March 23, 2006
 

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Posted: 12.03

Under Reconstruction

With patientsí mobility at stake, a medical device supplier stakes out a winning mobile supply chain solution.
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By Randi Rosenberg




A police officer shot in the line of duty receives a fixation device that holds his shattered bone fragments in place, allowing him to heal in natural alignment, avoid future surgeries and pursue his dream of returning to the force. A 17-year old soccer star’s career is threatened by a torn ligament, until a surgeon reconstructs his knee using a special arthroscopic screw system. Two months after surgery, the player is back on the field.

These are the stories behind Smith & Nephew Orthopaedics, a leading medical device company that provides joint reconstruction, trauma and clinical therapy products to healthcare professionals. Smith & Nephew innovations promise to enable docs to deliver more cost-effective and less-invasive procedures to patients—allowing them to experience more favorable outcomes and enjoy a better quality of life. Headquartered in Memphis, Tenn., the orthopaedics group is one of three main business units that comprise this U.K.-based corporation, employing more than 2,000 people and generating annual revenues of approximately $800 million.

Smith & Nephew’s mobile sales reps had been using a proprietary Palm-based SFA solution, but they were hobbled by a paper-intensive order entry process and an inability to access critical data. These pain points interfered with the team’s effectiveness during sales calls with busy surgeons. Reps were required to place multiple calls to customer service to check inventory availability and pricing, and waste time faxing and photocopying orders, further delaying customer response times.

Smith & Nephew earned its reputation as a leader in the medical device arena due to its commitment to technologically advanced innovations. Their supply chain processes, however, were not aligned with this core value—and company execs were resolute in their desire to sync up with a solid mobile-enablement strategy.

Enlisting the aid of NoInk Communications, a company specializing in developing mobile solutions for the medical device industry, Smith & Nephew switched to HP’s iPAQ PocketPC platform running NoInk’s SalesAccelerator applications. The new technology allows sales reps to access product and inventory data and place real-time orders wirelessly, whether in the doctors’ offices or hospitals. With 24/7 access to their inventory of artificial hips, knees and other critical components, Smith & Nephew’s reps enable time-strapped surgeons to put suffering patients on the OR schedule more quickly. Additionally, when orders are placed wirelessly, stock can be quickly replenished, reducing supply chain disconnects.

“Our vision is that this technology will grow beyond a supply chain initiative and become a significant platform for delivering information to the sales force,” says Dennis Burning, Smith & Nephew’s VP of customer service.

Most of the reps who are running on GSM/GPRS cellular networks use Bluetooth-enabled phones as modems for their iPAQs. They dial up via an Internet connection using 128-bit encryption to sync data with the company’s SAP ERP system. Other reps tether the iPAQs to a mobile phone with a cable for wireless dial-up. All of the apps run natively on the handheld, which houses a fully relational database.

In order to minimize disruption, Smith & Nephew introduced the program in a conservative, multi-tiered 180-day pilot. Initially, 20 reps trialed the system for 90 days, followed by another 30 reps who also had 90 days to corroborate the results of the first group.

Among the benefits realized are productivity savings of 30 minutes to two hours per day per rep. Time savings have led to improved responsiveness to customer requests, faster fulfillment and more efficient inventory management. In customer service, volumes for inbound pricing calls fell 5 percent and order entry calls and faxes dropped 20 percent.

By the end of this month, Smith & Nephew’s entire U.S. sales force will be up and running. Future plans call for global expansion and functionality enhancements, such as document management and case scheduling applications. Additionally, more reps are investing in Bluetooth-enabled mobile printers and mobile phones for cable-free connections to the company’s ERP system.

Mobility and flexibility are the cornerstones of Smith and Nephew’s patient- and physician-centered products. Thanks to a successful handheld-driven sales initiative, mobility and flexibility now also define the company’s supply chain processes. •

Randi Rosenberg is a freelance writer and consultant based in New York City.
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