Bio-Rad Laboratories, Inc. (www.bio-rad.com) is a multinational manufacturer and distributor of life science research products and clinical diagnostics. It is based in Hercules, California, and serves more than 70,000 research and industry customers worldwide through a network of more than 30 wholly owned subsidiary offices. Bio-Rad’s total-solution-approach to product development and the Company’s focus on building strong customer relationships place it in a unique position to capitalize on opportunities in the growing fields of genomics, proteomics, biopharmaceutical discovery, food safety, biotechnology education, diabetes monitoring, quality control management, blood screening, autoimmune and infectious disease testing and other specialized areas of clinical diagnostics.
The Bio-Rad Quality Systems Division fields over 130 medical controls that allow medical facilities and laboratories to conduct medical tests to provide test results for hospital and medical patients. Bio-Rad relies on their field sales force to establish and maintain strong relationships with laboratory managers to ensure that their products are stocked and used by the lab for all of their testing needs. The product line is a complex one requiring a substantial amount of training for new sales people as well as significant training on new products for the entire sales organization. The complex nature of the product line also means that Bio-Rad receives a significant amount of their revenue from their highest selling products. Competition within the industry is intense so that the ability to provide the best service and support for lab managers has a positive impact on sales and profits.
Bio-Rad approached VCG to develop an expert system that would enable their reps to sell deeper into their product line while providing more service and support to their clients. With competitive pressure as a primary driver Bio-Rad was very focused on supporting their sales organization to take on a more consultative sales approach to strengthen their relationship based sales efforts.
VCG began this full lifecycle development process with a detailed envisioning phase to establish project and corporate goals. The best solution was determined to be a handheld solution running on the Microsoft Pocket PC platform. Dubbed the Inventory Consultation System (ICS), this handheld system allows field reps to quickly and efficiently perform detailed analysis of current usage of both competitor and Bio-Rad products, evaluate usage by equipment type, look up current stock, review product ship dates, and perform immediate price-evaluations to determine cost savings to clients. All of this is performed on a disconnected handheld device that can be synchronized to a central database.
There were many challenges to providing such a solution, including coordinating daily data uploads from Bio-Rad’s central BAAN system, identifying and quantifying complex business rules, establishing simple synchronization procedures, and of course, preparing a field team for the implementation of the new process. VCG tackled all of these by building a detailed product specification in conjunction with the BIO-Rad team. With the use of a hand selected key group of users, all product rules, functions and features were designed, and a focus was placed on only those features that would add value for the first phase. Detailed prototypes were created by VCG in the initial phases of the engagement and reviewed by users to provide real insight into application structure, navigation, layout and usage.
VCG used a buy-build-blend approach by developing the core application in Microsoft’s .NET framework and deploying it to the Pocket PC. After much evaluation, SynchroLogic was chosen as the synchronization engine and provided a robust solution to handle the many different connection points for this product. The user group was a key element not only in product design but in acceptance. The initial prototype was revealed to the field sales organization during their annual sales meeting to rave response, and assisted in creating a demand for the application. As a final asset created in this engagement, Managers and Users also had access to an extranet that provides online reporting of all data gathered, providing an efficient way to review and digest all of the field data.
The end result of this detailed planning was a functional and technical document, supplemented with a working prototype that allowed development to be completed in less than 90 days. This product was delivered on time and within budget, and has been very well received.
The site was designed with an open architecture using Microsoft .NET technologies which allow for reusable site components, resulting in a cost-effective, easily managed site architecture. The architecture included ASP.NET, C#, Windows 2000 Server and SQL Server 2000. The site is supported by a single, common code base. Synchronization was performed by SyncrhoLogic software, and the application was deployed on a DELL Axim X3i device.
This initial effort was intended to be a starting point with the primary goals of increasing sales and field rep productivity. From the strategic perspective the change in sales approach that the device supports will enable reps to provide true value add consultative services to the client. Initial benefits seen have been a uniformity of approach and easy access of information in the field for Bio-Rad reps, as well as instant availability of real field information to Senior Management. It is expected that development costs will be recouped over the first six months and within the first year, the application will yield substantial additional sales revenue, expected in the area of Millions of dollars, while at the same time providing cost savings to Bio-Rad’s clients.