by Thor Olavsrud

How a medical device maker took control of its sales data

Apr 29, 2016
AnalyticsBig DataData Architecture

With more than 50 distributors, each supplying sales data in different formats, medical diagnostic equipment maker Alere had limited visibility into its own customer base until it built a single-source data strategy built on master data management.

medical devices
Credit: Thinkstock

For medical diagnostic equipment maker Alere, master data management was the key to unlocking its digital transformation.”In hindsight, we carried our legacy process for years and years,” says Jason Jarrett, senior director of business intelligence and solutions at Alere. “If I could do it again, I would have done this sooner. You’re skeptical about disruption, but it would have been better to go ahead, bit the bullet and implement.”

As a medical device company with annual revenue of about $3 billion, Alere uses third-party distributors to sell its products to hospitals and doctors’ offices. To process incentive compensation for its sales force, it purchases data from those third-party distributors to evaluate sales performance and changes in market share. But getting the information on time and processing data from disparate sources — each distributor uses a different reporting method — became a significant challenge.

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“We would have one distributor call it Florida Hospital, spelled out in its full name,” Jarrett says. “We would have another call it FL Hospital. We would have another call it a completely different name. So aggregating that information for our sales force was impossible.”

“It’s in inconsistent formats, not standardized,” he adds. “The reps, you know, would have a great month and all of a sudden they’re waiting for their paychecks. It brings to light a trust factor. With the process, we needed to improve the timeliness, we needed to improve data integrity and also generate a platform that people could consume the information and Alere could use it to evaluate market changes and react to it in a much more timely manner.”

50 ways to manage data

With limited visibility into their own customer base, Jarrett made it his goal to transition Alere to a single-source data strategy with an integrated customer master that could be a data and reporting foundation for the entire organization. The first step was to get the customer data in order.

The only problem? Alere has 50-plus distributors and little in the way of incentive to get them all to adopt a common technology and process. Even if it could achieve that, Alere’s finance personnel would still have to clean the data and manually process it using Access and Excel. As with any manual process, accuracy and timeliness were issues. When errors were discovered the team had to start the entire process over again. Jarrett says a whole team of analysts and managers were spending more than 500 hours per month cleaning and processing data.

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Jarrett knew the process needed to be reimagined from top to bottom. Alere brought in integrated sales and marketing services specialist ZS Associates to help it map out its existing process and the data at its disposal.

“We had them come in and map the current state of the process,” Jarrett says. “We evaluated the gaps and the issues with it. We went to them and they essentially designed a new process. We went back and forth, just kind of collaborating on what would work for Alere.”

“ZS filled in the niche that we needed on the development side,” he adds. “They were good at helping us to brainstorm. The hardest part was taking legacy processes and putting them down in detailed documentation. We had to take all that information, go through it and make it consistent. In doing it, we better understood our processes and where we could make even greater improvement.”

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In all, he says, the process, including the creation of a new data collection and compensation process involving third-party distributors, took five to six months. The partners created the following:

  • A vision for a well-run process in finance and a new master data management strategy for the firm
  • Scorecards that rate each distributors’ efforts to submit data as an incentive to deliver better data, on time
  • A master data management solution built with ZS partner Reltio that enables data stewardship
  • A new reporting platform that provides visualization and ad hoc analytics

The core of the solution is ZS’ ARTiS business intelligence platform, which serves as the primary database. It orchestrates feeds of data from multiple sources, including Reltio to create Alere’s new single-source data feed.

“Twenty-five days processing time has now become 10 days of Alere processing time,” Jarrett says. “This has given us 500 hours we now can spend on pricing optimization, marketing strategies and campaigns, evaluating margins, product performance, etc. Internally, we saved about $400,000 or so of development costs. Alere could never have developed the same level of solution capability that ZS gave us with the solution that we have now. ARTiS is a backbone of that process and it’s an automated solution. We don’t have to go through the manual process of every month doing the same thing over and over and over again.”

Making change management manageable

As with any such undertaking, Jarrett notes that change management was an important component in making the project successful.

“It’s because we’re changing what your culture is used to,” he says. “You have to educate them about the value. You have to essentially sell it a little bit.”

Ultimately, though, he says getting sales on board wasn’t that difficult because his team focused on showing them how the new tools would make their work easier.

“The important things are to be patient and dedicate a project team,” he says. “I think it’s important to dedicate at least a few people so they can fully engage, fully immerse and really make sure they’re covering the end user perspective. How does it look for each person, from each user’s perspective?”