Faced with shrinking budgets and rising costs, organizations are increasingly looking to enhance operational efficiency. Often this includes improving management of laboratory assets, like instruments and IT.
Keeping track of preventive maintenance schedules, repairs, compliance issues, and instrument life cycles can be overwhelming when multiple sites and vendors are involved. Another issue is upkeep of facilities or appropriately purchasing needed real estate.
Managing the many needs of a facility also can be all-consuming. While a number of big pharma companies already outsource asset management, the field is seeing a new trend of small and mid-sized organizations entering this market.
A laboratory’s instruments are capital assets. Their efficient use, maintenance, and—when appropriate—replacement are strategic decisions that impact lab productivity and cost management, according to Gary Grecsek, vp, PerkinElmer OneSource Laboratory Services.
“Asset management is an evolving scene. One focus continues to be a multivendor service model that consolidates service for all instruments in the lab. Utilizing one vendor instead of multiple vendors can provide significant service improvements as well as measurable cost savings,” Grecsek says. “Advantages to a laboratory include assessments for if instruments are efficiently or inefficiently utilized, determinations for how quickly repairs can be anticipated, and tracking of necessary compliance programs.”
According to Grecsek, the overall goal of OneSource is to simplify. “Enhancing productivity is the most important goal for most laboratories. Until recently, many laboratories relied on the original equipment manufacturer for repairs. This is a fragmented and inefficient process with key issues of downtime and response time. We implement a systematic approach so laboratories wouldn’t have to chase down a multitude of vendors,” he says.
Another pressing need is for IT consolidation and consulting. “With the ever-increasing complexity of software programs, often scientists find they are spending lots of time trying to fix, modify, support, or adapt programs for their needs,” Grecsek says.
Managing Life Cycles
Historically, laboratory managers would purchase scientific instruments and then use them until age and/or disrepair rendered them useless.
“Forward-thinking laboratory managers, however, use laboratory asset management programs and effective technology life-cycle strategies to optimize their laboratory infrastructures,” says Michael Pope, worldwide business unit manager, service and support division, Agilent Technologies.
Pope’s firm provides asset management services that chart instrument age, function, criticality, and annual failure rate in order to optimize equipment use and better assess life-cycle decisions.
“We began getting into the field of asset management five to seven years ago because we recognized the need for managers and chemists to better handle business decisions related to their laboratories,” Pope says. “We wanted to bring business solutions into the lab that enhanced workflow and not merely be an equipment provider/servicer.”
While big pharma is a frequent customer, the company is now seeing more business from academia and nonprofit research institutions. Pope cites the example of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
“St. Jude’s has lots of assets. The question was how could they get their arms around and better manage their assets. They came to us, and we helped to provide the infrastructure to do that,” he says.
In the race for funding, even academia must carefully consider how not to lose new opportunities by utilizing older technology that could jeopardize future funding. Pope notes that the life cycle for typical instrumentation “used to be about seven to fifteen years. Now, it can be three to seven years or even one to two years for newer, cutting-edge technology.”
“We’ve looked about one to three years in the future and see even mid-tier organizations becoming interested in asset management,” he adds. “Regardless of whether you are big pharma or a smaller research lab, working from a more holistic view of equipment and asset management is a trend that is here to stay.”
Smart phones and tablets are now being used in laboratory asset management. For example, GE Healthcare Life Sciences’ ASSETscan™ enables wireless access for instantly connecting with a detailed instrumentation database. “By tagging a client’s instruments with a quick response (QR) code or a standard barcode, all details desired can be entered into a database for immediate access, even by a cell phones or iPads,” says Matt Sawtell, director, global advisory services.
Implementing a coding system and even developing custom apps is increasingly finding its way into the laboratory setting for more efficient and instant access to data on a broad portfolio of assets that includes physical inventories, IT assets, consumables, and even finances.
“This type of monitoring also can facilitate mergers and acquisitions (M&A) by allowing managers to easily analyze their inventories prior to laboratory moves,” Sawtell says. “In a recent survey by GE Healthcare, over 90% of pharma executives reported expecting M&A activity to impact their organization in the next three years.”
He adds that “asset management is one of the key issues during M&A. An efficient, data-driven approach is clearly a way to enhance productivity during this time. It provides cost savings, shortens equipment downtime, and can help communication among key personnel in the merging companies.”
GE Healthcare offers customers a Laboratory Asset Management Assessment (LAMA) program. “The process involves developing a thorough understanding of the scope of the project, communicating with key personnel who rely on the service model, conducting a physical inventory that includes tagging equipment, and then creating final reports,” Sawtell says.
According to Sawtell, current economic pressures are forcing more and more companies to think differently about how to save time and money and improve productivity. “We are now seeing an industry trend to have such programs as LAMA filter from big pharma into mid-sized companies and even academia,” he says. “The desire is to allow their core of scientists to devote more time to research by outsourcing asset management to experts in the field.”