by Michael Ybarra

iPads Lighten Load for Sales Staff At Boston Scientific

Sep 14, 20123 mins
Cloud ComputingHealthcare Industry

A new iPad strategy at Boston Scientific freed its sales staff from lugging around sales brochures. Finding the right cloud strategy, however, has proved more challenging.

When he rolled out iPads to the field sales force at Boston Scientific, a large medical device maker, CIO Rich Adduci suspected the strategy was a winner. The tablets would replace mounds of brochures and supporting material that sales staff had to lug to meetings with busy doctors.

But even Adduci was surprised when the iPad turned out to be one of the hottest topics at the company’s annual sales meeting, inspiring impromptu gatherings of salespeople swapping tips.

“The adoption rate is like nothing we’ve seen before,” Adduci says. “It was immediately clear it was a home run.” The project later won a 2012 CIO 100 award for innovation.

Boston Scientific was a very early adopter of iPads–Adduci sent someone to wait in line at an Apple store to buy a dozen when the device first launched–putting it in the corporate vanguard. When Morgan Stanley surveyed 50 CIOs in January, for example, it found that 21 percent of companies currently purchase tablets for employees, and 51 percent were expecting to do so this year.

The company distributed the tablets to its sales force in two phrases in 2011: first to U.S. staff, then to international workers. Today, 5,300 devices are deployed and close to 100 custom apps–which run functions such as product simulations and component comparison tools–have been developed. New product launches now come with an iPad component to support the field sales team.

“By the end of this year or early next, our reps will no longer need their laptops,” says Adduci. “The last wave will be looking at fully exploiting capabilities such as geo-positioning. We’re in the thick of that now.”

Boston Scientific, which had $7.62 billion in revenue last year, makes a range of devices, including pacemakers and spinal cord stimulators, and employs 25,000 people worldwide. It’s a complex business involving reams of data, but Adduci says the iPad has greatly simplified the task of sharing all that information with doctors.

“It’s not always easy to understand our therapies and how they work,” Adduci says. “It used to be quite cumbersome and difficult to explain. Juggling everything on a poor doctor’s desk was really difficult.”

Even less easy, Adduci says, is finding a cloud service that fulfills Boston Scientific’s enterprise needs and is also secure, reliable and affordable. The company would ultimately like a cloud-based way to share files and facilitate Web-, audio- and videoconferencing.

“If you’re a global enterprise, finding a cloud service that provides all of that is not really on the market yet,” he says. “You hope instead to get a partial solution that will work in some situations.”

Adduci says the company plans to implement some cloud services this year after exploring many, including WebEx, AT&T and Dropbox. “Our conclusion is there isn’t really an answer that solves all our needs.”

Moving key enterprise systems such as time and expenses and patient registration tools onto iPads has also been challenging. But Adduci says IT quickly decided not to create a virtualized desktop for the tablets.

“Rendering a PC on a iPad is not a great idea,” he says. “Technically, it’s possible. But what you can do is so different. We went to the iPad because the experience is so good. Why would I want to ruin a great experience?”

The upside of the company’s iPad adoption was instantly clear, Adduci says, even if finding a concrete ROI is difficult. Sales productivity shot up, while the need for printed material declined dramatically. And there were intangible benefits, such as improved morale and reinforcing the company’s innovative image.