Those that have worked in government for any length of time probably know that most supply chain applications were designed and built before user experience was ‘a thing.’ But why is it important to include the end user in the discussion when designing a new application? It’s simple: without happy users an application is just taking up space in the data center. And data center costs are considerable, averaging between $10 million to $12 million per megawatt when looking at the needs of an enterprise solution in the government sector where heightened security is a requirement and adds significant costs to hosting. User experience and the user interface have become a measure of success or failure for many applications used in the government and commercial industries, and companies that ignore the user are being setup for failure.
Spending the cycles to develop and implement a robust user experience process by engaging the end user will pay for itself many times over. End users will not only feel like they were part of the process, but Prodigo also sees a significant increase in application engagement when users were a part of the design phases. Applications that are easy to use, simple to navigate, and have features that promote efficiency and productivity are the ones that have the highest return on investment. A study done by Afaxys found that clinical staff spend over 36 minutes per shift on supply chain duties, resulting in less patient facing time, more clinical frustrations, and PO lines having different prices for the same item. Supply chain, particularly healthcare supply chain, is generally behind the curve when it comes to user experience. Supply chain professionals are often left to use old antiquated systems to do one of the most important jobs in the organization: source and buy materials that directly affect patient care.
So why do we continue give some of our most important professionals some of the hardest to use systems? The answer to this question isn’t as simple, but reality is that it can cost organizations more to use and maintain out of date systems than replacing them with a new modern application with a contemporary user interface.
Great User Experience
Creating a simple, easy to use interface does take time, and may require discussions with end users who will ultimately work in the application. But the results of not including the end user can be catastrophic, particularly with purchasing and procurement applications. The ‘if you build it, they will come’ mantra is not always valid, especially when it comes to applications users must use to purchase healthcare goods and services. If you create an application that is difficult to navigate and generally unreliable, buyers will still find the items they need but not by using the channels provided by supply chain. Alternative buying channels (purchase cards, vendor websites, manual order placement by phone, etc.) get the job done at a higher cost and with invoice errors and duplicative efforts. Off contract spend not only impacts cost savings but can also affect patient outcomes by using items that may not be best for the specific procedure or patient.
An easy-to-use platform leads to good user experience, resulting in better buying decisions and a repeat in behavior. That repetitive behavior is one of the drivers for contract compliance and utilization that ultimately supports cost savings and better patient outcomes. Easy-to-use platforms offer quicker user adoption and less training, less direct support needs, and more collaboration between buyers. Inventory and formulary management is also improved when buyers use the same process to procure goods and services, further driving an organization’s supply chain goals and objectives. The largest public health system in the United States, Veterans Affairs (VA), implemented a marketplace platform in a way that is easy to use and 508 compliant through rigorous testing and feedback from the VA community that has transformed the way VA locates and interacts with current agreements and contract line-item data that has helped promote enterprise level contracts and improve contract compliance.
Efficiency & Modernization
When purchasing a supply chain application, it should encompass some basic features and functionalities that closely resemble business to consumer (B2C) systems often used in daily life. B2C sites are known for buying simplicity, and friendly, interactive pages. Something commonly seen in B2C buying platforms is images. No one wants to purchase something for themselves online without seeing it first, so why expect healthcare workers to do this for patients? In healthcare, an image can mean buying the right item or the wrong one, which can delay a procedure and ultimately affect patient care. More and more vendors and manufacturers are creating and sharing images for products and other item information invaluable to purchasing decisions because health systems are demanding it. It takes true partnerships with manufacturers and continuous data acquisition to maintain information like new item metadata, item identifiers, descriptions, classification, and digital assets like images, MSDS and instruction for use documents.
Manufacturer and vendor data is the foundation, but the next step is the customization. Having solutions that direct your search is key to giving the buy side of the equation the power to push preferred items to the top of the search results and drive end users to the right item from the right vendor at the right price. Availability of an item (is it recalled, substituted, or replaced) should be communicated at the front end of the purchasing process and not after the purchase order is delivered to the vendor. Driving compliance to the front end of the procure to pay cycle at the point of requisition helps to increase contract utilization by more than 25% and decrease potential delays in the right items reaching providers and patients.
Another must have feature that streamlines purchasing is the ability to create and share favorite items and favorite lists. These features help simplify routine and repetitive buying so end users can spend less time on administrative tasks, and increase time spent providing care to patients. Volume discounts, minimum and maximum order quantity indicators, and rules should also be factored into user experience because each help to avoid supplier penalties and provide information to the buyer at the point of requisition, furthering helping healthcare organizations avoid significant costs and delays in product delivery.
These features and functionalities not only enhance the user experience, but also drive improvements in supply chain performance. If the end user has a great experience learning and adapting to a new system, the results can make an immediate impact to ordering efficiency, contract compliance and utilization, lower the cost per PO, improve clinical outcomes, lessen off contract purchase card spend, and drive rebates and tiered pricing goals.
Supply Chain at the Core
High government purchase card activity and off contract spend is an indication that the systems government purchasing agents have been forced to use are not only outdated but difficult to learn and lack the simplicity and elegance of contemporary purchasing applications. The amount of spend in government agencies warrants a hard look at the systems that enable that spend.
Investing in a purchase application is well worth the time and necessary research. Ask tough questions about how the application involves the end user and look for basic features that support ease of use. Talk to current customers and inquire about training, support, application performance, search, and integration to other systems. Include some end users charged with purchasing and procurement to weigh in on the user experience.
As government agencies look to modernize their supply chains, user experience must be a key component in choosing new applications to facilitate purchasing. The benefits of an application that has been designed using best practices and procedures in user experience far outweigh maintaining the status quo. The savings opportunities are extremely high and are not as hard to attain as thought. VA has realized a 90% reduction in the time it takes a VA employee to locate an item on a valid contract. VA achieved this by implementing a new enterprise application with a robust search engine and features and functions that are tailored to the end user and focused on efficiency and ease of use. The time end users save and the availability of the information they now have will not only help save taxpayer dollars but will also allow VA staff to spend more time providing veteran patient care and other veteran services. The simple message here is to be an advocate for the end user and their experience – they will thank you, and the results will speak for themselves.
About the Author
Ted Dagnal is the Vice President of Government Strategy at Prodigo Solutions responsible for all public sector initiatives and programs. Ted has been shaping supply chain best practices in the commercial healthcare industry for more than 20 years, working with some of the largest health and research systems in the country. He is passionate about bringing industry lessons learned, as well as more than 20 years of leadership service as a former US Army officer, to actively help government clients transform and secure their supply chains and data in a federal environment.
Ted is leading the effort to rationalize the Supply Chain Master Catalog for the Department of Veterans Affairs to improve their data quality, enrich item attribute information, and improve contract utilization. He also led the FedRAMP authorization and ATO approval process for Prodigo’s Marketplace platform at VA.
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Additional Readings by the Author
The Supply Chain Isn’t the Problem. But Data Is the Solution.
Public Sector Digital Transformation vs Commercial: Is government supply chain as distinct as it appears?