For medical diagnostic equipment maker Alere, master data management was the key to unlocking its digital transformation."In hindsight, we carried our legacy process for years and years," says Jason Jarrett, senior director of business intelligence and solutions at Alere. "If I could do it again, I would have done this sooner. You're skeptical about disruption, but it would have been better to go ahead, bit the bullet and implement."
As a medical device company with annual revenue of about $3 billion, Alere uses third-party distributors to sell its products to hospitals and doctors' offices. To process incentive compensation for its sales force, it purchases data from those third-party distributors to evaluate sales performance and changes in market share. But getting the information on time and processing data from disparate sources — each distributor uses a different reporting method — became a significant challenge.
"We would have one distributor call it Florida Hospital, spelled out in its full name," Jarrett says. "We would have another call it FL Hospital. We would have another call it a completely different name. So aggregating that information for our sales force was impossible."
"It's in inconsistent formats, not standardized," he adds. "The reps, you know, would have a great month and all of a sudden they're waiting for their paychecks. It brings to light a trust factor. With the process, we needed to improve the timeliness, we needed to improve data integrity and also generate a platform that people could consume the information and Alere could use it to evaluate market changes and react to it in a much more timely manner."
With limited visibility into their own customer base, Jarrett made it his goal to transition Alere to a single-source data strategy with an integrated customer master that could be a data and reporting foundation for the entire organization. The first step was to get the customer data in order.
The only problem? Alere has 50-plus distributors and little in the way of incentive to get them all to adopt a common technology and process. Even if it could achieve that, Alere's finance personnel would still have to clean the data and manually process it using Access and Excel. As with any manual process, accuracy and timeliness were issues. When errors were discovered the team had to start the entire process over again. Jarrett says a whole team of analysts and managers were spending more than 500 hours per month cleaning and processing data.