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Getting Smart About Smart Services

By Colin Sanford

May 12, 2006 | A growing trend in the life science industry may transform how companies deliver after-market customer service and instrument support. Instead of a traditional reactive customer service response, a few innovative companies are offering “smart services.”

Based on a proactive and preemptive strategy, these Internet-based services aim to provide continuous post-sales product support and expand the functionality of laboratory instrument systems, with remote monitoring of instruments, and labs. These types of smart services have been part of the biomedical and healthcare industry for the past 10-15 years, but it is only in the past 2-3 years that this type of functionality has found its way into instruments such as DNA sequencers and mass spectrometers.

Questra is an enterprise software company that works with laboratory equipment manufacturers to provide remote intelligent device management through their Questra Smart Service Solution. “Instruments were becoming highly intelligent, and the Internet allowed connectivity to customer sites. We capitalized on this opportunity to bring the two elements together,” says Walt Rossi, vice president of marketing at Questra.

Working SmarterSmart services are also changing the equipment pricing structure to a “usage-based warranty” as opposed to the traditional “time-based warranty,” providing more value to customers, says Rossi. The lower cost of service as a result of remote diagnostics enables manufactures to improve their service offerings to the marketplace.

Applied Biosystems is one of the first manufacturers of life sciences equipment and instrumentation to develop and deploy smart services in its instrument systems. The Smart Monitoring Service, which has been available since 2003 on selected Applied Biosystems genetic analysis instruments used by large genomic production centers, is now also available in mass spectrometers used in proteomics and small-molecule research.

Remote Control
The Smart Monitoring Service is built on a Device Relationship Management (DRM) technology. The Smart Monitoring Service “agent,” installed on the instrument, is in constant communication over a secure Internet connection with an enterprise server at the Applied Biosystems Global Care Center. The remote diagnostic software, which continually analyzes data received from instruments, databases, networks, and lab workflows in real time notifies a service engineer when a problem is detected. This allows for the remote and proactive tracking of critical system parameters over the Internet and in many instances identifies potential instrument problems before they affect an instrument’s productivity.

“Remotely monitoring our instrument systems can result in increased productivity, protection against data loss, quicker repair times, and service cost reductions for our customers. From a manufacturer’s perspective, this is an important differentiator for us,” says Tony Kerlavage, senior director of global service development and support at Applied Biosystems.

“Smart services are revolutionizing the provider-customer relationship. However, the full potential of smart services is yet to be realized. The next developments have to be wireless connectivity and an integrated network of remotely monitored instruments,” says Glen Allmendinger, president of Harbor Research. Wireless connectivity and the integration of instruments across multiple laboratories will allow for the creation of a more comprehensive intelligence grid that enables the movement of data between larger numbers of people and fosters the possibility of broader collaboration networks, predicts Allmendinger.

Applied Biosystems is already working on some of these future opportunities. “Expanding our current offering beyond our own instruments to third-party systems, monitoring workflows, automatically replenishing consumables, and data-mining support are some of the current projects we are working on,” says Kerlavage.

Just as the medical equipment industry has benefited from the availability of smart services, so too will the life sciences. Smart services will continue to expand beyond instrument care and maintenance to include services that can further improve productivity and efficiency by enhancing an instrument’s “awareness” and connectivity to the lab environment.

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