GE Medical and Edify
General Electric Medical Systems (GE Medical) manufactures high-quality medical imaging systems and provides services and productivity solutions to hospitals worldwide. GE Medical's offerings include networking and productivity tools, patient monitoring systems, conventional and digital X-ray, and clinical information systems.
GE Medical's computer tomography (CT) scanners cost anywhere between $300,000 and $1 million. The company offers service and extended warranties on its equipment, making fast maintenance response and the highest level of customer service critical to its success. GE Medical employs 2,400 field service engineers to maintain and repair its CT scanners in accordance with these service warranties.
GE's CT field engineers were spending a third of their time on mundane administrative activities associated with each service call. This part of the job was so taxing that engineers notoriously delayed filing paper work for days at a time. Meanwhile, the GE Medical extranet allowed hospital administrators to check on the progress of a service request. If the paperwork had not been filed promptly by the service engineer, the administrator would be led to believe that the service call had not been completed, and that GE was not honoring its service warranty.
Up to this point, field service engineers carried laptops and mobile phones. While the laptop gave the engineers access to the information they needed, it was seen as a hindrance among all of the other tools they must carry to complete their work. Instead, they usually would place a call to the GE operations center and have the information relayed from a computer screen. This was a common occurrence, for example, when the engineer had ordered a part that had not yet arrived. The engineers' difficulty in accessing necessary information often resulted in multiple visits to diagnose and maintain the expensive hospital equipment.
To help alleviate the administrative burden, GE Medical sought to reduce field engineers' administrative work from 30 percent to five percent of their time. This would allow for service updates to be posted to the extranet in four hours, instead of the one week that had become typical; and ultimately, CT engineers could spend their hours where it mattered, with the customer.
GE Medical sought to fundamentally rearrange the workflow of the CT engineer field force. Service engineers exchanged their laptops and mobile phones for Kyocera QCP 6035 smartphones. An all-in-one solution, the Kyocera smartphone combined a mobile phone, Palm OS® handheld, and wireless e-mail and Internet access, in one device.*
The CT scanners, connected through a virtual private network, relay self-diagnostic reports to the GE Medical operations center. A field engineer, in turn, can access this information remotely via the Kyocera smartphone. Running Edify's Enterprise CRM software on the Palm device, engineers have a head start on ordering parts and checking their shipping status. A link to the FedEx Web site also allows the engineers to see who signed for a part. When a hospital administrator says they haven't received a part, the engineer can immediately look up and see who signed for it.
Implemented in November 2001, the deployment cost GE Medical $3 million, including the development of the Web-based applications and the purchase of the Kyocera smartphones. Originally the program was tested with 800 CT engineers throughout the U.S. By June of 2002, another 1,500 smartphones were deployed to the vast remainder of field engineers.
Given the lack of enthusiasm the CT engineers had expressed for mobile technology when equipped with laptops and mobile phones, managers were pleasantly surprised by the enthusiasm they have shown for the Kyocera smartphones. The company reported that the transition to the new technology was one of the smoothest in recent memory. Field engineers appreciate that they can complete service calls independently and no longer need to call the operations center to retrieve information. Instant access to data allows them to share realtime service status with customers. The Edify software allowed engineers to file reports immediately and without much labor, giving hospital administrators a much more accurate and timely representation of when their service request was completed.
Anecdotally, GE Medical reports that the project has been a morale booster to its field force. Engineers appreciate that the company invested in them to increase their productivity. This appreciation is evident in the enthusiasm with which engineers are now proposing other wireless applications for their Kyocera smartphones.
The new wireless solution will save GE Medical an estimated $15 million annually, derived from the engineers' administrative savings, and by their use of the one smartphone instead of carrying a regular mobile phone and laptop. The $3 million project is expected to pay for itself by the end of 2002.
By replacing its field engineers' laptops and cell phones with Kyocera smartphones, GE Medical Systems eliminated several administrative steps of the repair process and helped increase the efficiency of the workers servicing multi-million dollar computer tomography scanners.