causes delays in their work and can disrupt vital work flows.
A single service provider for asset management
Pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies are increasingly turning to multi-vendor asset management service providers to address the issues raised above. These outsourced contracts offer maintenance of all laboratory equipment through one provider, rather than internally or by arrangements with many suppliers. Asset management service providers take control of equipment inventories, including a full audit, categorizing and bar coding all equipment to enable easier tracking, a detailed review of existing contracts, and a preventative maintenance plan designed to fit the scientists’ research schedules. Some service providers also provide usage statistics as part of the audit, providing lab managers with additional information about the utility of existing equipment. This not only serves to help minimize under-/overuse of equipment, but can also help inform future purchasing decisions.
Overall levels of service can be enhanced, regulatory compliance improved, and scientists’ productivity increased by maximizing equipment uptime. On-site service engineers keep stock of frequently needed spare parts, ensuring that any additional pieces are ordered in time to arrive the following workday. In addition, when OEM engineers are required, an asset management engineer can make sure they arrive on-site within 24 hours as well as supervise the visit. Table 1 illustrates the cost savings achieved by one customer, from reduction in service contracts to improved scientist and purchasing productivity, equipment uptime, and other soft savings.
Figure 1. Impact of equipment downtime on productivity
An effective on-site team will act as an extension of the internal team, providing on-site engineers to work directly alongside existing staff. Maintenance and servicing issues can be dealt with very quickly, with very little equipment downtime (Figure 2). Table 2 illustrates the results of a partnership between the asset management company GE Healthcare and a Japanese biotechnology company. In the first year of the contract, this partnership resulted in over 2,250 hours of scientists’ time being saved. This equates to 300 workdays, or more than a year’s worth of an FTE (fulltime equivalent).
Figure 2. Time saved by employing a scientific asset management service
In a GMP environment, following service maintenance, each piece of laboratory equipment needs to be validated before it can be used. Most OEMs have different validation protocols, which can lead to complexity and difficulty in achieving GMP compliance. GE Healthcare experienced this firsthand when working with the Japanese biotech company mentioned above. Working cooperatively, the company developed a standardized and customized validation approach that is now applied to all HPLC instruments in the company. After comparing the results obtained through this program to those from the OEM, the company has now decided to roll the customized validation approach out into other platforms. By combining validation and maintenance, customers benefit from additional time and financial savings, as well as improved equipment performance and a reduction in planned maintenance downtime. This approach can make FDA auditing more straightforward.
Getting the right partner
A good service provider should engage with customers to offer tailored solutions that meet their specific needs. During implementation of the program, it is vital that service providers have open communication channels with all affected stakeholders, including senior leadership, procurement, IT, finance, legal, and end users. Companies may find that there is initial resistance from end users to embrace an asset management service program because of their long-term relationships with the OEM.
Table 1: Cost savings from an asset management program
|Purchase order reduction||$50,000|
|End user/purchasing productivity||$30,000|
|Improved response times||$20,000|
|AssetPlus asset management software||$40,000|
|Purchasing decision data||$10,000|
|Call placing / escort time savings||$75,000|
|Service maintenance cost savings||$300,000|
Continuous feedback and assessment of customer satisfaction are essential to the successful running of an asset management program. Surveys of customers at the start of each program, throughout the course of the contract, and after each servicing event are conducted. The results are reviewed in order to assess customer response to the program, and appropriate actions taken to increase customer satisfaction. For example, when working with the same Japanese biotechnology company, GE Healthcare initially found that approximately 40 percent of staff would recommend such a program and thought they would benefit from the initiative. The remainder wanted to continue working directly with OEMs. However, over the course of the year, as scientists experienced the benefits of the asset management program first hand, the proportion of staff who would recommend this approach rose to more than 80 percent. The company now intends to expand the agreement to cover additional sites and additional instrumentation.
Table 2: Time savings from an asset management program where 1,500 calls were made within a year
|Provider||Response time to service request||Arrival of parts||Average time savings / request||Average time savings / year|
|OEM||Up to 1 week||Within 5 days||OEMs don't provide data to the customer||N/A|
|GE healthcare||4 min||Within 1 day||1.4 hrs||2,250 hrs|
In the current climate of decreasing budgets, companies are becoming more reliant on lab managers to increase efficiency and drive down costs. Taking a detailed look at how, when, and why equipment is used, as well as streamlining processes such as maintenance and servicing, is vital when determining where savings can be found. By employing an asset management service provider throughout the life cycle of equipment—from financing to disposal—customers can realize time savings equating to thousands of dollars per year, increases in scientists’ productivity, and overall cost savings of up to 20 percent1.
1 Benevento, 2007. Improving Efficiency through Consolidating Asset Management and Streamlining Processes. BioOutsourcing Asia, Volume 1, Issue 1, pp. 17–19.