Bringing Their Valuable Experience to Healthcare Wasn’t Black & White for Zebra Technologies

Earlier this year I wrote about the strong contingent of non-healthcare companies that exhibited at HIMSS18. Ever since then I have been curious to find out more about these companies – especially how they adopted their solutions to healthcare and how as outsiders they view the industry as a whole.

One of the companies that caught my eye was Zebra Technologies, a company that has a long history of providing mobility solutions for retail, manufacturing and government. In retail, for example, Zebra provides devices and software that consolidates inventory data from multiple source systems and delivers that date in real-time to sales associates. Not only does this result in better customer service, it also accelerates revenues for retailers. Zebra’s clients include retail giants Target and Walmart.

I recently sat down with Chris Sullivan, Global Healthcare Practice Lead at Zebra, to get his take on what the impact a company like Zebra could have in healthcare and what challenges there were bringing the company’s solutions into healthcare. Below is an abridged transcript of our conversation.

Is it an advantage or disadvantage being a healthcare “outsider”?

Being a company that has a long history outside of healthcare is both an advantage and a disadvantage.

The advantage is that we have tired and true solutions that work in other industries that in some ways are more demanding than what we see in healthcare. For example in auto manufacturing, tracking assets and inventory in the supply chain is extremely difficult. There aren’t nearly as many moving parts in a healthcare supply chain. Because we have solutions that can handle this type of complexity, it means we have an advantage when we take those solutions to healthcare.

Another advantage is our deep technical knowledge when it comes to mobility. We know what it takes to roll out a truly enterprise-class mobility solution and that gives us an advantage over companies that only have experience in the healthcare field.

The disadvantage is that as an organization it’s taken us time to build up our healthcare acumen and in the past we may have missed some of the nuances of healthcare. Just getting to know the acronyms and the terminology has taken time.

How did you address this gap?

As a company we had become more humble when it came to healthcare. We had to admit to ourselves that we had a lot to learn and that we had acknowledge that the way we need to do things a little differently in healthcare. There’s a very fine line between brining valuable expertise from other industries in a way that doesn’t override healthcare customers when they want to do something differently.

Our CEO and other senior leaders set the example. They recognized the gap and invested in bringing healthcare “insiders” onto the team. That’s why I’m here. They also invested in bringing the voice of healthcare customers into Zebra’s operations and processes. We now have a Customer Advisory Board where we vet product ideas and adjust based on their valuable feedback.

What was the most surprising thing that Zebra learned about Healthcare?

For the non-healthcare folks at Zebra, I think the complexity of healthcare workflows was a really big surprise. It’s a lot more complex than people realize. There are so many nuances and variables that just don’t exist in any other industry.

I think the magnitude of the opportunity in healthcare also took many by surprise. Not only is opportunity within the healthcare supply chain, but there is also plenty of opportunity for Zebra to help with care delivery.

Some were surprised to learn at how many barriers exist between patients and clinicians. There is just so much that gets in the way of caring for patients. There’s all the administration, documentation, collecting data from multiple sources and looking for assets. People became clinicians because they wanted to care for patients and somehow we’ve got them doing admin work.

What opportunities does Zebra see in healthcare?

We see an opportunity to help healthcare organizations improve their workflows. Specifically we see an opportunity for our technologies to eliminate unnecessary administrative and non-value-add steps for caregivers. By streamlining the workflow, quality would improve, the organization would become more efficient and thus require less resources, the patient experience would improve and care would be safer. There’s a lot of wasted time and resources in healthcare. We can help with that.

We also see an opportunity to bring true enterprise-level mobility solutions to healthcare. Up to this point, healthcare has had experience with smartphones and tablets, but those are consumer devices designed for individual consumers. They aren’t enterprise-class devices and they have inherent limitations in a healthcare setting. For example, they can’t be cleaned and disinfected very easily. They are difficult to secure. Managing upgrades is a nightmare. Plus smartphone cameras are not the same as industrial-strength barcode scanners which are common in enterprise devices.

There’s a KLAS report that does a great job at explaining how the inadequacies of the iPhone in healthcare has given rise to companies like Zebra.

Can you give me an example of enterprise-mobility work you have done in other industries that you are now applying to healthcare?

Sure. We have experience with many other verticals in addition to healthcare. One example would be the work we do for Ford Motor Company. As you know, Ford has a highly automated production line. It’s very expensive to have that line shut down. Zebra helps to tag all the equipment in those facilities so that production managers know exactly where their assets and inventory are located at all times. This is critical to ensuring that there is never a delay in getting the right asset to the right place at the right time.

We’re adopting this same know-how and associated technology to healthcare. It’s really vital to know where all your assets are in a hospital – from IV poles to beds to carts. The same applies to tracking high-dollar consumables like implantable devices. It’s really expensive to have doctors and nurses waiting around for the right equipment or the right medication to arrive – which is analogous to the work we do with Ford.

What advice would you give to other companies looking to enter healthcare?

Be humble. Don’t assume that because your solution worked in another industry that it can be plopped into healthcare as-is.

Play nice with others. There’s a big ecosystem in healthcare and you have to learn how to work together with those other players. Healthcare is a team sport.


About the author

Colin Hung

Colin Hung

Colin Hung is the co-founder of the #hcldr (healthcare leadership) tweetchat one of the most popular and active healthcare social media communities on Twitter. Colin speaks, tweets and blogs regularly about healthcare, technology, marketing and leadership. He is currently an independent marketing consultant working with leading healthIT companies. Colin is a member of #TheWalkingGallery. His Twitter handle is: @Colin_Hung.