No matter the scale of the laboratory or the field of research, implementing tools and strategies to optimize efficiency yields short- and long-term benefits. Essential to improving efficiency is asset management, which now extends beyond basic maintenance and repair, to encompass calibration, redeployment, disposal, and the information-rich realm of analytics.
Perhaps the most well-known reason to work with a multi-vendor service provider is for equipment maintenance and repair services. Implementing routine maintenance schedules with multiple original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and vendors may become inefficient and costly, whereas a multi-vendor service provider offers a comprehensive, efficient solution. These providers employ highly trained technicians and engineers, capable of servicing equipment from a wide range of manufacturers and serving as a single point of contact for the laboratory.
Contracting a third party for maintenance and repair services also minimizes the downtime that occurs when instruments are offline. Without a dedicated service provider, service calls may have a prolonged wait time, hindering productivity and requiring laboratory personnel to redirect their focus from analytical work to troubleshooting. Whereas with enough volume, some service providers are able to assign the lab an individual technician who may arrive onsite within 24 hours of a call. To further reduce potential downtime, many of these services maintain a local parts inventory to eliminate shipping delays.
While a multi-vendor service contract is a valuable consideration for laboratories operating numerous relatively low-value, frequently used instruments such as ovens and centrifuges, it is an especially worthwhile investment for labs with high-value, sophisticated instruments. Routine maintenance and calibration, and rapid repair services ensure minimal downtime to maximize output and return on investment for such high-value assets.
Regularly scheduled maintenance also supports labs seeking to achieve or maintain compliance, and various services employ standardized protocols, and provide secure, tamper-proof reports. This is especially valuable during audits, eliminating the added complexity of working with multiple technicians and different protocol standards. An added benefit is the consolidation of calibration and maintenance records by the service provider, rather than individual documents for each instrument and manufacturer.
Many providers begin by compiling a complete inventory of laboratory equipment, along with its location in the laboratory, as well as across multiple laboratory sites. With enhanced data and analytics capabilities, some companies now offer customers valuable data pertaining to asset usage in addition to tracking and inventory. These data are invaluable for asset management, specifically to inform decommissioning, redeployment, and acquisition. Lab managers and principal investigators can refer to an instrument’s usage and service history to determine whether an instrument should be decommissioned (minimal use and multiple service or repair reports, for example), or whether an instrument can be relocated or brought online to support growing demand (those in good condition with minimal use). If the decision is made to decommission an instrument, a multi-vendor service provider may also be able to complete various checkout certifications prior to disposal or resale. Alternatively, usage data may be useful for planning new equipment acquisitions and to support purchase requisitions.
The selection process
When comparing multi-vendor service providers, it is important to consider several factors in addition to cost to ensure the service is a good fit for the lab. The optimal service should provide a tailored solution to meet a laboratory’s specific requirements, with the ability to review and adjust over time. The steps outlined below can serve as a general guide for the selection process:
Identify the lab’s specific requirements: Consider the number of instruments in the lab (including any additional locations), the nature of the instruments and performance characteristics, requirements for compliance, and whether additional services such as usage data reports and support for decommissioning would provide added value to the service.
Identify “must-haves”: Prioritizing requirements may be useful to determine what services and features are most important to the lab, and can help guide the selection process.
Compare service plans: Obtain information from potential providers and evaluate whether individual service plans offer the specific options you have deemed necessary.
Compare vendors that are able to meet your requirements: Once the selection has been narrowed down to providers who offer your requirements, compare any additional features and select the best overall provider.
A thorough comparison of different service plans requires time and effort, but is a valuable exercise to ensure the best fit. In addition to the laboratory’s specific requirements, there are some other factors that may be worth considering during the search. For example, does the service provider offer any remote monitoring or support services? Some instruments with internet connectivity may be monitored remotely, and technicians may be able to guide laboratory personnel through basic troubleshooting procedures. Is the provider accredited? Working with an accredited service provider helps to ensure maintenance, repairs, and calibrations are performed by technically competent technicians adhering to quality standards. For labs seeking to achieve or maintain compliance, it may be valuable to ask if the service provider issues compliant documentation as well.
Expert tips for multi-vendor service contract implementation
After completing the selection process and negotiating a contract with a service provider, there still remains some work to ensure a smooth transition to a new process. Lab Manager asked Kevin Keras, general manager and chief operating officer of the LabSquad division of Biodirect USA, to share some advice on implementing multi-vendor services:
Tip #1: Setting Expectations vs Reality
While utilizing a single source to coordinate an entire organization’s assets, end users need to understand that MVS (multi-vendor service) providers will never know as much as the OEM of the instrument. Some lab stakeholders within the clientele will insist that the MVS purchase expensive service contracts from instrument manufacturers or might refuse to let the MVS provider contract independent service organizations (third parties). It is understandable why they might take this position…their research is at stake, and they believe the manufacturer is the best solution. However, basic period maintenance for lab instruments can often be done by the MVS’ on-site staff or an independent service organization like LabSquad. This doesn’t mean you can’t still work with an OEM…not at all. Just use them for specific things like software/firmware upgrades or major failures. This will keep instrumentation research-ready and help lower costs.
Tip #2: Make it Win-Win, or Nobody Wins
So many end users gravitate toward MVS thinking the main benefit will be cost savings. In many cases that is so, but I would offer that even if the costs were the same, or even slightly higher, the MVS model is still a better and more efficient approach than in-house management. It just has to be entered into with a “win-win” mindset from both parties. Once a client commits to an MVS provider, they need to trust that partner will utilize the best, fastest, and most costeffective measures to maintain their assets. If the MVS provider loses money by overpaying for services or parts, the relationship will fail.