Running a global manufacturing operation is no small task, and when the finished product can literally mean the difference between life and death, the stakes for customer satisfaction are at their highest. So when Varian Medical Systems Inc. wanted to improve its product monitoring and customer service, it turned to remote monitoring software from Axeda -- and found new ways to connect to customers around the world.
Varian, based in Palo Alto, Calif., claims to be the largest manufacturer of medical devices and software used to treat cancer. It operates plants in North America, Europe and China, selling products that are involved directly in diagnosing and treating cancer, as well as back-office processing of patient data.
When Varian began searching for a remote monitoring service 12 years ago, the company wanted a way to better connect staff and customers to experts to quickly solve problems. Prior to Axeda, Varian was using pcAnywhere for remote access. The march of progress away from analog connections to digital networks, however, rendered Varian's pcAnywhere system outdated, according to Dan DuBeau, program manager of product support engineering at Varian.
"This became more and more of a problem as our customers were needing faster and faster service," DuBeau said. "We went out looking for a solution to pcAnywhere for desktop sharing. Axeda was brand new at the game; we were their second customer."
Desktop sharing expands Varian's problem solving abilities
While the Axeda remote monitoring suite did not originally include desktop sharing, the vendor added that feature at Varian's request. "Our relationship with Axeda began with the promise of desktop sharing. It was what we really needed," DuBeau said. "If, for example, an executive is sitting at his desk in California and needs to solve a problem at one of our facilities across the world, we need to be able to share that desktop in order to solve the problem. Back-and-forth communications will break down eventually, so you really need to see what they see."
Over the last 12 years, Axeda's remote monitoring has evolved quite a bit, according to DuBeau. When Varian first adopted Axeda, the system required a customer on one end and an expert at the other sharing information to make a connection. That process has now mostly been automated, he said.
Software monitoring is another large part of how Varian is using Axeda, DuBeau noted. "Some of the most intense monitoring that we do is on our patient information side, in our SQL database," he said. "If there is an error in the database, we need to get that error at the same time the customer does, if not before."
With Axeda's help, Varian started to branch out into more "proactive" activities, such as monitoring the disk usage of databases and being able to send out a warning message when they hit 95% capacity, DuBeau explained. "Our needs have changed over the last 12 years, but what Axeda can do has also changed," he said.
Remote monitoring software cuts time, expenses for customer calls
Varian also uses Axeda remote monitoring to walk customers through product installation without the need for on-site assistance. Even in instances where hardware installations require a Varian rep to make a site visit, the post-installation monitoring of that hardware -- for service after sale and contract and warranty support -- is done remotely through Axeda, according to DuBeau.
"This has always been a customer satisfaction initiative from the beginning," he said. "A side benefit of that is that we're saving possibly $10 million a year. It's difficult to measure what we're not doing, but we know that what we're saving is significant and effective."
The savings are largely travel-based, DuBeau explained, noting that on average, a typical service call includes two hours to travel to the site, two hours at the site and two hours back. With the Axeda remote response functionality, four hours of travel time is eliminated, allowing service reps to complete three customer calls in the time it once took to complete one -- tripling productivity.
Perfecting remote customer service takes time, innovation
While the remote monitoring software is accomplishing the majority of what Varian wants, the two companies are working together to develop new features to suit Varian's changing needs, according to DuBeau. One of these works-in-progress is an ad hoc solution that Varian refers to as "zero footprint." "A customer can have a workstation that we've never seen before and call us because of trouble," said DuBeau. "We need to be able to install an agent remotely, complete the service call remotely and then wrap it up by uninstalling the remote system -- leaving their workstation exactly as it was before we came in. We only want to install the software for the purpose of the call." DuBeau said that Varian expects the zero footprint capability to be ready by the end of January next year.
One of the most significant challenges Varian has experienced, he added, is that prior to concentrating on remote service, the company had no software-embedded serialization of its products. Each installation of the patient management database looked similar save for a serial number sticker on each computer, in compliance with FDA regulations. Without embedded serialization, Varian remote reps had no way of checking the software to confirm they were servicing the correct hospital. "That was a shortcoming in the implementation of serialization of our products," DuBeau noted. "When you're doing remote support with a customer on the phone, they never know the serial number of their product, and we can't expect them to."
DuBeau explained that Varian has been dealing with this hurdle by working with its marketing and engineering departments to implement a connection to its SAP database, reaching out to its ERP system to find out where its installed base is and taking out the guesswork and human error that often occurs with manual entry of serial numbers. "Everything that goes out the door has to have some sort of software identifier so we know who we're dealing with when we connect to a customer," he said.
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