Elekta’s Choice

Posted on 7 Oct 2010 by The Manufacturer

Sweden-based Elekta is an international human care company pioneering clinical solutions for treating cancer and brain disorders. The company develops sophisticated tools and treatment planning systems for radiation therapy and radiosurgery, as well as workflow enhancing software systems for cancer care. Lorenzo Spoerry finds out how a strategic logistics partnership has changed the pace of Elekta’s operations and services.

Operating in 53 countries, Elekta’s 2,300-strong workforce delivers solutions to over 5000 hospitals globally. Nigel Weston, vice president of Elekta’s supply chain, accredits the company’s world-class performance in part to its partnership with Choice Logistics. “By working with our partners in a different way – in particular, by emphasizing trust and reliance – we’ve been able to achieve truly world class standards of performance. Our relationship with Choice goes far beyond a typical vendor relationship. It’s about business development. It’s about two organisations listening to each other and then creating the necessary will to make the change.” Since cancer patients require a continuous and stable regimen of care, the functionality of Elekta’s equipment must be guaranteed at all times.

As such, the availability of Elekta’s technology is the essence of missioncritical service delivery. To maintain this sophisticated equipment and ensure it is fully operational, mission-critical service parts must be available with little advance warning.

Choice and Elekta began their partnership in 2006. Since then, Elekta’s global inventory has been reduced by 13%, representing a saving of many millions of pounds. The company’s delivery performance has also gone up to 97.5% from a base of around 80-85%, and availability of parts is now at around 99.3%. “We published our needs requirements and carefully examined the responses of various suppliers like DHL and Fedex. The final decision came down to where we would get the best service and where we would have the most influence over how that service adapts to our needs. Choice was the obvious winner” explains Weston.

“We’ve leveraged off the back of a completely different market sector to bring the benefits of that to the health sector. Because everything Choice do is mission-critical [IT companies like Cisco Systems frequently have stringent service agreements that include twohour late penalties], they must have the infrastructure and the IT in place to effectively monitor progress. The way they control their systems control the spares ordering gives us perfect visibility. Consequently, my team in the UK know immediately what’s happening in all the countries in which we operate.” Elekta previously supported service parts management for each division (neuroscience, oncology and software), with an internal operation that functioned independently on a regional and country-by-country basis. This approach was limiting, as the disparate IT platforms for inventory management created both service disruptions and inconsistencies. The company needed to establish global continuity to deliver exceptional client results regardless of location.

Decisions about how parts should be delivered – whether they are flown, driven, or shipped overnight with a carrier – are discussed collaboratively between Choice and Elekta, with the final decision left to Elekta. Gary Weiss, Choice Logistics’ executive vice president, global operations, said: “Choice has built its service parts logistics solutions focused on the mission-critical supply chain requirements of organisations supporting high-tech high-availability equipment. This specialisation and attention to detail is based on years of experience and backed by proven technology and process.

Our in-depth knowledge of the global marketplace, working with local expertise, ensures that our clients have access to their mission-critical service parts around the world.” In addition to providing greater inventory visibility, Choice was able to provide Elekta with access to its global locale of strategic stocking locations. These facilities form the backbone of the service, acting as major geographic stocking locations to meet local demands. Crucially, this has allowed Elekta greater flexibility to meet the needs of its diverse service level agreements, which might require a part to be delivered overnight, or even within a two- to four-hour window.

Elekta’s workforce are fully cognizant of the criticality of its operations – a patient undergoing cancer treatment cannot be made to wait for treatment because of a lack of parts. As such, delivering world-class performance is the minimum acceptable standard, a philosophy that Elekta believes must be shared by its entire supply chain. “Elekta is a fairly modest purchaser in the market, but one that needs more than a one-size fits all solution. We decided on Choice because we’re small enough to influence their business and because they’re flexible enough to meet our needs.

The layers of bureaucracy in some of the larger logistics suppliers are infinitely more complex. Trying to change things becomes a mammoth task” explains Weston.

As a result of its partnership with Choice, Elekta has become recognised as the favoured supplier for a large number of hospitals and cancer centres, leading in five out of seven categories according to a prominent periodical that compares all the healthcare providers. Choice’s improvement programmes were completed in only 10 months – far quicker than such programmes usually take. “Last time I did this, ten years ago, it took us two years” explains Weston. “What we’ve managed to achieve with Choice is phenomenal. I don’t think many other suppliers could help us open a warehouse in a new country in just six to eight weeks, for example. There was also very little disruption to the smooth flow of business during the transition period – the biggest barriers were internal, and cultural.” Elekta and Choice regularly engage in quarterly reviews, where they review their objectives over the last three as well as the next three months, but communication between the two organisations is at all times extremely close. “We have totally open communication – I can ring up their CEO and we can discuss problems at any time. It’s an absolutely proactive relationship on both sides of the fence. This is critical, and the support we’ve received from Choice has given us world-class standards of performance. After the initial ten-month transition period, our operations started to work like a Swiss watch” says Weston.

The support that Elekta have received from Choice means that they are able to support emerging markets quicker, allowing the company to pursue new locales much more effectively. Taking advantage of these new capabilities, Elekta are looking to develop opportunities in a range of new markets in Latin America, India and the Middle East, where significant logistical challenges can be a significant barrier to entry.