The Myth of the Orthopedic Medical Device Control Tower

Written By

Josh Weeks
Josh Weeks

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Oh, You Want a Control Tower? …Um Yea, You’re Gonna Need a Better Tool

Many of the Orthopedic Medical Device supply chain leaders we interact with keep referring to this idea of wanting to add a Control Tower to their supply chain system to have full case and inventory visibility.  In fact, they even represent the control tower as you would see at a major airport on their complex diagrams of systems it would pull from.

A control tower at an airport receives information and coordinates with pilots when to take off and land.  An airport control tower doesn’t take actions (it gives permissions) nor does it control or see what is happening within each airplane.  Similarly, the idea of a control tower in most other industries is that data is collected from multiple sources to help with planning and decisions. Control towers are great in traditional A to B to C supply chains.

As orthopedic medical device industry veterans know, nothing in orthopedic device supply chain operates like supply chains in other markets.  The complexity has closer relation to a rental car agency that accepts back just a steering wheel instead of the car loaned out than to an automotive supply chain. In reality, there is no other field operations or supply chain that operates even remotely similar to the orthopedic medical device process.

Based on its uniqueness, the number of field applications in the Orthopedic Medical Device supply chain is staggering. When we start discussions with clients, they often have the following different systems:

  •      ERP
  •      Warehouse Management Systems
  •      Mobile Sales Tool
  •      Loaner Management
  •      Consignment Management
  •      Modeling and imaging software
  •      Courier deliveries/TMS
  •      Territory management
  •      Surgeon profile and case management
  •      Patient data kit modeling
  •      Sales and Operational Reporting tools (CR /BI)

The legacy and custom nature of many of the systems must also be taken into consideration (think of the last time you saw a custom integration quote – now multiply that times 12!). The older and more specific a system is, the higher risk “integration” into a control tower becomes.

Besides the impracticality, here are the 5 things a control tower won’t do for your supply chain:

  1. Help end users – investments in control tower won’t change the experience, process, or productivity of end users.  Everyone suffers, and typically especially the sales reps. When each individual application is frustrating and inefficient to use it complicates the process, requires more human intervention, and increases overall costs.
  2. Improve execution – the control tower concept is based entirely on better planning as it doesn’t control or coordinate actions between applications.  Through investment and focus on planning, when you do discover optimization opportunities, you’re still stuck with underlying systems that can’t implement the change. Often planning is done before proper execution
  3. Respond to complexity and industry changes – the industry shifts, often based on hospital, logistics, or leadership trends. These changes can be between the use of loaners and consignment in hospital or a myriad of other “best practices” that change over time.  Limitations within individual systems and integration between them mean there might be increase in productivity in one area but the unintended consequences in others.
  4. Reduce inventory – the most effective way to reduce field inventory is to optimize the sourcing across modality – central inventory, field offices, consignment, trunk stock.  The control tower can’t actually source from these multiple locations. Multi-channel sourcing needs a fully integrated solution. Once the sourcing process is comprehensive and optimized then the ability to reduce inventory becomes a reality.
  5. Increase customer satisfaction – a control tower won’t help you set or deliver more customized surgeon preferences. If anything, it makes customization more difficult. The industry is moving toward advanced patient data (APD). With this increased focus on the specific needs of the patient and surgeon, the inventory sourcing, picking, kitting and visibility needs to increase, not decrease.  A control tower can’t provide a daily bill to a VA, and it won’t collect or execute on advanced patient data.

The myth of a control tower is like searching for a unicorn. The reality is never as good as the theory. Why not just use a complete system that actually performs every important action, from scheduling to WMS to total field inventory management? Then there’s no reason to chase after the mythical control tower when the comprehensive platform now exists. Curious? Let us show you what is next for the medical device supply chain.


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